Bipartisanship is dead.
Susan Collins dealt the coup de grace, armed with a dishonest and partisan speech capping a norm-destroying extremist far-right conquest of the Supreme Court. And upon regaining power in Washington, Democrats will need to behave accordingly.
Yes, there will be some unified votes in the future–American politicians can always be counted on to find enough common ground to fund its war machine, ensure various forms of corporate largesse and name a post office or two–but the ability of well-meaning people on both sides of the aisle to come together to tackle the nation’s hard problems is over. Its demise has been long in coming, with many inflection points along the way. But it reached a terminal stage with the ascension of Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader.
McConnell more than any other person is responsible for the destruction of bipartisan norms. He exerted unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s legislation and nominees, crucially including Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland who never even received a hearing from McConnell’s Senate. McConnell enabled Russian interference in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump by threatening to deny it and call it a presidential abuse of power if Obama-era law enforcement agencies exposed the plot. And now, of course, McConnell has made himself responsible for a mockery of a Supreme Court confirmation process, abusing his power to hide and limit evidence and testimony about Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual abuses and blatant perjury.
Republicans have leveraged this destruction of norms into unitary power over all branches of the federal government, including with Kavanaugh a generational majority on the Supreme Court. But it won’t last for long. Part of the reason Republicans are so sanguine about throwing electoral caution to the wind, embracing unpopular policies and breaking the levers of American governance, is that they do not expect to be able to hold onto power by legitimate democratic means. They know that growing majorities of millennials, women and people of color despise their brand of politics, and that they cannot long survive off the alliance of big donor and the collective cruel, raging fear of conservative older white people. The bill is coming due, and fast.
Despite a recent upsurge for Republicans, Democrats are still likely to win the House in November 2018. And it’s a good bet that Democrats will ride a wave of electoral fury compounded by the investigative findings of Mueller’s probe and likely House investigations into a White House victory and a solid majority in the Senate.
If and when that happens, there will be a temptation to attempt to restore a sense of bipartisan normalcy. But that would be a mistake. Republicans, having made their bed as an anti-normative, anti-democratic party of wealthy white male privilege enforced by anti-majoritarian structural advantage seeking, will not become responsible minority governing partners. And Democrats should not treat them as such.
Instead, Democrats will need to embrace their own inner Mitch McConnell. Their leaders will be tempted to immediately move to tackle the enormous legislative priorities their Republican opponents sabotaged or neglected, from climate change to healthcare to economic policy. But it will be just as important to secure structural initiatives that will make it difficult for Republicans to continue thwarting the will of an increasingly progressive majority. That is precisely what McConnell would do if a man of his instincts and temperament were serving the public welfare and society’s marginalized, rather than corporations, the wealthy and the privileged.
Among these fixes would include but not be limited to:
1) Making election day a federal holiday, and perhaps moving it from Tuesday to a weekend.
2) Pushing a majority of states to sign onto the National Popular Vote compact.
2) Securing statehood for Washington DC and Puerto Rico, thereby securing representation for those citizens while limiting the overrepresentation of rural white conservative states in the Senate.
3) Limiting gerrymandering and voter suppression by states in whatever ways are constitutionally possible, including by pressing for non-partisan districting commissions, automatic voter registration, full vote by mail systems, paper ballots with paper trails and more.
4) Securing responsible immigration reform and a rapid pathway to citizenship.
5) Adding more justices to both the appellate courts and Supreme Court.
Regarding the Supreme Court in particular, the conservative majority will have been achieved through anti-democratic stonewalling and bad faith. There is no Constitutional provision limiting the number of Supreme Court Justices to nine; it is simply a mid-19th century law passed by Congress, requiring only a filibuster-proof 60 Senators to overturn. If the filibuster were eliminated, adding justices to the court would be possible with a simple majority.
It is the instinct of many liberals to shy away from such moves as overly partisan or process-focused. But they are essential if democracy is to survive in the face of an opposition determined to hold onto anti-majoritarian power at all costs through illegitimate and socially destructive means.