Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Vox’s Matt Yglesias has a new piece on the limits of normcore politics. It’s a warning to liberals that Donald Trump isn’t necessarily a disease that America needs to resist at all costs, but he might be a symptom of an underlying issue. In Yglesias’s view, “normcore” politics incorrectly assumes Trump is some wild aberration that popped up more or less out of nowhere, and we need to get back to “normal.” But he makes a pretty persuasive argument that “normal” wasn’t that great anyway:

The failings of normcore politics start with a somewhat blinkered and romantic view of American history which, as Ezra Klein recently argued in his review of much of the democratic crisis literature, is actually quite ugly. The country was founded on the brutal genocide and dispossession of its native population, relied on chattel slavery as a cornerstone of its economic development, fought a deadly civil war, had the outcome of that war challenged by a largely successful campaign of terrorist violence, and by the 1940s was locking up the Japanese-American population in internment camps.

That second sentence is one of the most succinct appraisals of America’s biggest moral failings since before our inception. It’s not strictly relevant to Yglesias’s argument, I just found that bit an impressive bit of wordsmithing.

Here’s the really persuasive thrust of his argument, though:

Consider, for example, the hardball saga of the “Blue Slip Rule”:

  • Up through 1994 or so there was a tradition in the United States Senate that a judicial nomination could not be brought to the floor unless the nominee received at least one “blue slip” — i.e., favorable recommendation — from a home-state senator.
  • Then in 1995, Republicans won control of the Senate and changed the principle to require two blue slips to advance a judicial nominee, which made it easier to block Bill Clinton’s appointees.
  • In 2001, George W. Bush became president, so they changed the rule back to one blue slip. Jim Jeffords’s defection then gave Democrats control of the Senate, so they moved back to two blue slips to make it easier to block his judges.
  • The two slip rule, critically, remained in effect as long as Democrats controlled the Senate even once Barack Obama took over as president — with Democrats choosing to uphold a senatorial courtesy over partisan advantage.
  • Republicans gained control of the Senate in 2015 and, of course, not only kept the two slip rule in place but basically stopped confirming judges altogether — up to and including holding a Supreme Court seat vacant.
  • When Trump took office, he filled the Supreme Court vacancy with Neil Gorsuch and the GOP swiftly went back to a one blue slip standard, until this May when they broke the seal on confirming judges who had zero blue slips.
  • These shenanigans have profoundly shaped the federal judiciary over the past quarter-century, a period of time during which the courts also handed an election to Bush, dismantled much of federal campaign finance legislation and the Voting Rights Act, and acted to make it virtually impossible to successfully prosecute political corruption cases and a wide array of other white collar crimes to boot.

It’s not just the judiciary.

Democrats aren’t entirely innocent in the ratcheting up of tensions that provide the backdrop for eroding norms. But it’s pretty clear that there’s been a systematic problem with “normal” for decades, and even if Trump were impeached tomorrow, we wouldn’t suddenly exist in a Golden Age of democracy. There might never have been one.