OP-ED: The United States is OBE — overcome by events. Democrats must take a stand

Virginia Heffernan
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
President Donald Trump speaks to members of the press on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, before boarding Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Trump is traveling to North Carolina and Florida. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

At the start, liberals were clear: This means war. “I live on this hill, folks,” Elie Mystal of the Nation tweeted. “I’m more than happy to die on it.”

The legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. Within hours, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hastened to reassure the grieving nation that he had no intention of acting with principle, integrity or even common courtesy.

Not only did he intend to steamroll over Ginsburg’s dying request — that the next president nominate her replacement — but he’d also move swiftly to confirm any burning-eyed madwoman President Donald Trump nominated. Callous but predictable.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also made it clear no one should mistake him for a man of his word. Though he once vowed he’d never push a justice through in primary season, let alone six weeks before a presidential election, he stood with McConnell in this tawdry caper.

All but two of the Republican senators have signaled they too would fall in line. They like their confirmation hearings the way they like their elections: as fair and principled as a battering ram.

New lows: This pileup of scumbag behavior seemed to be too much for Democrats. Mystal predicted a new Democratic regime would “storm the Supreme Court” — by expanding it — “and cleanse it of its McConnell-induced illegitimacy.”

“Take to the streets,” wrote Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. “Only hardball tactics can restore democratic equilibrium.”

But that was the previous week. Since then, there have been new outrages, and new reasons to take to the streets. Focus is nearly impossible.

On Wednesday, uprisings took place across the country after a grand jury in Kentucky declined to bring changes against Louisville police for the killing-by-cop of Breonna Taylor, the Black medical worker who died in March when police fired blindly into her house. In the midst of the protests Wednesday, two police officers were shot and wounded.

Also on Wednesday, The Atlantic rehearsed all the ways Trump could be planning a coup if he loses in November. Win or lose, wrote Barton Gellman, “he will never concede.” The same day, a reporter asked Trump directly if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power: “We’re going to have to see what happens,” the president said.

In military jargon, the United States is now OBE, “overcome by events.” Situations are changing so quickly that courses of action are obsolete almost as soon as they’re proposed.

It’s very hard not to let defeatism set in. When there is impunity for murderous cops, when our rights are gravely imperiled in Trump-packed courts, and when — for the love of God — a sitting president is angling to stay in power no matter what, it’s hard to even think straight.

Time for decisive action: But it’s exactly the wrong time for defeatism. It’s urgent now that Americans flip the Senate, and elect Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Voters must decisively throw Trump out. Only then can the frayed Supreme Court be repaired and the filibuster be abolished, paving the way for legislation that a majority of Americans want.

For example, the robust Protecting Our Democracy Act rolled out Wednesday by House Democrats would prevent abuses of presidential power, restore our system of checks and balances and protect our elections from foreign interference.

And then there’s impeachment. Among the possible targets: Trump, again. This time for knowingly endangering the American people by shrugging off the current pandemic. Or Attorney General Bill Barr, for contempt of Congress. Or, as vice presidential candidate Harris has proposed, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, because he was insufficiently vetted.

I know, I know. No one would be removed from office by McConnell’s malignant Senate. But even if there’s nothing but a series of impeachment inquiries, the subpoenas, headlines and televised hearings would be an elegantly aggressive and overdue action, inscribing the malfeasance of this administration into the record for all time. Not only does an impeachment or three slow the roll of Republicans gunning for the end of the republic, but the public is owed a full accounting of all their abuses.

If Republicans have the nerve to run roughshod over American democracy in the next few weeks, Democrats surely have the nerve to stand in their way. The American people should not have to bear the insult of seeing Trump and his band of power abusers skate time and time again.

On Wednesday and Thursday, a smattering of Republicans on the Hill timidly responded to Trump’s monstrous threat that he would not accept the results of the upcoming election.

No trust: Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the lone Republican who voted to remove Trump during the impeachment trial earlier this year, managed to sound both grandiose and noncommittal. “Fundamental to democracy is the transition of power,” he tweeted. “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”

McConnell, for his part, asserted, “The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th. There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.”

But who can trust any of these people to keep a promise? They’ve been throttling the will of the majority for so long that they now say whatever comes into their heads to shut down questions. This cannot stand.

In the words of 19th century feminist Sarah Grimke, whom Ginsburg famously quoted: “All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright.”

If Republicans will not permit it — and they won’t — Democrats must stand upright on their own. They absolutely must model for the American people, who have been so ill used for so long, what it is to hold your ground.

— Virginia Heffernan is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.