The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Consider the cost of your dream court, conservatives

People stand outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on June 26, 2018, after the court struck down a California law requiring clinics that counsel women against abortion to notify clients of the availability of abortions paid for by the state. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Conservatives for whom the selection of federal judges is the top issue – and there are many of them – are feeling vindicated by their support for President Trump. He has already appointed one reliable conservative to the Supreme Court (Neil M. Gorsuch). And now, in all likelihood, he’s about to nominate another.

I understand the fervor of social conservatives, in particular, who are desperate to overturn decisions that they view as an affront to their values. The question they have to ask themselves is what price are they willing to pay for the judicial branch? Is it worth turning over the far-more-powerful executive to a narcissistic demagogue who does violence to nearly every value that conservatives claim to revere? To get judges they like, conservatives are backing:

– A president who benefited from Russian interference in the 2016 election and appears determined to pay back Vladimir Putin by inviting him back to the G-7, possibly recognizing Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, considering the pull-out of U.S. troops from Germany and continually demeaning America’s allies.

– A president who is an appeaser of dictators, saying that Kim Jong Un has a “great personality” and that Putin is “fine,” while attacking ailing war heroes such as former president George H.W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

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– A president who veered from war-mongering to appeasement of North Korea, stopping U.S.-South Korea “war games” and legitimating a repugnant regime in return for (so far) empty promises of denuclearization.

– A president who excoriates the loyal opposition as traitors and criminals — and threatens to lock them up or to inflict physical violence upon them.

– A president who echoes autocrats by calling the free press the “enemy of the people,” and attempts to retaliate against objective publications such as The Washington Post.

– A president who uses dehumanizing language (“infest,” “animals,” “breed,” “snakes”) to refer to Latino immigrants – and not just gang members.

– A president who caters to racists by calling African countries “shithole countries,” lambasting NFL players who kneel to protest police brutality, claiming that some white supremacists are “very fine people,” and defending Confederate monuments.

– A president who ordered, before reluctantly rescinding, an unconscionable policy of detaining children to punish their parents for the misdemeanor offense of entering the country illegally. Trump still hasn’t reunited all of the children with their parents and is now planning to detain entire families.

– A president who obstructs justice by firing FBI Director James B. Comey to stop the probe of his Russia ties, vilifies his own attorney general for properly recusing himself, labels the FBI a “den of thieves,” and smears a war hero, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, by accusing him of nonexistent conflicts of interest.

– A president who claims that he is above the law by asserting “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself” and the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”

– A president who bypasses normal procedures to pardon supporters such as Dinesh D’Souza and Joe Arpaio who have shown no remorse for their crimes.

– A president whose former national security adviser and deputy campaign manager have pleaded guilty to felonies, and whose former campaign manager is in prison awaiting trial on numerous felony charges.

– A president who secretly pays off a porn star who alleges that they had an affair the same year that Trump’s youngest son was born.

– A president who lies an average of 6.5 times a day.

– A president who flouts ethical norms by not divulging his finances and not divesting his ownership of a real estate company that does business all over the world. Among its partners: countries like China that threaten U.S. security.

– A president who launches trade wars that are straining U.S. alliances and costing U.S. jobs – with the nation’s largest nail manufacturer laying off workers and Harley-Davidson planning to shift production overseas.

– A president who endorses a Senate candidate accused of child molestation, hires a White House communications director who covered up sexual harassment scandals at Fox News, and defends Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) from accusations that he ignored sexual abuse on a wrestling team he coached.

– A president who demeans women (e.g., tweeting that “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face-lift”), brags about grabbing them by their private parts, and has been accused by at least 16 women of sexual misconduct.

– A president who is doubling the annual budget deficit and running up federal debt to the highest levels since World War II.

– A president whose erratic behavior has caused global confidence in U.S. leadership to plunge to a new low of just 30 percent.

Is all this worth a few judges? Not in my book. Trump is doing long-term damage not just to the country in general but to the rule of law in particular – the same rule of law that judges are supposed to uphold. Tolerating his reign of error would not be worth it even if he filled every seat on the Supreme Court with Antonin Scalia clones.