Here’s a little story from the bad old days of the New York subway: On seeing a well-dressed man drop a wrapper on a subway platform, a well-dressed woman urged him to pick it up.
“What’s the use?” the man said, gesturing at the filthy surroundings.
“If people like us don’t maintain standards,” the woman replied, “then all is lost.”
Donald Trump’s authoritarian trashing of American norms has created a political pigsty. Principled conservatives are bravely standing up to the seedy populism unleashed by the sloppy and crude attacks on American institutions. Kudos to John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Evan McMullin, and other conservatives for calling out the vandals and their weasel excuses.
Centrist liberals should offer them backup. That would mean giving Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, a fair and civil hearing. Gorsuch is an “originalist” — one who tries to interpret the U.S. Constitution as its writers intended. That would require reading the minds of people who died before there were typewriters, a seemingly impossible task. But if Gorsuch is as principled as he is said to be, his decisions would not necessarily reflect the politics of the moment.
Gorsuch would also bring a needed Western perspective to the court. He is a Coloradan and an outdoorsman who might show some of the independence exhibited by former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a conservative from Arizona. Education-wise, his credentials are tops.
This is not an endorsement. Senate Democrats can grill him with gusto. One can expect them to ask sharp questions regarding the Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a right to an abortion — and also expect him to avoid making his feelings known. That’s how these sessions go.
But vows to oppose Gorsuch before hearing him out further degrade a shabby landscape. Yes, Democrats would be doing to Trump’s nominee some of what Republicans did to Barack Obama’s sterling choice of Merrick Garland. And they have every right to remain incensed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to even consider Garland in the 10 remaining months of the Obama administration.
But given the current crisis, payback should take a back seat to the good of an American system under assault by Trump and associated barbarians. Put in milder terms, do Democrats want to add to the growing pile of litter being thrown onto our political norms?
There does appear to be a blossoming coalition of the center-right and center-left. In years past, they made war over various issues. There’s now a growing recognition that occasionally losing battles is preferable to losing the republic.
Many on the right, especially, are expressing regrets at their past willingness to collaborate with the on-air demagogues who have so coarsened the political conversation. Liberals could do their bit by giving a courteous hearing to a Supreme Court nominee whom their conservative brothers and sisters in the anti-Trump bloc greatly respect — and who is also deserving of respect.
Gorsuch has a reputation for decency. He’s worked well with colleagues of many political persuasions. Decent people don’t have to agree. They just have to keep the world safe for decency.
Readers of history know that authoritarian movements fueled by lies eventually land in the dumpster. The reasonable center needs to be prepared for the cleanup.
The far left has become politically inert, preferring fiery speeches over voting for less-than-perfect Democrats. The far right is bonkers. A centrist coalition is the greatest hope for saving the country from Trump. And to maintain it, the members must keep their politics neat and tidy.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGE: Gage Skidmore/Flickr