That brings us to the last few weeks in Washington, when the Senate Judiciary Committee met under the pretext that it would listen to testimony from an ordinary American, Christine Blasey Ford. In the rawest yet most plainly sincere terms, Ford told the committee that the nominee, as a teenager, had drunkenly tried to force himself on her. Many in the committee room, and millions watching, believed her.
The answer, when it came—from the nominee, from his supporters, and finally and most shockingly from Trump himself—was a perfect whirlwind of male aggression and dominance. The aim, which was largely successful, was simply to remove Ford from the equation and turn the subject to raw power and its prerogatives. The debate and the vote that followed were not about the Court, not about the law; they were about the Republican Party. They were about teaching the rest of us that we cannot refuse what Trump and McConnell want. They were a demonstration that in the new order there is no individual, no norm, no institution not subject to the control of the ruling party.
After the Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh on Saturday, I remembered that boy six decades ago who asked his parents, What was the Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court, they told me, was an institution to which they felt a deep allegiance, whether they agreed with its decisions or not. In their lives, and in the lives of all around me, I saw a society reluctantly but inevitably summoned to move forward not simply by the language of the Constitution but also by acceptance of the Court as an independent arbiter of the rule of law.
Critically, skeptically, but deeply, I loved that Supreme Court. Where is it? Where is the Court that claimed it was at least striving to transcend partisan politics?
That Court is gone forever. We will spend at least the rest of my lifetime fighting over its rotting corpse. No prating about civility can change that fact. The fight is upon us now, and the party that shirks it will be destroyed.
In Robert Bolt’s screenplay for Lawrence of Arabia, Prince Faisal speaks to Major T. E. Lawrence of the glories of medieval Islamic civilization: “In the Arab city of Córdoba, there were two miles of public lighting in the streets when London was a village,” he says.
But in the 20th century, Faisal sees that before him is not glory but war. “Now my father is old,” he says. “And I, I long for the vanished gardens of Córdoba. However, before the gardens must come the fighting.”
I, too, long for vanished gardens fair beyond words, for that long, eventful postwar peace in the shadow of the law and the Supreme Court that clumsily preserved it.
We did not know then that shadows were falling on that peace; we did not suspect then how fragile those institutions were; we did not imagine then how eagerly some of our fellow Americans would pull them down.