Americans, like all humans, are trapped in history; thus we can’t know now whether the American republic is on its deathbed or simply spiking one of its periodic fevers. The patient has recovered from near-fatal illness before; but it has to be said that lately—with the rise of a potential dictator in the form of Donald Trump and the effective collapse of a functioning national legislature—its breathing has developed an ominous rattle.
In such moments, the first rule for would-be physicians is well known: Primum non nocere—“First, do no harm.” But in recent weeks, a handful of progressives have ignored that principle. A perfectly dreadful idea has been circulating: President Obama should, after waiting a few more weeks for the Senate to act on his Supreme Court nomination, simply proclaim Judge Merrick Garland “confirmed” and send him over the One First St. NE to take Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat.
A worse idea could hardly be imagined. But the fact that serious people are discussing it demonstrates how effectively conservative legislators have undermined the very idea of civil dialogue. The congressional majorities have begun to act as if the United States doesn’t have an elected president. They will not debate an authorization for use of force against ISIS; they will not permit Obama’s budget director to testify about the budget; they will not hold hearings on his Supreme Court nomination. The message has been that the administration is not legitimate and no real legislating will be done on any subject.