Trump, Obama and the media's wild Supreme Court double standard

Normalizing radical behavior

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Americans already overwhelmingly oppose Trump's move to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg's vacancy on the United States Supreme Court by ramming through a new nomination in the closing weeks of 2020. Just 23 percent of voters think Trump should select Ginsburg's replacement now — most say the winner of this year's presidential election should make that call following the jurist’s death.

That Republicans want to force the issue, perhaps during a lame duck session after Trump is defeated, given the fact they refused to hold hearings for President Barack Obama's Court nominee because it came during the 2016 election, represents a new zenith in hypocrisy. One of the reasons Republicans don't play by any discernible rules is because they can so often depend on a Beltway press corps to help soften the blow. It’s happening now with the Ginsburg story, as the press embraces Republican talking points, normalizes unprecedented behavior, and erases or downplays the GOP's 2016 obstruction.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court nomination narrative was that Obama was picking a "fight" by moving to fill a court vacancy after Antonin Scalia died in February that year. The press aided Republicans by presenting their radical and unparalleled plan to block the president as being an unsurprising move. The framework for much of the coverage was, it's Obama's behavior that's setting off a showdown, and of course Republicans would categorically oppose anyone Obama nominates. Politico reported the Democratic president “was facing the choice between setting off a nasty brawl with Congress by seizing the best chance in a generation to flip the ideological balance of the Supreme Court, or simply punting.”

The New York Times in particular was  committed to portraying the GOP's unprecedented actions as part of a Both Sides Are To Blame confrontation. One article at the time ran under the headline, “President Raises Stakes in Supreme Court Nominee Battle,” indicating that Obama had said or done something to worsen the court conflict. Another Times headline read, “Court Path Is Littered With Pitfalls, for Obama and the G.O.P.” -- suggesting the controversy was a bipartisan undertaking and that Obama, by nominating a new justice, faced political “pitfalls."

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Over and over in 2016, we heard that Obama was "picking a fight" with Republicans by nominating a Supreme Court Justice eight months before an election. That type of media acquiescence served as the hallmark of the Obama era. Republicans routinely obliterated Beltway norms and journalists portrayed the obstruction as routine, and often blamed Obama for not being able to avoid the showdowns.

Today, Trump wants to ram through a nomination in six weeks but he isn't "picking a fight"? Much of the Ginsburg coverage starts with the premise that of course Trump will try to confirm a Supreme Court Justice days before the election, or during a lame duck session after the election, which would be unheard of in the history of the Court for a contested nomination. It would be an especially jaw-dropping move if Republicans lose the White House and the Senate on Election Day.

With its Ginsburg fallout coverage, Politico often didn't even bother to consider the issue of GOP hypocrisy — it was a non-entity. Starting from a premise that mirrored Republican talking points, Politico assumed without question that Trump would nominate a new Justice, even though the GOP spent 2016 arguing how dishonest that exact move would be during an election year:  

President Donald Trump and his team are weighing a key decision this weekend: whether to nominate a Supreme Court candidate who already has been carefully vetted and interviewed, or take extra time to select someone newer to his process who could yield a bigger election-year payoff.  

Incredibly, the long Politico piece on Republican strategy made no mention of Merrick Garland or the fact that Republicans blocked his election year nomination in 2016. Politico flushed all that down the memory hole.

"In the coming days, these [Republican] senators will be forced to answer several important questions. Would you vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee before the election?" Politico reported, in another article that never mentioned what Republicans did to Garland.

Indeed, lots of Ginsburg news coverage over the weekend contained just a passing reference to the Garland obstruction, letting Republicans off the hook by not reproducing their explicit and repeated 2016 announcements about how under no circumstances were election-year nominations to be considered:

• Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Col.): “I think we’re too close to the election. The president who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision.” 

• Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): “I don’t think we should be moving on a nominee in the last year of this president’s term — I would say that if it was a Republican president .”

This Times piece over the weekend buried Sen. Lindsey Graham's stunning flip-flop quotes at the bottom of the article. At National Public Radio, it wasn't duplicitous Republican behavior that was the most newsworthy, it was that Trump's "flair for the dramatic" and how his "sense of showmanship" was sure to make his upcoming Justice nomination pick entertaining.

What Republicans are trying to pull off with the post-Ginsburg power grab has no precedence in American history and represents a corrupt power maneuver by an unpopular president. That’s how the press should cover the unfolding story.

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💻 GOOD STUFF:

I'm glad I'm not the only one harping on this monumental media failure. From Esquire's Charles Pierce: "Every Newspaper Should Be Calling on Donald Trump to Resign":

It would be a demonstration that another institution was pushing back against a criminal presidency*, the fundamental incompetence of which has contributed to the deaths of over 200,000 citizens.

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🎙 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

The Avett Brothers, "Victory"

Returning to their stripped down, acoustic roots, the always-endearing Avett Brothers' new album contains a harvest of gems. "Victory" showcases the siblings' hallmark harmonies and the brothers' longview of life, set to a gorgeous melody, via Concord, North Carolina.

I don't write 'cause I don't think
I don't have a need to speak
I don't see the bright side, quite as clear
Accolades and happy days
They don't ever last
Stories of courage clouded up with fear