Tripod Editorial: On the Politics of Confirmation

There is, yet again, a fallacious line of reasoning in Washington which seems to suggest that any one individual or party can act to safeguard the great “morality” of a nation. Today, this is embodied in what is certain to be a contentious month of legislative discourse and dissent over the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

 By many a great philosophers’ estimations, morality is inherently subjective in character, subject to the will and exercise of individuals’ freedom. Plato, as well as a coterie of other Greeks, found at the root of ethics the pursuit of happiness or well-being (eudaimonia), which became the ultimate objective of adherence to a moral code. More recently, Michel Foucault, scion of the French philosophical tradition of the mid-20th century, recognized a freedom in subjecting oneself to a moral authority or set of ethics. Such acts were squarely within the domain of the individual, the result of their free exercise and decision to align their morality with a creed which most closely matched themselves. 

These philosophical abstractions, then, can be applied to the instant matter. They, and the historical course of action, belie any sense of rationality in the arguments for or against appointment. Hypocrisy—a word we hesitate to use lightly—is present in the contentions of our nation’s stalwart political factions. Self-interest guides and dictates this current decision, as it has for generations, in pursuit of the happinessgained by political expediency. 

James Madison, in Federalist No. 10, recognized explicitly that these “dangerous vices” of factions were inevitable in a system founded upon these common precepts of liberty. Madison writes “it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.” 

We see that invariable factionalism play out here and, with regret, the founders’ lofty conception of controlling factionalism has failed. It did not take long for factionalism to envelop the nation: the ratification debate itself evinced a division between Federalists and Anti-Federalists. In time, modern political parties would be forged.

Today, the value of those individual interests will become apparent in the political battle for the Supreme Court seat. Democrats, in 2013, extended Senate rules and utilized the so-called “nuclear option” to eliminate the 60-vote rule for filibusters of nominees for the federal court. In turn, Republicans exercised the same to end debate on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch. And so, individual interest begets individual interest. 

Though each party will ceaselessly attempt to proclaim the moral high ground, neither party has any room to stand. Renowned economist Thomas Sowell put it best: “No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems—of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.”

-BWC & DJN

bclark

Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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