Executive News: The Kavanaugh effect

I waited a few days after my “deadline” had passed to write this month’s column. The reason for the delay is I wanted to see whethe

Photo of Roger M. Beverage
Roger Beverage, OBA President and CEO

r the U.S. Senate would confirm or reject Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.

The final vote occurred shortly after Texas beat OU on a late field goal. The final vote to approve (now) Justice Kavanaugh was 50–48, a historically razor-thin margin.

I watched as much of the confirmation hearing as possible. His initial testimony and the evidence supporting his nomination – before the sexual assault allegation – seemed to me to be more than enough to garner 51 Republicans and perhaps three or four Democrats.

It was no secret most Senate Democrats would vote to oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. A vote for Judge Kavanaugh meant locking in a conservative majority on the high court for a generation. The process was always about the future direction of the Court, never about whether the judge was qualified to serve.

I was curious about four particular senators and how they would vote. Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Joe Donnelly (D- Ind.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) all face stiff reelection challenges in states President Trump won by double digits. Each of these senators also voted for S. 2155 that was designed and intended to help community banks. Those “friends of traditional banking” were not very popular within their caucus.

After the initial confirmation process had concluded, the news broke that Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) was given a confidential letter from an, as yet, unnamed woman who claimed while they were in high school, Judge Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her. Naievely, I had no idea what a game-changer that would become.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who had requested anonymity and who wanted her name and allegations to remain confidential, was introduced to America through the news media. And the political environment went downhill rapidly.

Here’s the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):
“Let the confirmation process for Judge Kavanaugh be recorded as a sorry epilogue to the brazen theft of Justice Scalia’s seat, and the … end of bipartisan cooperation and consultation on the confirmation of Supreme Court justices,” he said.

Here’s Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in response:
“We have come to the conclusion of a confirmation process that has become so dysfunctional it looks more like a caricature of a gutter-level political campaign than a solemn occasion,” she said.
This demonstration of guttural politics should be a wake-up call for all Republicans, Democrats and independents. But I don’t think it will be. Protestors immediately began carrying signs that said, “This ain’t over.” And that’s what bothers me.

The process of reasoned debate has been replaced by a new approach to the political process: Whatever it takes to win. If unproven allegations destroy lives and reputations in the process, so be it. It’s collateral damage. The ends justify the means as long as “we” win.

Why am I alarmed? Because this political reality has come out from behind the curtain. We don’t have to guess any more about what’s really going on. What little civility we’ve had over the past two decades has now morphed into the politics of personal destruction, on both sides of the aisle. This is how it’s done now.

The “anger” that’s now the base for political decisions makes it very hard to have a legitimate discussion and still maintain respect for someone who disagrees with you. And “politicians” are not shy about expressing their anger and telling the world about it, all win the name of fundraising for the next election.

Banking issues are not exempt from the impact of this new political approach. We saw it during the Senate debate over S. 2155 where it got personal. Many things said on the Senate floor were just not true, especially when our member banks were vilified over and over again.

We’ll see it again after the election next month in the 116th Congress.

Thomas Friedman recently wrote a column in The New York Times that I found sobering entitled The American Civil War, Part II. When he began his career, he said he never envisioned ending it during the second civil war in America. He wrote:

“We may not be there yet, but if we do not turn around now, we will surely get where we are going — which was best described by Sen. Jeff Flake:

‘Tribalism is ruining us. It is tearing our country apart. It is no way for sane adults to act.’ …

“There is a deep breakdown happening between us, between us and our institutions and between us and our president. We can’t find common ground on which to respectfully disagree; the other side is ‘the enemy.’

“We shout at each other on television, unfollow each other on Facebook and fire verbal mortars at each other on Twitter — and now everyone is on the digital battlefield, not just politicians. Across the land, before dinner parties or block parties, the refrain ‘I hope none of them will be there,’ is uttered with increasing frequency, referring no longer to people of another race or religion — bad enough — but to people from a different political party.

Read his opinion, dated Oct. 2 at www.nytimes.com

Friedman acknowledges the growing divide among members of Congress and the people they represent. That does not bode well for this country. Partisanship is one thing; “tribalism” is something else entirely – “we rule and have the power, or we die.”

Could it result in a second civil war, as Friedman suggests? I fear he may be right, unless we all stop with the political extremism, name-calling, back-stabbing and the “do-anything-to-win” approach to governing. If we can’t or won’t learn the lessons from our past, such a “civil war” may be a lot closer, at least in some form, than any of us realize.