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There is nothing civil about intimidation

Democrats dial up ugly Supreme Court rhetoric and threats, ignoring Ginsburg’s example

A man reads a message written in chalk outside the Supreme Court on Saturday. In the days since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Democratic leaders have sought to inflame the streets, not calm them, Winston writes.
A man reads a message written in chalk outside the Supreme Court on Saturday. In the days since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Democratic leaders have sought to inflame the streets, not calm them, Winston writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

If there is one needed takeaway from the coverage of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it has been the focus on the mutual admiration society that was the friendship between Ginsburg and her late colleague Justice Antonin Scalia. 

It is not possible to imagine a more unlikely odd couple — the fiery conservative and feisty liberal. Both were passionate advocates for their judicial philosophies, but unlike the increasingly divisive politics that swirl outside the walls of the Supreme Court, these two justices were able to do their important work with civility and respect for each other’s views that are so absent from political discourse today.

With the country now an ideological tinderbox, the last thing we need are political leaders adding fuel to fire with their intemperate words and their apparent decision to inflame the streets, not calm them. 

After a summer of rioting that Nancy Pelosi characterized as “people will do what they do,” the speaker this week refused to rule out re-impeaching President Donald Trump to stop the nomination and boasted that Democrats would use “every arrow in our quiver” to stop him. Comments like these do little but feed red meat to already radicalized mobs.

But Pelosi isn’t alone in her dangerous rhetoric or her threats.

With a sense of partisan entitlement, Democratic leaders, pundits, consultants (and a complicit media) have lined up to try and intimidate Senate Republicans from moving a nomination forward. Yes, Democrats can make a case that Republicans took a different position in opposing the Merrick Garland nomination in 2016. Back then, Democrats made the case that Garland should get a vote but now say a Republican nominee should not.

Revving up the base

What the Democrats seem to forget is that this isn’t the “Ginsburg seat” and must be filled with a justice of like mind any more than the “Scalia seat” required President Barack Obama to nominate a conservative, and he didn’t.

But that hasn’t stopped a parade of Democratic leaders from taking to the microphones and Twitter to offer up incendiary pronouncements designed to appease their base with promises of packing the court, ending the Electoral College and getting rid of the Senate’s legislative filibuster. This isn’t an effort to get out the vote but an unsubtle warning to Republicans that if they don’t toe the line, well, anything goes. When Democrats can’t win by the rules, their solution, apparently, is to change the rules.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer menacingly warned Sunday that any Trump nomination would mean that women’s rights and equality would “go down the drain” and make global warming “not less likely, but more likely, and it will come quicker.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, appearing with Schumer, warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he was “playing with fire” and demanded that Democrats use “every tool at our disposal” to stop the nomination. 

Last month, Rep. Ayanna Pressley set the stage when she urged, “There needs to be unrest in the streets for as long as there’s unrest in our lives.”

The media and particularly their paid commentators have been even worse. Author Reza Aslan tweeted, “If they even TRY to replace RBG, we burn the entire [expletive] thing down.” But nobody topped CNN’s Don Lemon when he told his anchor buddy Chris Cuomo, “We’re going to have to blow up the entire system.”

Two years ago, the violence and hateful rhetoric ratcheted up with Rep. Maxine Waters’ infamous call to arms: “Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them.”

If that isn’t a blueprint for violence, I don’t know what is, and we saw the results this summer.

Crossing a line

Two months after Waters’ incendiary remarks, Susan Collins was on the receiving end as she was considering how to vote on the Brett Kavanaugh nomination. This principled, well-regarded senator got ugly and vulgar voicemails, abusive and profane phone calls.  Some of her female staff were actually threatened as was Collins herself.

This week, radical protesters showed up at the homes of McConnell, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis. Liberal groups are releasing the home addresses of others, organizing protests and threatening to shut down the Senate.

This is a big leap from peacefully engaging in political discourse to an outright attempt to intimidate and threaten U.S. senators. Is this acceptable? Is this now what the country should expect from politics?

And what was the response from the Democratic Party’s nominal leader as his supporters turn up the volume and threaten to disrupt the process that has seen Supreme Court justices seated peacefully for decades? In a speech Monday in Wisconsin, Joe Biden said exactly nothing about the high court. When asked by a reporter, he refused to provide a list of his potential nominees because he said it would “shift the focus.” He also refused to reaffirm his previous opposition to packing the court.

Biden spent 36 years in the Senate. He should know that senators trying to make up their minds on an issue don’t respond well to threats, intimidation and mob rule. It isn’t likely to pay off and more threats from Hill Democrats and their supporters will only make matters worse. 

For the country’s sake, we need leaders who will turn down the temperature, reject the irresponsible calls of Twitter celebrities and resist the temptation to exploit what is already an explosive environment or they risk setting off a chain reaction they may not be able to control.    

Justices Ginsburg and Scalia were both models of civility and showed us that ideological differences can be resolved in a way that moves the country forward, without rancor and division.

David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, and is an election analyst for CBS News.

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