Coming Supreme Court battle: Moment of reckoning for Biden — and America

Breyer's replacement won't shift the balance of power. But how this goes may tell us whether America can be saved

By Brian Karem


Published January 27, 2022 9:43AM (EST)

Stephen Breyer, Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Stephen Breyer, Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

We are headed for a reckoning.

Or if you prefer, as George Carlin said, "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups."

On Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will reportedly announce his retirement, once again giving a large group of stupid people (better known as congressmen and senators) the ability to lead us into another national apoplectic fit of hair rending and teeth gnashing.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, who successfully kept Barack Obama from seating a justice on the court, recently spoke as one of the key leaders of stupid people in a large group. In answering a reporter's question about voting rights, and concerns that Republicans are trying to block them, McConnell said, "The concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans."

The statement is both factually misleading and racist, and McConnell later amended it. But the damage was done. McConnell, and the large group of supporters who clean his shoes with their eager tongues, continue to drive a wedge into a population that grows both weary and increasingly uncomfortable with the division. 

Not to be outdone, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently suggested that members of the Jan. 6 committee should be jailed — meaning not those who committed crimes last January, but those who are investigating those who committed crimes. That, according to Gingrich, is the real crime. And if the Republicans win back the House in the midterms, those arrests might happen. If our culture manages to survive, then in the future we are destined to look at these politicians the same way we look at Homo neanderthalensis.

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Facing a growing foreign policy problem with Russia and Ukraine, President Biden spent last weekend at Camp David, apparently to reset and relax. The unrest in Eastern Europe, with a potential long-term commitment of troops to support Ukraine, or the horrifying brevity of a potential apocalyptic war, adds to the scarred national psyche. Biden has done little to calm those concerns.

So the president returned from Camp David to a cacophony of sounds and the stench of a divided country, with little new to report on either his domestic or foreign policy agenda.

The heart of America is seen in microcosm on the trip from the White House to Camp David. It goes through heavily urban areas to the suburbs before reaching where the suburbs go to die before finally entering an overwhelmingly rural countryside populated by small towns filled with shops that always include an antique shop, a gas station, a hardware store and at least one sit-down restaurant. Some also have car dealerships and fast-food joints. Each mile traveled further away from the District of Columbia exposes you to dissipating Democratic influence — leading out from the White House like the ripples from a rock thrown into a still pond. 

Until the Trump era, tolerance was still prevalent among the denizens even in the reddest districts. The sourest, meanest, most racist, irascible fan of stupidity had a modicum of decorum in public, whether they were shopping for jeans at Walmart or buying food at the local grocery store.

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Call it manners, call it a fear of prosecution — but as recently as five years ago things were much different. Now, everyone appears eager to show their ass in public. That's led to a thicker sludge of putrescence exploding from the infected boil on the rump of American culture. It has spawned many ignorant hypocrites in Congress and nurtured the infections named McConnell, Jordan and Paul. Nobody will ever go walking up over the hill singing their names the way Dion sang "Abraham, Martin and John."

Today, with the poison spreading, you can witness people at the grocery store arguing over wearing masks. In some areas these confrontations resemble grade school lunchroom arguments, while in other settings they look more like a WWE smackdown or a scene from "Tombstone." These people are no daisies. Many are just wound a bit too tight.

This discord makes it difficult for any president to make headway even if he is a master of communication — which Joe Biden definitely isn't. In this atmosphere the selection of a new Supreme Court justice promises to be as rancorous as vaccination and mask mandates.

*  *  *

There are two political parties in the United States. One is the Democratic Party, a big-tent conglomeration of people who can't get along (including former Republicans, who don't formally belong and may be just visiting). This disparate group shares something in common: a belief in liberty, justice and constitutional principles. The group is diverse politically, racially, socially, sexually and any other way we divide ourselves into smaller groups. 

The other party calls itself the Republican Party, but it's really the fascist party. This party just wants to rule — whether a majority of Americans agree with them or not. What does this party actually stand for? What do they want to do?

In a recent two-hour long press conference that will either go down as a historic and unique attempt to talk to the press, or the high-water mark of embarrassment (depending on which Big Media Voice you pay attention to), President Biden asked that question. Of course, Biden is often criticized for his own trouble communicating with the public — after all, he does a horrible job selling the world on reality, much less his ideas to solve our problems.

RELATED: Signs of life in Bidenland: President seizes the pulpit at last — will it change anything?

He had one great success in his first year in office; getting an infrastructure bill passed with the help of his Republican "friends." He celebrated the signing of that bill with a crowd of nearly a thousand people on the South Lawn of the White House this fall. But his victory contained the seeds of future failure.

McConnell, whom Biden still calls a friend, leads the Republican Party in a perpetual circle-jerk and hardened his heart after the infrastructure bill. He abhors consensus. He thrives on division and is set on denying Biden any other victories while at the same time blaming him for Congress' inaction. This has been his agenda for "leading" since he ascended to leadership of his party. Biden was part of the Obama administration and saw this first hand. The question for him this time around is: Why didn't he see this coming? Biden says things have gotten worse since Obama. No kidding. The insurrection should have told him that. His inability to outmaneuver McConnell and the fascists is perhaps the single greatest cause for concern among those who wish to avoid further division — and seat a new Supreme Court justice.

The senior senator from the Commonwealth of Kentucky is nothing if not consistently ignorant and arrogant. The last time he pulled this stunt, he not only thwarted most of Obama's agenda, including a Supreme Court nominee, but helped give us Donald Trump — a man McConnell loathes. McConnell is either naïve about the consequences or simply doesn't care, as long as he can get total control to pack the courts and gerrymander enough districts to successfully press forward a fascist agenda. That saucy little minx flashed us his racist Freudian slip in his recent comment about minority voters. But at the end of the day McConnell doesn't care. He's every bit as narcissistic as the former president. 

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Which brings us back to Biden's question: If the Fascist-Republicans have their way, then what do they stand for? What will they do?

By now, it should be obvious. The fascists are for enhancing their stature and power and crushing souls to do it. Pick an issue: Taxes. Race. Voting rights. Unions. Health care. On virtually every issue, they stand in the minority and on the wrong side of history. They want to build walls, both metaphorically and concretely, while trying to convince people that liberty can be obtained by denying it and turning those who have less into human chattel. The cherry on top? Many of them want to do this in the name of almighty GAWD! (Can I get an Amen or a Hallelujah?)

This is no "existential threat" to our country. This is a direct threat. The members of the fascist party stand together and support the "Big Lie." Some are responsible for planning to overthrow the U.S. government. All of them who fail to speak against it are complicit in the plot.

All that stands in their way from dominating the government is a ragtag group of disgruntled former soldiers of the Empire, and a motley crew of well-meaning do-gooders that include aging hacks, minor criminals, mumbling centrists and bumbling leftists who — while they don't necessarily like each other — at their core believe in the Constitution to the best of their sometimes limited understanding. Where are Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker? We could use the help.

RELATED: Will we really let ourselves be governed by irredeemable idiots? That's the choice, America

The United States faces the distinct possibility of consuming itself in a paroxysm of violence, followed by many years of fascism, if current trends continue and the most dire pundits of doom have their way.

But I don't think it will go down that way.

If you want to really see America, then visit its many diverse neighborhoods. It isn't a packed house of aging white men with bladder control and erectile dysfunction issues. It is filled with multiracial people of all ages, of many religious backgrounds and national origins and from a variety of socioeconomic groups. And a whole lot of them live in suburbia, where there is a nearby city park with swimming, skateboarding, hiking and miniature golf. The drinking water is clean. There are no potholes in the well-paved roads nearby. Electricity is reliable. Public schools are within walking distance. Food is available day or night. I live in such a neighborhood.

A variety of work opportunities exist for the unskilled and the highest skilled here. My nearby neighbors include an elderly retired woman, living on an assisted income. A young Hispanic couple who do yard and house work live nearby with their three children. One neighbor is nearly my age and experiencing fatherhood for only the second time in his life. The African American gentleman down the street is a scientist, and so is his wife. Their children love Harry Potter. Next door to him lives a Hispanic extended family that owns a small-time plumbing business. My other neighbor is a former hippie redneck who won't get vaxxed and always smiles at me. We all have a lot in common — we're just trying to get through the day without a major conflagration.

Every time I look out my window at my neighborhood, I still have hope. I think about the one word Biden uses to describe the United States: "Possibilities." We remain a land of possibilities — but we face a day of reckoning in the midterm elections that will decide what those look like for many years to come.

Does the majority rule or does a vocal and powerful minority? Do we jail those who violated our Constitution or do we jail those who investigate the crime? How do we build our future?

Though we are a nation of possibilities, some of them are quite grim. Avoiding the worst of them requires focus on a big picture many of us cannot or do not wish to see — and others eagerly anticipate.

The spectacle of picking a new Supreme Court justice, and how that plays out, will be one of the key issues that decide exactly which "possibilities" come to fruition.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Commentary Joe Biden Mitch Mcconnell Republicans Stephen Breyer Supreme Court