It is official: Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed to the Supreme Court. We should be justifiably upset about the dishonest political maneuvering that brought us to this point, and also about a Supreme Court on the cusp of eroding our rights and devastating our communities.
But we must not spiral into despair. No matter what the circumstances, there is always a path to progress and a reason to hope. We don’t need to sugarcoat the gravity of this moment, but we do need to commit to continue to pursue avenues for change.
Donald Trump and the Republican Senate have now installed three radically conservative justices to the Supreme Court, decidedly tipping the ideological balance for decades. As Mitch McConnell put it: “A lot of what [Republicans have] done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
Unfortunately, McConnell is right. Of all the harmful actions that have come out of the Trump administration, this is by far the most damaging.
But we must face the sobering reality that the 2016 election had consequences. Yes, an ultra-conservative Court means that freedoms we have held dear, and perhaps even taken for granted, for decades are no longer secure. Federal protections for voting rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, fair elections, and more are at risk. With Barrett’s refusal to acknowledge climate change, we even saw a chilling preview of a world where courts, who are supposed to be the arbiters of truth, no longer recognize basic scientific facts. There is no denying that these are troubling and dangerous times.
Nevertheless, here we are. We can’t go back in time or change the past. Our only option is to move forward. To do so, we must ask ourselves this question: given our current circumstances, what can we do to make progress? The answer has three parts.
First, stop the bleeding. We must cut off the ability of Republicans to do more damage. This means winning elections. Those who place party loyalty over the good of the country must be removed from office so that they no longer have the power to inflict harm. And while we must try to win all the elections, in this landscape, we specifically need to win power in states to both serve as a backstop against the harmful Supreme Court decisions that are coming and also as a vehicle to continue to push progressive policy forward even in a divisive national political environment.
Second, enact change. Winning elections is meaningful only if officials take action once in office. If Democrats win, they must act swiftly and boldly to enact legislation, revamp policy, and push for structural reform that cracks our democracy wide open and returns power to the people. This means, among other things: enacting fair districting, increasing access to voting, expanding healthcare, protecting marginalized communities, getting money out of politics, acting to counteract climate change, and restructuring our government to be anti-racist.
Third, don’t give up. Democracy is not a parent that takes care of you, it is a child that needs constant supervision. It is not self-executing. The constitution is just a piece of paper, it only provides what we demand of it. We must live our values every day and never get complacent. This is true even, or perhaps especially, when we are making progress.
The past few years have been a dark, chaotic, and sobering time, and we will be living with the fallout for decades.
But through it all, we have reason to hope. Hope is the Women’s March emerging as the single biggest protest in U.S. history. Hope is the election of a Democrat from deep red Alabama to the U.S. Senate. Hope is the failure of Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Hope is being inches away from finally electing a woman and person of color as Vice President. Hope is watching people of all backgrounds rise up to protest racial injustice in the middle of a pandemic. Hope is witnessing the largest voter turnout ever recorded. Hope is the acknowledgement that the future isn’t written yet, the worst case scenario is not inevitable, and what we do today will make a difference down the road.
Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation will cause harm and suffering to our democracy and our communities. But nothing can keep hopeful people of action from making change.
No matter what has happened, or where we are now, we can make it better as long as we keep trying. Let’s commit to doing so.