More gruel
The Russian Judges

The Russian Judges

Court is in session

By the end of June 2018, Congress had confirmed 42 Trump appointees to our federal courts, including one Supreme Court Justice. That SCOTUS position came open during Obama’s term, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider Obama’s nominee. With Justice Kennedy stepping down, Trump will now attempt to place a second judge on the Supreme Court.

These are the Russian Judges, lifetime appointees to the federal judiciary whose positions were secured through fraud and enemy interference. Their appointments are illegitimate, which means their day to day activities lack force of law. If we are, as we claim to be, a nation of laws, then the Russian Judges have to go.

When the traitors have been removed and a legitimate government established, the Russian Judges should be asked by the new President to resign. Many of them are ordinary figures. At the President’s discretion, their names could be resubmitted for appointment. Those who refuse to resign should be impeached. Failing impeachment, the new executive branch should seek their re-assignment, or re-organize the courts in ways that leave those judges isolated from hearing important cases.

Is any of this likely to happen? Who cares. That’s not the point.

I spent my life in the Republican Party. At the grassroots level, especially in the South, this is how politics is played on the right. Yes, professor, this policy proposal is impractical. It contains elements that might undermine the independence of the judiciary. And of course, if these methods were attempted by my political opponents I would oppose them on legal grounds. This works. If you want to preserve your country, learn how to do politics.

Take a story, with winners and losers and a villain, like Russian interference in our elections. Distill that story into an image or a phrase, like Russian Judges. Then use it like a hammer. These metaphorical weapons are most powerful when they operate like a wedge, undermining your opponent’s messaging by creating dissonance. This image of the “America First” president, who rode into office on waves of white xenophobic terror, posing with scary mooslims, is a gift Democrats don’t know how to use.

Republicans know how to activate their voters. When Chief Justice John Roberts, in a supremely conservative opinion, upheld most elements of the Affordable Care Act, conservatives called him a traitor. Ted Cruz responded by attacking the legitimacy of Supreme Court rulings. On the campaign trail he promised to impose blatantly unconstitutional tests on future judges to prevent such independent thought in the future.

The result? Fox News viewers may not care about civics, but they know who to vote for and they show up to the polls. The right maintains their tenuous grip on power despite inferior numbers because they understand how to define an enemy.

Every story needs a villain, and conservatives never fail to invent one. Even with the most atrocious nominee in our history, they showed up to place him in the White House. While they backed a man who was forced to pay a multi-million dollar fraud settlement during the campaign, they remained laser-focused on the invisible, invented crimes of Hillary Clinton. Complain all you want, but you have to admire their commitment to a narrative.

Most of our modern civic order, premised on individual rights and civil liberties, was shaped by our federal courts in the second half of the 20th century. Conservatives understand this, and have been on a decades-long campaign to destroy the judiciary. They are willing to elect a mob boss and collaborate with an enemy intelligence service for a shadow of a shot at dismantling our civil rights. The Russian Judges are likely to be the most enduring loot from their crimes. We will not repair the damage from this regime until the Russian Judges have been neutered.

Capital letters. A memorable smear. Fact paired with parody is a powerful acid…Russian Judges.

Take “the high road” and keep losing or learn what works and win. When they go low, make them pay.

A new, legitimate government should promise to neutralize the Russian Judges planted in the heart of our system by our enemies. Use the term over and over, until it’s so common that shows up in pleadings in their courts. Never let these appointees escape the reach of that phrase and never let the collaborators who placed them in power escape the stain of their actions.


      1. Yeah.

        My expertise on this matter comes solely from reading Red Sparrow, a novel written by former CIA employee Jason Matthews.

        His description of relationships between handlers and assets — including their complexity and the wide-ranging motives of those assets — made me think our current president would be ripe for recruitment. No matter how much he has, he needs more — more money, more adulation, more flattery.

        Putin is a character in the book, a minor one, but his influence hovers throughout. Added to the Russian attempts to influence Brexit, I found myself thinking ol’ Putin is very clever indeed.

      2. I have just read the NY Magazine article to which KayRay linked. It is frightening. I strongly suspect that much of it is true. That in turn means that Trump is one, a traitor and 2. Putin’s agent. I have secretly suspected that to be the case for some time.

        I am fearful for what might come out of the summit with Putin. First I suspect that Trump will recognize Crimea’s annexation. He will possibly agree to withdraw American forces from Europe and even possibly to withdraw from NATO. Who knows? That would give Putin a free reign in Europe and perhaps the establishment of a new Russian Empire (Empire #3 to me) and possible expansion beyond its peak during the Cold War (Empire #2). That would then inevitably lead to hot war.

        I do know however, that the US will be inevitably drawn into European conflict.

  1. Yeah alright. I disagree.

    So let’s say in 2019 the House of Representatives and, if we’re lucky, the Senate go to Democrats that promise to ‘Impeach the Russian Judges.’ They start finding all sorts of between-the-lines legal ways to take actions towards doing so, at least in a way that looks promising to media. In 2020 we push the bid far enough that a Democrat gets elected, and in 2021 the Democratic administration starts removing, replacing, or otherwise sidelining justices.

    That’s their political currency expense right there. This creates howls of rage from the right, and makes middle-of-the-ground people feel not too easy either. The Republicans sweep back into Congress in 2022, and the next time we get a Republican president, he immediately starts removing liberal justices across the board. As anyone moderate or left-of-center complain, they shrug and say, “Democrats did it first.” Which is true.

    Congratulations, we’re now Turkey, Poland, and the Philippines, amongst others. Or how about Venezuela?

    The problem with attacking the independent judiciary (even if it’s the ‘Russian judiciary’ or the ‘Trump judiciary’ or ‘activist judges’ or whathaveyou) is that the judges still have to be confirmed by the Senate, meaning the responsibility is spread far enough that even if a one-party majority rule, the legal mechanism for arguing that the justices are truly representative of the will of the people is still tied to how proportionality is decided in the two chambers of Congress.

    Reform must start there, the rest is just tools for skullduggery.


    The other side of your argument is about playing hardball with words. The primary problem with that is that if the Democrats talk big about the Russian Judges and do nothing, they both prove the “well both sides lie!” equivalence AND set the goalposts of civic debate open for Republicans to make the same arguments about liberal justices — except with the intent to act on it.

    I’m also not sure hardball words work equally well on either side. The Republican party is an approaching ‘minority majority’ with lower rates of educational attainment and aging populaces in depopulated regions lacking opportunities and skills. The rest of the nation is everyone else. Maybe this is just a lot of big words and periambulatory ways of saying that I honestly just believe Republicans are stupider and more easily manipulated by fear and propaganda. Everyone else is just too busy working skilled jobs and traveling to other countries for vacation to stand up against them.

    Proof of concept? Republicans banging the anti-Obama drum for eight years won the entire Federal Government. Democrats banging the anti-Trump drum for three and a half years are getting a lot of, “C’mon man, you gotta offer us something better than that.” Apparently the tactics that work for Republicans don’t work for Democrats, otherwise banging the anti-Trump drum should work just as well as banging the anti-Obama drum.

    Furthermore, Hillary won the popular vote despite being hated and widely accepted as corrupt by most people on every part of the political spectrum. We complain that she didn’t play hardball, or give us a positive message, or hand us meaty solutions, or whatever, but yet despite literally decades of character assassination and the most brutal campaign in living memory, she still won the popular vote.

    45’s win was literally a Black Swan event, if you look at it divided of discourse and from pure statistics. It was a narrow tip-over on thin margins in specific counties after a year and a half of confusing and chaotic twists and turns that no political analysis correctly predicted (and even the ones that predicted his ‘win’ oversold as some underlying popular demand that did not reflect in the final score).

    Now Democrats are winning across the entire country just by doing things like showing up in neighborhoods they’ve ignored for a while, saying hi.

    Maybe threatening an independent judiciary is not the best tactic. I prefer the one you gave before, where the DNC should strategize a better, cohesive, happier, and simpler message towards what the American people can get from their leadership, rather than merely banging the anti-Trump drum and using every evil thing the Republicans do as guidance for strategy.


    Anyway my point is, a LOT of Supreme Courts have been removed and replaced over the last decade by authoritarian populist regimes, I’d rather not open the United States up to the possibility.

    1. “I’m also not sure hardball words work equally well on either side.”

      How would we know?

      Democrats were beaten so solidly in 1984 that they’re still traumatized by it. The Clintons came out of nowhere to become the party’s principle apologists, winning on a strategy of conciliation and retreat. As a Republican, even by the late 90’s I was beginning to see the problem they were creating.

      Figures like Pelosi and Schumer came up in an environment in which concealing your political wish list was a survival imperative. They learned, and subsequently taught, that the only way Democrats could win was to be the “nice,” “reasonable” alternative to the most extreme elements of the GOP. It was never a great plan, but it let them start raking in hundreds of millions from Wall Street, corporations, and other sources that never would have bankrolled a Democrat before. They got comfortable.

      That approach to politics left us with two political parties, a crazy one and a haggard one. Inside the GOP, one of our greatest frustrations in managing our own nutjobs was the fact that there were no penalties for failure. We could field the stupidest, most dangerous people you’ve ever met and Democrats would never leverage their weaknesses. All of our own internal levers for managing idiocy gradually lost their power. It didn’t matter how extreme or even criminal our candidates might be, Democrats were 1) never able to fight back, and 2) even if we lost, Democrats were so shell-shocked that they’d never make us pay, no matter what we did. There were no penalties for nominating jackasses, eventually everything was run by jackasses.

      As for the legitimacy concerns, you can’t be serious. If Donald Trump is a black swan event, then what kind of animal was GW Bush? The most senior figures in the Republican Party are actively subverting an investigation into a least money-laundering, perhaps even treason, and they aren’t breaking a sweat.

      There is a theory that Democrats need to preserve government institutions because those institutions are central to Democratic objectives. This is true, if Democrats are now America’s Conservative Party. It would also be shocking news to a Democrat from the 50’s or 60’s. Our mythology of fair play and democratic legitimacy is a legacy of relatively one-sided politics of the Cold War era, in which only one party governed. It has never existed in times of two-party political competition – in those times congressmen were bashing each others’ brains out with canes inside the congressional chamber.

      Democrats are suffering, still, because they have alienated their base and lost their sense of direction. They’ll win big this year, but only because the “we’re not crazy” pitch has particular resonance. Until Democrats start running candidates I won’t vote for, they haven’t restored any balance to this political environment. Democrats won’t matter until they learn how to fight.

      1. Let me get this straight: You are asking the Democrats to retreat so far inward towards their base that you will find them unpalatable.
        That would just leave us with two militant camps who only care about institutions and rules insofar as they can game and break them to push their agendas as far as they can. That’s not going to encourage the Republicans to become something you can support again. In fact it will do the opposite and take any and all pressure off of them to do so.
        And because our system contains no proportional representation, there will be no path for any political orphans to re-enter the game. The ever-tightening purity standards in each party would block out a takeover by newcomers. (I seem to recall one of your last posts on the old blog being about a takeover of urban GOPs. What’s preventing that, or something similar rurally, is the nationalization of everything and that is tied to the combativeness for which you are asking.)
        That said, I don’t know that we need to respect Trump judge appointees after even John McCain admitted that he would never ratify any appointee of Obama. That and I’ve never forgotten that conservative hero Antonin Scalia thought it was Constitutional to invade people’s bedrooms in Lawrence v Texas.
        Every time a ruling comes down to party lines the authority of the Court itself, as an arbitrator, is weakened. I do not claim the requisite knowledge to discern the culpability of the two sides here. But it doesn’t look the Court is so much of an umpire now as it is another chamber of government.

      2. If there is one positive accomplishment of the Trump tenure, it is that it has awakened the Dem base – which needed it. I still believe that women are key to the Dem resurgence. Women know what is happening – they are the ones who hold their families together, care for their children, take them to the doctor, and many, many women work alongside their spouses in earning a living. They are pissed. Fired up. And they are calling B.S. on what they see not only with this president, but also with the gutless wonders who occupy Congress. It is my hope and belief that when, not if, women hold seats in state legislatures and in Congress that our government will begin to right itself. The only caveat is: what will be left to run. I’m sorry guys, but it’s time to give the ladies a chance. As for a candidate so good you could never support them you should welcome that day. I believe that will happen long before the Republican Party finds itself. As for who represents conservatism in America right now? Take a hard look because it isn’t the party of Trump.

      3. I’m asking Democrats to become something other than a collection of “everyone else” and embrace a platform. And yes, I’m aware that Clinton had a lot of policy recommendations, so many that no one remembers what they were. Each one was a carefully tailored hedge, designed to appear attractive without alienating key donors. This strategy has backed the Democrats into a corner. It just won’t work anymore. There’s no more ground to give.

        No one believes that voting a Democrat is going to result in any particular policy outcome. They do it defensively. A party big enough for Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and me, isn’t a political party, it’s a refugee camp.

        Democrats have been on the defensive for so long that they’ve lost any sense of themselves. Anyone who suggests going on the offensive is met with a defeatist, “that’ll never work” barrage that Republicans in my lifetime have never experienced. You guys needed to get your shit together a decade ago, when GW was running you in circles. The situation is more critical now. You are holding all the cards and you still talk about folding.

      4. Given that I think that all U.S. elections are over after the 2018 one, and that all non-rigged elections are already finished, the following is pure fantasy, but I will put it out there.

        You can call this defeatist “that’ll never work”, but it time for a 3 party system in the U.S. We know that the genie that is the fascists can’t be put back into the bottle, now that they have tasted real power. Moderates, sane people, from both parties can form a middle ground party and minority government, but only with the support of the truly altruistic left-wing social democrats, or the nazi’s. I think I know which way such a middle-ground party would turn for support. Compromise between opposing groups DOES create the best government policies, or at least the ones with least devastating consequences.

        But I simply have no idea how such a 3rd party would get off the ground, and what the socio-political upheaval would be. Then again, if 3 parties appeared on the ballot, it is quite possible that the nazi’s or moderate party would gain 35-40% of the vote and run the table. Don’t think a social democrat party could garner widespread nationwide support in the 35-40% range.

      5. EJ

        “A party big enough for Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and me, isn’t a political party, it’s a refugee camp.”

        More charitably, it might be called a “wartime coalition”: a place where former rivals come together to cooperate against another enemy, with the tacit understanding that they will not use it as an opportunity to betray one another.

        Or, even more optimistically, one might call it a “nation”.

      6. I’m not against Democrats growing teeth, but attacking the judiciary seems like the worst way to do it and they can’t learn all their tactics from the Republicans because their demographics don’t react the same way Republicans do.

        If the Democrats started attacking the judiciary in the way you describe, I would be turned off and wouldn’t want to vote for them. I can’t speak for other people but I would at least imagine I’m not the only one.

        Like JonCR, I’m not interested in seeing the Democrats become as extreme as the Republicans. This is why I don’t bother being a ‘centrist,’ because I don’t want to find middle ground between two equally wrong answers. And I don’t agree with analysts who claim that moving the goal posts further is just a way of making the middle meet further to the right or left, and so each side should counterbalance with equal extremes: instead of shifting the middle, the middle stretches beyond tensile strength and breaks, like a piece of gum stretched too thin.

        And I get annoyed at the argument that Democrats don’t have a large vision to offer, and that the small stuff isn’t a vision. The world has been getting increasingly better and better, with less crime, more health, less poverty and disease, less infant and childbirth mortality rates, greater international cooperation, more connected, and more aware. The small stuff they were doing was tinkering on expanding the scope of those benefits. The Republicans, however, want to destroy all of those things that make life better for the shattered egoes of a cowardly white men and an extra couple of private jets for a small population of feckless billionaires.

        But I do agree that insisting everything was going all right when there were still problems, and lots of blindspots with groups that were not seeing the benefits, was an issue. So it’s up to the Democrats to provide a better, larger statement of what the world can be, and work on the ground to get involved with the left behind communities.

        Democrats have made some huge mistakes, and I’d have no loyalty to them in any balanced party system. But they’d make an even worse mistake by trying to out-Republican Republicans, and in so doing would give Republicans even more ammunition to shoot our institutions down with.

      7. “The Republicans, however, want to destroy all of those things that make life better for the shattered egoes of a cowardly white men and an extra couple of private jets for a small population of feckless billionaires.”

        Democrats lost 4 million votes just between 2008 and 2012. That four million is enough to effect a swing between a Congressional supermajority + the White House, of losing all three elected institutions. Why such a huge swing with the same candidate?

        I’ve actually asked some Obama voters that question and the answer is pretty stark. They got nothing for their vote other than the preservation of institutions that don’t serve their interests. If it comes down to a vote between a nice guy who will maintain the status quo and a white racist asshole who will tear up those institutions, a lot of them – enough of them – will just stay home. An oppressive force that will break up those institutions is better, in their eyes, than a friendly force that will preserve them. At least the mask will come off. In chaos, lies opportunity.

        Republicans have changed the nature of the game. Democrats are trying to live under the old rules. They are failing, and will continue to fail even after winning some elections, because of their delusional faith in fair play and “institutional norms.” Those norms only operated for a period of time because they had power behind them. There was nothing magic about them. Now they protect nothing. Nothing. They restrain nothing.

        I’m a conservative at heart. This is not a happy environment for me. I loathe revolution and disorder. Our government, at present, is entirely illegitimate. There might be a small chance that a legitimate, just government could be restored without a catastrophic disruption in public order. That can only happen with some bold corrective actions, and probably won’t happen at all. Only the Democratic Party is positioned to rescue our country as we once knew it, and they are far too feckless, restrained, and unsure of themselves to do what needs to be done.

        I’ve tried enough cases that any concerns about “attacking the judiciary” just make me chuckle. The Supreme Court is a political institution like any other. It always has been and always will be. If Republicans have the audacity to steal a seat on that court, and Democrats lack the audacity to steal one back, the Republicans will win. There are no other dimensions to this. After all the campaign ads have played and the speeches are finished, it’s just power versus power.

  2. This post made me start thinking about FDR using similar terminology to describe the plutocrats of his time. I researched it and found that he coined the term “economic royalists.” He used it extensively and his 1936 Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech was drafted along this theme. It is linked below and is worth reading.

    The nation finds itself in a similar situation today. The challenge is not only coming from the plutocrats of our time, but also from the Russian meddling in the US elections and other Western and Central European elections. Also we mustn’t forget the power trip that the Republicans are on. Use of tactics hard ball tactics such as Chris is describing and FDR used is going to be required to meet and surmont the challenge that faces the US. Russian Judges is as good as any.

    1. I forgot to mention above that FDR was willing to hit below the belt; the Supreme Court packing scheme he used was outlandish like the tactics the R’s use today. The actual scheme failed, but it accomplished his objective of moving SCOTUS away from being so ideological and stopping the routine ove ruling of his legislative program.

      Of the current politicians, I think Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren come closest to being willing to eviscerate the Republicans, although in more subtle ways. They also have the problem of being women,. That and the subtlety will not sit well with the misogynists and the good ole boys in the electorate.

  3. The Rs have always known the value of a phrase like the one Chris has pointed out. That was the entire point of Frank Luntz and his infamous focus groups. The Rs’ public relations campaigns relied on his work heavily, and it still echos throughout Fox and Breitbart comments sections today.

    “Russian Judges” is a good moniker. But we need many many more if we are going to compete. “Tax Scam Bill” is a pretty good one.

    There are lots of unemployed R propagandists floating around these days, who, amazingly, seem to have grown a conscience and rejected the direction that the GOP is going. Rick Wilson is a notable one, and I think I read somewhere that even Frank Luntz would be available. Let’s not forget the legion of super-talented Hollywood writers that are aghast at where we find ourselves, and probably would be open to helping create some phrases. People like Danny Zuker and Chuck Lorrie would be a great start.

    If the Ds and the current untethered middle of the political spectrum were truly interested in rescuing the country from its slow, seemingly inevitable slide towards fascism, now is the time to make a splash. We need to create well paid PR teams to fight back against the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Kochs are planning to spend on propaganda leading up to 2018 (Russia won’t spend that much but they are incredibly effective at working on a budget). Hell, some of them might even do it for free. But someone needs to start organizing.

      1. EJ

        Democratic Socialists of America. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s people. The ones who currently seem to be doing to the Democratic Party what the Tea Party did to the Republicans.

        I say this sardonically, with love, because you’re my friend. I know you stand in utter opposition to her and everything she stands for: but if you are looking for people on the Left who are willing to engage in “the process is only legitimate when it works to our benefit” style politics and throw red meat around, then the DSA seems to be where you’ll find it.

        (That said, from a European standpoint, her politics are almost puzzlingly centrist.)

  4. On Россия 1 television Duma representatives who participated in the meeting with Republican Senators shared with a national audience the conciliatory and amicable tone of the American attendees. They are looking forward to “further cooperation with the Federation and their need for on going support from Russia”.

    Why only Republican Senators, what were they hoping to accomplish? No reporters allowed after introductions and greetings so the only record is this ridiculous Russian tv “news” show I saw last night. In my opinion these straight white male Republicans are collaborators. If Democrats had pulled this stunt Fox News wouldn’t stop broadcasting till everyone was forced to resign their Senate seats.

    Trump plans on meeting Putin without State Dept folks or any American personnel…just him and Vlad. I believe this government illegitimate and agree that appointments and policies should be nullified. The majority of Americans did not sign up for this. This trade war may dent his popularity some but I am convinced that straight white men will support this guy even while their farms and tractors are foreclosed on by the banks. They just want to kick every minority group and women to the curb…their hate trumps their own well being. They had better pray when the minority becomes the majority their behavior is not reciprocated. I’d like to think we wouldn’t.

  5. This is war. Republicans have demonstrated their total complicity with trumps agenda. Watching Sen Shelby and three other US senators sit at a table in Russia and state they were not there to judge Russia, made me gag. Their silence while trump separated little children from their parents who are seeking asylum, makes me gag. Rescinding immigrant enlistment for no cause, makes me gag. Trump is a pathetic bully, but the Republican Party knows full well what he is doing is wrong. I will fight every one of them with all I have. I will not go high. Democracy is under assault and it will require that we become harder than we have ever been before. Anything less will not succeed.

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