The Gorsuch hearings: American exceptionalism

Amid all the dispiriting news from Washington lately, I listened to much of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch ‘s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Of course this too is a highly controversial political matter, playing out in a country that is politically divided to an extreme degree.

But I’m not writing about that; rather, of having been struck by the public-spirited, constructive, intelligent, responsible, and good-humored* tenor of the proceedings. Despite our febrile political climate, civility rather than partisan nastiness largely prevailed. This speaks volumes about the character of this country and its institutions. The positive feeling I got, listening to this, was a very welcome antidote to the last couple of months, in which the character of this country and its institutions have been desecrated by the president.

Leaving the politics aside (is it possible?), Judge Gorsuch seems to be an extremely capable, honest, thoughtful, responsible, intelligent, learned, articulate, reasonable, gracious, humble, decent human being (everything the president is not). That we still do have people like Gorsuch at the pinnacle of public life is a great testament to the character of the America I have so loved.

Senator Ted Cruz has not been one of my favorites. I’ve loathed him, and his political machinations. Yet listening to his colloquy with Judge Gorsuch, I was frankly surprised at how intelligent, erudite, and well-spoken even Cruz was. He was not ranting, nor even making political points so much as philosophical ones, and making them extremely well. One could see the merits that got Ted Cruz as far as he’s come. (Too bad presidential ambition can bring out the worst in people.)

And these earnest discussions, between senators and Gorsuch, of fine points of constitutional law, precedents, interpretations, and philosophies were a good reminder of the depth and richness of the institutional and moral foundations of the society we have built. As a student of history and of the world, I know too well how different things have been through most of the past, in most every country, and indeed in many if not most even today. In few times and places could such elevated public discourse be conceivable. This is America’s exceptionalism: a society, under rule of law, venerating rule of law, truly striving to provide the best possible environment for human beings to flourish. Uniquely, America’s core is not shared ethnicity but shared ideals. America is great because it is good.

I was particularly gratified by Judge Gorsuch’s words about the 14th Amendment, calling its broad guarantee of equality under law one of the most radical enactments in human history. I have written about the beauty of the 14th Amendment (and the shame of those Republicans who today advocate its repeal.)

Listening to these elevated hearings did remind me of the pride I have felt in my country and the values it represented. A feeling I have sorely missed. Yet I am cognizant that these proceedings took place on a sort of Mount Olympus. While down below, in less rarefied precincts, newly empowered fools prance around bonfires of truth, reason, and decency. How many Americans today have a real understanding and appreciation of the country’s foundational ideals? If they did, they would have no use for a creep like Trump. Without that understanding by the citizenry, no matter how fervent their flag waving, America’s greatness is ultimately doomed. God has not ordained it eternal. The Gorsuch hearings deepened my pain over the precious thing fools are witlessly destroying.

* Like Senator Sasse asking Gorsuch how he could go so long without peeing.

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One Response to “The Gorsuch hearings: American exceptionalism”

  1. Lee Says:

    For what it is worth, Linda Greenhouse, a contributing Op-Ed writer for The New York Times has a different opinion in her piece The Empty Supreme Court Confirmation Hearing. Personally, I didn’t watch the hearings, so I cannot add to the discussion from that perspective.

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