… a quick riff.
The trials of the Affordable Care Act are political theater — show trials. They provide a public spectacle of robed authority, but careful observers believe these justices already know Obamacare’s guilt or innocence. Although the ACA’s supposed crimes are brought by outside groups, the Court chooses what to hear. The cases are so narrowly tendentious, observers initially doubted the court would bother. That they did speaks to their propaganda purpose, the goal of show trials.
Show trials carry a whiff of the early 20th century. Stalin ordered prosecutors to bring those he feared to trial. After denunciations and torture, most confessed to assassination plots. Western observers first believed the trials were legitimate, but as defendants and plots grew, it became apparent it all was a show.
More than forced confessions, it’s how the defendant appears to go above and beyond reasonable effort and wax about his or her guilt, that distinguishes a show trial. The Supreme Court is able to recreate this, because the justices themselves speak and upstage lawyers. Scalia’s gift is paraphrasing an argument he opposes, presenting it with righteous approval, on a path filled with his own carefully placed traps. He’s channeling the scripting method the Soviets refined after World War II. By then judges were given an exact text to follow, statements that were cues for defendant confessions.
The Court’s right-wing has right-wing supporters, true believers in Obamacare’s dastardly deeds. Ironically, these American conservatives resemble the American leftists of the 1930s, who believed Stalin’s accusations were true. The 1930s leftists were convinced a conspiracy would destroy the Soviet Union, just as today’s rightists believe in conspiracies to destroy America. With this conspiracy understood, legal showmanship is a reflection of moral passion.
Also ironic, Scalia and Roberts no more believe their extraordinary claims about the ACA, than Stalin’s judges believed the extraordinary plots assigned defendants Their concern is about power. Trials offer Supreme Court justices enormous prestige. Their authority is genuine. By conjuring up potential demons in Obamacare’s functions, they excite enthusiastic supporters.
This didn’t start with the ACA, but has roots in the Clinton impeachment trial. When the NY Times attacked Stalin’s show trials in 1938, they compared it to putting Jefferson, Madison, and other Presidents on trial in the early 19th century. Yet in 1998 the Republicans decided to impeach a President for either getting, or hiding the fact that he got, a blow-job. When Khrushchev came to power after Stalin’s death, he announced that Stalin’s enemies of the state “were actually never enemies.” Instead, they were “stigmatized” to rendered them powerless. Clinton’s accusers used his peccadilloes for the same effect. Assassination creates martyrs. Show-trials create undesirables.
The Clinton show trial wasn’t held in the Supreme Court, but soon the justices joined in. Bush vs. Gore presented them as political hench-men. Justices made an arbitrary decision to prevent the “social disorder” that would occur if a slow, difficult electoral recount occurred. Their chosen loser, Gore, accepted his sentence with the aplomb of a show-trial victim. Threat of disorder often helps excuse injustice that keeps the calm. Today, many Russians forgive Stalin, because his crimes were done to rescue Russia from herself.
The Bush administration’s embrace of torture as an effective method is another sign of show-trial methodology. Stalin’s victims, after psychological and physical torture, incriminated themselves with any conceivable lie to end the ordeal. It worked for a time, as lying to a CIA operative might halt the water-boarding. When authorities use torture, they may ignore this reality, or pretend to manage it. But torture is not for obtaining truth. Instead it’s a way to provide bosses with results that make them look good. They serve a bureaucracy that inspires fear.
This axis of evil skewers the Roberts Court. No decision taken in the last 30 years will cost as many lives, cause as much suffering, as the ACA trial that “split the baby.” Obamacare would survive, but states could defund health care for the poor, out of spite. These victims of red state terror are at the bottom of the money tree, hidden from popular media attention. Each year ten or twenty thousand will die from disease and injury because they lack medical care freely available to their state.
Remarkably, politicians refused federal money offered them for state medicaid expansion, because in some future year that money might not be forthcoming. They punish the poor from this year to eternity, because maybe ten years from now they’d have to punish them. All logic leads away from such absurdity. Poor health is a cause of poverty, high death rates undermine communities, Medicaid expansion provides an important bridge to productive lives. Whether in ten years money runs out or not, ten years is a valuable amount of time.
Red state blowhards claim Medicaid expansion inflates the federal deficit. The deficit is a function of low taxes, too. Medicaid expansion was one of the more cost-saving components of the ACA, because it prevents illnesses that later end lives. Most medical cost happens when someone dies from complications. That happens when you don’t get regular, preventative care.
Roberts’ decision to allow states to end Medicaid support was political theater. He tossed it like a bone to angry conservatives, who wanted the court to kill Obamacare. Most importantly, Roberts kept the poor in red states from benefiting from a Democrat effort. There’s little doubt that social services are a way to gain political support. By cutting off medical care for large, lower-class populations, Republicans actually prevent a groundswell of opposition. It seems counter-intuitive, since they are the problem. But listen to the response of poor people in southern states, and they blame Obamacare for not predicting their dilemma, and preventing it.
This is how show-trial function. When Stalin, Hitler, or Mao just wanted to get rid of opponents, they had them murdered. They put certain victims on public trial as propaganda, to send a message and create a climate. The message was power, and the climate paranoia. The Roberts’ court show-trials of Obamacare blast Americans with a message about right-wing power. The more preposterous the logic (culminating in a bizarre focus on the word “state”), the more egregious the effect (ending health care for millions), the more conservatives show their might and muscle. As public theater, the court’s descent into perverse word games keeps citizens off-balance and afraid.
A fool’s strategy, dark and miserable.