While critics of his nomination fixate on Kavanaugh’s distaste for Roe v. Wade, his vendetta against health care programs like the ACA, and his antagonism to government oversight (evidently, the king can do no wrong), Paul Krugman highlights an even more dangerous element of the nominee’s judicial philosophy, his anti-worker bias.
It isn’t as if working-class Americans haven’t been taking it on the chin for a long time. But in the era of stagnant wages and diminishing worker protections, Kavanaugh might just be the coup de grace. Krugman points out that Trump has governed as a pretty orthodox Republican, if you overlook the way he has replaced racial dog-whistles with raw, upfront racism; accordingly, he has consistently betrayed the populists who supported him.
Many people have made this point with respect to the Trump tax cut, which is so useless to ordinary workers that Republican candidates are trying to avoid talking about it. The same can be said about health care, where Democrats are making Trump’s assault on the Affordable Care Act a major issue while Republicans try to change the subject.
But I think we should be seeing more attention devoted to the way Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court fits into this picture. The Times had a good editorial on Kavanaugh’s anti-worker agenda, but by and large the news analyses I’ve seen focus on his apparently expansive views of presidential authority and privilege.
I agree that these are important in the face of a lawless president with authoritarian instincts. But the business and labor issues shouldn’t be neglected. Kavanaugh is, to put it bluntly, an anti-worker radical, opposed to every effort to protect working families from fraud and mistreatment.
Kavanaugh wrote the opinion absolving Sea World from liability for the death of a worker attacked by a killer whale–hey, she should have known the risks. He says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional–so caveat emptor, consumer. He’s also supported the rights of business to suppress union organizing.
Krugman reminds his readers that Trump’s betrayal of working class Americans goes far beyond his counterproductive trade policies.
There’s growing evidence that wage stagnation in America – the very stagnation that angers Trump voters — isn’t being driven by impersonal forces like technological change; to an important extent it’s the result of political changes that have weakened workers’ bargaining power. If Trump manages to install Kavanaugh, he’ll help institutionalize these anti-worker policies for decades to come.
I grew up in Anderson, Indiana. My father was a Democrat and my mother was a Republican. Despite their other political differences, they agreed about unions: they both hated them. Back then, Anderson’s economy was dependent upon then-thriving General Motors and Guide Lamp factories, and periodic labor unrest was characterized by thuggish (and sometimes violent) union behavior. It was the (brief) heyday of union power, and that power wasn’t always used in moderation.
Today, the situation is reversed. Decades of successful Republican efforts to enact anti-union policies, plus such things as automation and the so-called “gig economy,” have eviscerated the unions that used to bargain collectively on behalf of workers. Meanwhile, corporate America has used its superior weapons–political contributions and lobbyists–not to level the playing field, but to tilt it dramatically in management’s favor.
Wildly unequal power is not a recipe for fairness to anyone. When clout is more or less evenly distributed between labor and management, productive bargaining can occur. When either side of the equation dominates, the outcomes unduly favor the powerful– and generate resentment from those who leave the bargaining table empty-handed (if there is a bargaining table at all).
That resentment–and the racial anxiety that feeds on it–is what elected Donald Trump and accelerated the deconstruction of America’s democratic norms. The last thing we need is a Justice Kavanaugh to make the current impotence of organized labor a permanent feature of American law.
If Democratic Senate candidates in red states need a persuasive reason to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, his overwhelming animosity to the rights of American workers should fit the bill. (Senator Donnelly–are you listening?)