I’d planned to write a column defending Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York for his idiotic and malevolent threats last week against Supreme Court justices.
“You’re going to defend Schumer?” asked an editor.
Yeah, that was my intent. Because we all say stupid things that we regret. I certainly do. Don’t you?
Unfortunately, we’ve become a nation where apology is a sign of weakness, a piece of meat to a hungry pack. We’re a people hopelessly addicted to outrage and pearl clutching. And those who don’t scream loudly enough or clutch their pearls hard enough must worry about the Thought Police.
We’ve become like North Koreans at a state funeral, terrified to be the first to stop wailing. In our angry public world of politics and media, the gravity sucks us down into the demon-infested Twitterverse, a universe of darkness and tribal screams.
That’s where politics and media live. But there is another world, where people often forgive each other and try to treat each other with kindness.
It is in this nonpolitical world where they live something called “a life.”
The screaming about Schumer continued last week, but many were immune to its charms. Two young people visited Margie’s Candies on Western Avenue in Chicago for a real chocolate soda. In the suburbs, a young woman took a break from her studies to get coffee and recognized the man ahead of her in line as her old Little League coach.
You wanted to be a writer, I said.
“I did,” she said. “I wanted to be a writer. But I’m in medical school.”
I knew she was smart.
The nice barista told us a story about a concert at Rockefeller Chapel. The barista had known the cellist 38 years ago, when they were both music students. He told her he’d bought the cello of another famous cellist.
“He bought Frank Miller’s cello,” she said. “Do you believe that? Frank Miller’s cello.”
We just stood there, smiling, enjoying the company, though I didn’t know anything about Frank Miller or his cello. Still, it was nice. It was calm. I liked it. It is what people do when they’re not fighting about politics.
But what happens to that calm if the Supreme Court is delegitimized? Restraint will disappear. Government will be ruled by warring tribes. We release the whirlwind and enter a dark age.
That’s why we should try to treat each other with kindness, as friends. You give your friends a break, don’t you, even if they pass gas at the dinner table. If you’re a friend, you try to ignore it, unless they insist on doing it again and again.
And Schumer did it again.
On Wednesday, he stood outside the Supreme Court speaking to a gathering of abortion rights activists. The court had just heard arguments on a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges to hospitals.
It seems reasonable to have a hospital on call if things go wrong and life is important.
But Schumer wasn’t reasonable, because reason doesn’t herd votes. Tribal anger herds votes. So, he unleashed a vicious rant against Supreme Court Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, threatening them if they ruled to uphold the Louisiana law.
“I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price,” Schumer said. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
You’ll pay the price? You won’t know what hit you? That’s inciting violence. Is Schumer a senator, or some wise guy muscling bookies for street taxes?
President Donald Trump drew condemnation when he asked Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor to recuse themselves from cases involving him because of their anti-Trump partisan views. They are indeed partisan, publicly anti-Trump and have said so, proudly, as their fans cheered them on.
But Trump never said Ginsburg and Sotomayor wouldn’t “know what hit” them.
Chief Justice John Roberts issued a blistering condemnation of Schumer’s threats:
“Justices know that criticism comes with the territory. But threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous. All Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter,” Roberts said.
Schumer and other Democrats have already incited the mob to delegitimize the high court. They whipped up frenzy over the Kavanaugh nomination. If the Supreme Court loses legitimacy, what does Schumer win and at what cost?
I’d hoped Schumer would have said what most of us might say: “That was dumb. I should never have threatened the Supreme Court. I’m sorry. What the hell was I thinking?”
Unfortunately, Schumer instead had his mouthpiece attack Roberts and deny Schumer had threatened justices, only Republicans who might support justices opposed to abortion.
But Schumer’s threats on Wednesday were plain, so he took to the Senate floor on Thursday to again insist he didn’t threaten justices. And he mealy-mouthed, saying he was really talking about Republicans and abortion.
“I’m from Brooklyn, we speak in strong language,” Schumer said. “… but in no way was I making a threat. I never — never — would do such a thing. … I should not have used the words I used yesterday. They did not come out the way I intended to.”
The words didn’t come out as you intended? I know the feeling. I hate when that happens.
Don’t you just hate when that happens, senator?
John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send him e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.