Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: A low for US politics ... but we can't sneer

Editor's Viewpoint

The controversy surrounding the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court judge in America illustrates vividly the deep divisions in the country.

The Senate confirmation vote was 50-48, which was the narrowest margin possible, but it will be taken as a major political victory for President Trump who nominated Kavanaugh, an arch-conservative.

This move could have a profound effect on many issues in the USA, including abortion and gay rights, where Kavanaugh could tip the balance on a nine-member Supreme Court line-up and set the country on a conservative social trajectory.

In normal times this would be a matter of little surprise, with a Republican President using his prerogative in favour of a Republican-leaning judge, with the US Senate rubber-stamping the appointment.

However, these are not normal times in the United States, with Donald Trump proving to be one of the most polarising Presidents in history. The vote on Kavanaugh underlines there is little prospect of a move towards the centre ground.

This particular appointment has received global attention because of the allegations of sexual misconduct made against Kavanaugh by three women, including Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of carrying out a sexual assault at a party they both attended many years ago as teenagers.

These claims were strenuously denied by Kavanaugh, and some people expressed surprise that it took so long for Doctor Blasey Ford's claims of misconduct to surface.

Many Republicans accused the Democrats of deliberately making this a political issue, and the resultant inter-party bitterness and distrust was exacerbated by television coverage of a Senate committee hearing where the judge and his accuser stated their case.

In human terms this was an excruciating episode and a deeply painful experience for both the judge and Dr Ford. It was most unfortunate that what had been a confidential accusation was allowed to develop into a full public confrontation where there were no winners.

This divisiveness was further highlighted by widespread public protests in Washington at the same time as Judge Kavanaugh's appointment was being ratified by the senate.

The situation has not been helped by the public reaction of President Trump, who should have remained above the fray, as other recent Presidents most certainly would have done.

One of the most worrying aspects of the whole affair is its effect on democracy itself. Unfortunately, mutual respect between Republican and Democrat representatives seems to have disappeared where a politician from "the other party" is regarded as an enemy rather than a professional colleague working for the public good.

This also applies nearer home, where politics is in danger of reaching a new low. This is clearly seen in the UK where people on either side of the Brexit argument berate one another and there seems to be little or no common ground.

In Northern Ireland our politicians are taking up entrenched positions to the point where they are unwilling to share power at Stormont and to make decisions which will help people from all backgrounds.

A further distressing aspect of this deadlock is the way in which the DUP and Sinn Fein, routinely and parrot-like heap blame each other.

It would be wrong, therefore, to point the finger at America alone.

The proper operation of democracy by communities and politicians who differ, but respect one another, is the foundation of our free society everywhere - and if we ignore this we do so at our peril.

Belfast Telegraph

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