Staff Columnist

Ideas for Trump's new 'patriotic' curriculum

A lesson for kids from the Supreme Court battle: When they go low, we go a little bit lower.

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Dayton International Airport, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, at Dayton
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Dayton International Airport, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, at Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump is calling for a new era of “patriotic education.”

Trump last week announced the 1776 Commission, which will “rebuild shared national identity” by funneling government-approved facts to the nation’s school children.

Maybe Trump isn’t all wrong. Surveys show most Americans would struggle to pass the citizenship exam administered to immigrants through the naturalization process. Americans feel alienated from our civic institutions, as demonstrated by one of the lowest election participation rates among developed countries.

Drawing on current events — the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the emerging battle over her replacement — I have a couple suggestions for questions to add to the president’s 1776 study guide.

• Question: Can the Senate confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominees during an election year?

• Answer: It depends which political party is in power.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell established the explicitly partisan standard in a statement released hours after Ginsburg’s death.

In 2016, McConnell and Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley, then chair of the Judiciary Committee, declined to take up an Obama appointee because it was an election year.

Ginsburg died much closer to the election than Antonin Scalia, but McConnell says it’s different now because the Republicans control both the Senate and the presidency.

“Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year,” McConnell wrote.

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Grassley said in July he would not support hearings for a new justice this year, “because that’s what I promised the people in 2016.” On Monday, though, he announced he is willing to consider Trump’s court nomination before the election, because Democrats would do the same.

“If the shoe were on the other foot, Senate Democrats wouldn’t hesitate to use their Constitutional authority and anything else at their disposal to fill this seat,” Grassley wrote in a statement.

• Question: How many justices are on the U.S. Supreme Court?

• Answer: Nine for now, but you should wait to see what President Joe Biden has to say about it.

Since the Constitution does not specify a number of justices, some Democrats have recently taken an interest in “court packing,” or adding additional justices to dilute the court’s prevailing political skew, as former President Franklin Roosevelt unsuccessfully pursued.

While Biden said during the nomination campaign that he opposes adding additional members to the court, he’s also shown a willingness to go along with his party’s whims, and the idea appears to be gaining popularity.

Pete Buttigieg, the winner of Iowa’s 2020 Democratic presidential nominating caucuses, helped bring the court packing idea to the national conversation. He said during the campaign, “It’s no more a departure from norms than what the Republicans did to get the judiciary to the place it is today.”

Politicians are conniving and power-hungry, but it still is striking to see them discuss their hyperpartisan theories of power so openly.

The political class has given up the pretense that they are working for all Americans, instead speaking only to the bases. They don’t even try to make a righteous case for their cause, only a calculated one.

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Each faction uses the other side’s worst instincts to justify its own. Maybe that’s the lesson our students should learn: When they go low, we go a little bit lower.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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