Bombs Away?

The recent spate of mail bombs sent to prominent Democrats was abhorrent. Sadly, those who are angry—and likely isolated and delusional—can terrorize us in a variety of ways, but attempting to murder others with anonymous bombs is particularly cowardly and awful.

Thankfully, law enforcement has already identified and arrested a suspect, and one can only applaud the incredible work of the FBI and others who worked so skillfully and quickly to apprehend him. We are lucky indeed that no injuries resulted from these explosive devices, and continued investigation will discover whether others were involved with these criminal actions.

Now let us take a step back, count to ten, and watch the actions of a dangerous and disaffected looney become immediately tangential to the political blame game that will blaze through the media between now and the midterm elections—and likely far beyond.

This is the sad and divided nation that we live in today. Rather than simply be grateful that an obviously crazy individual was captured and no one was hurt, we are going to have to portion out the blame for a crazed bomber to one party or politician based upon our own blame-filled political beliefs. How fortunate we are that the period between now and the midterm elections can be packed with some extra bitterness and bile beyond that which already is poisoning our national dialogue.

For the record, it is my belief that trying to find a logical reason to explain the actions of those who are clearly mentally unstable is itself just a bit crazy. Keep in mind that President Reagan was nearly killed in 1981 by a cuckoo who believed that political assassination was the ideal way to impress a famous actress—these oddballs aren’t renowned for their logical and linear thinking. The history of political violence throughout our world’s history is basically a parade of lonely losers who were deluded enough to believe that killing a leader would somehow redeem their miserable and empty lives.

It would certainly be for the best if all our pundits and politicians could refrain from riling up their viewers and supporters in their eternal quest for ratings and votes, but this will never happen. Conflict is, perversely enough, a winning strategy; to pretend otherwise would be both foolish and naive.

Moreover, because we quite naturally revel in hearing that the viewpoints and actions of others prove our own moral and intellectual superiority, our increasingly partisan news and information systems have ready and credulous audiences. More and more hearing and reading no thoughts other than those that match our own, daily tailoring what we hear and read to match our preconceived notions about the “reality” of the world around us and those who inhabit it, creates an intellectual echo chamber that only further narrows our already narrow minds and hardens our hardened hearts.

The word bombs that destroy our tattered unity will only become worse if we do not take action. Therefore, I suggest that we consider reviving an updated version of the Fairness Doctrine, a federal policy that we heedlessly and needlessly discarded in 1987 which required news and information programs to present contrasting viewpoints regarding the issues of the day. This policy was not a perfect solution—and discussions about implementing any similar policy will crash into today’s enormously complex and interconnected digital world—but it did provide for some welcome and necessary measure of balance regarding the presentation of news and opinion.

Our nation and its citizens are poorly served by the hyper-partisanship of our media today. The very existence of, for example, a super conservative Fox News and an abundantly liberal MSNBC—both sneering at the sheer stupidity of the other side—contributes little to creating the bipartisan consensus that is necessary to govern a country as diverse as our own. Each monocular and insular side of our national dialogue is equally culpable for creating the anger and divisions within what is perhaps now ironically called The United States of America. We are anything but united at the present time, and it will be a long and difficult road back from the chasm where we now stand—suspiciously staring at one another.

For any improvements to occur, we will also need to surrender that which is so precious to so many: a smug and intellectually lazy sense of our own correctness. As hard as it might be, admitting we can be wrong is the necessary first step to national reconciliation and unity.

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It’s Beginning To Smell Like 1968 Again

Political prognostication is a tricky business.  Even the experts with every resource at their fingertips can be very wrongthe Presidential election of 2016 being the most dramatic recent exampleso now we armchair political gurus perhaps have a little more credibility should we want to engage in an educated guesstimate prior to an election.

So far I am batting a thousand.  Immediately prior to Election Day on 2016, I published my prediction that Donald Trump would win.  At the risk of screwing up my perfect record, I am going to hazard some thoughts regarding the critical midterm elections that are only weeks away.

First, regardless of the actual outcome, we are still going to remain a divided nation.  Fundamentally irreconcilable ideas regarding government regulation, foreign policy, law enforcement, LBGTQ rights, immigration (both legal and not), abortion, gun control, economic policy, entitlement spending, public education, military policy, public aid, and a host of other issues often make it difficult to find common ground. This election is apt to further harden these battle lines and further thrust our nations courts into the impossible position of acting as the moral and cultural arbiter for America.  Given the desire of so many to forcefully and continually assert their uniqueness and individuality at every turn, it is sometimes difficult to discern what truly binds us together as one nation.

However, our present state of despair and dissension is what drives my electoral prediction: It will be a good night for the Republican Party in generaland President Trump in particular.  Why?  I believe we are about to see an eerie rerun of the 1968 elections.

Richard Nixon won the Presidency in 1968 despite being a deeply divisive figure who was reviled by the D.C. political establishment (Sound familiar?), and the Republican Party picked up seats in both the House and the Senate.  The country was deeply divided politically, violent political rhetoric and actual political violence plagued our nation, upheaval at all levels was the order of the day, and calls for a revolutionto restructure America echoed through the culture and our pre-digital media world.  Words were wielded as weapons, liberals demanded action to improve systems they deemed unfair, and the signs of change seemed everywhere one looked around our nation and the world.  The stars seemed lined up for a Democratic night at the ballot box.

However, Richard Nixon and the Republican Party—positioning themselves as the party of law and order, traditional values, and the protectors of realAmericans—waded through the morass and did just fine.

There are, of course, many differences between today and fifty years ago, but the single most important and salient similarity is the Democratic Party found itself aligned with forces that, either rightly or wrongly, were associated with chaos and a lack of respect for both our nation and realAmericans.  

Just think back over the past two years.  Many on the left seem willing to brand those who disagree with their views as bigots and cretinsyou know, deplorables”—which means it is necessary impeach public officials with differing views, remove the President from office by invoking the 25th Amendment, drag Republicans into court and pummel them, censor conservative opinions on social media they find objectionable, shut down campus speakers and professors who are not liberal, dox government officials, harass politicians and their families in public, and generally display the emotional maturity of sugar-infused eight year olds in all their public and private communications.  Although the obvious retort by those doing the ranting and raving is that this is all the fault of Donald Trump and his itchy Twitter finger, the reality is that many Democrats have been quite willing to pump up the volume of their resistancein order to energize those voters whom they believe will be their margin of electoral victory.  Incivility and confrontation are thought be a winning combination.

This brings me to my reason for predicting a good night for the Republicans.  Although standing at the barricades and screaming at your opponents garners lots of media attention and self-congratulations for being brave and woke, the reality is that most people arent much into revolution and are going to default to voting for candidates who speak quietly and with a minimum of incendiary rhetoric.  The mistake that Democrats made in 1968 is analogous to the mistake that Democrats are making todayjust because you are marching doesnt mean everyone else is anxious to fall into line behind you.  The basic American character is evolutionary and not revolutionary, so votersexcept for the loud and partisan feware innately suspicious of those who excitedly promise to circumvent the deliberately slow and pokey mechanisms of government in order to right all the wrongs of the world.  Given the cacophonous clashes that have become cable news and social media staples over the past several years, the body politic is weary and will cast their votes for whomever seems to promise some much needed peace and quiet.

Injustices, of course, still abound, but a general respect for our laws and institutions still abidesand most would prefer reforms over revolt.  Although well-timed ambushes and clever insults sometimes succeed in the short term, voters will inevitably opt for those candidates who seem to exude stability and evince some degree adult behavior.  Provocation gets attention, but conciliation wins elections.

The dark genius of President Trump is that he knows how to needle his opponents into inflammatory words and behavior that work to his advantage.  Perhaps the greatest political counterpuncher to ever occupy the Oval Office, he continually starts fights in order to goad his opponents into madness or stupidityor both.  If you doubt this, I hold up the recent spectacle of Senator Elizabeth Warren shooting herself in the foot regarding the matter of her Native American DNA.  If ever there was a dumber and more pointless political stunt that managed to both amuse opponents and infuriate allies, one would have to look very hard to find it.  Well played, Mr. Trump.

Therefore, my midterm election predictions are thus: Republican gains in the Senate and a near stalemate in the House.  This will drive President Trumps opponents madder stilland further strengthen his hand looking toward the elections in 2020.

Guys and Dolls

Every semester I give my students a new set of articles to use as the topics for their essays up until midterm.  I look for ones that will offer opportunities for thoughtful discussion based on the facts and viewpoints provided so that my students can improve their writing and critical thinkingskills.  Sometimes, despite my best efforts, some articles just don’t seem to grab my students’ attention.  However, on occasion I hit the jackpot and pick a topic that—for reasons that I could not possibly have anticipated—hits a nerve and inspires some very interesting student writing.

This semester I added an article by Suzanna Danuta Walters entitled “Why Can’t We Hate Men?”.  At the point when I sent this to be copied for my classes, I could not have known that the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh would become an epic battle between the rage of sexual assault survivors demanding to be believed and the insistence of others that condemning without corroborating evidence—however strong the beliefs and emotions of the victims—is a mistake.  Partisan passions, scandal mongering media, and showboating politicians all helped to create the most incredibly divisive and mutually destructive nomination battle possible, and both the process and outcome will be studied and discussed for decades to come.

Not surprisingly, Professor Walters’ article has been the basis of a lot of student essays so far this semester, and the responses have run the gamut from agreeing that men are the source of most of the evils in our world to more evenhanded responses that saw her viewpoint as perhaps simplistic at best—and flat out insulting at worst.

Hatred tends to blind us to the complexity of the people whom we hate.  Just looking around at my classes on any given day I see men who are fathers, loving husbands, awkward singles, straight, gay, bisexual, talkative, shy, daydreamers, focused, politically conservative, aggressive, withdrawn, politically liberal, cerebral, apolitical, sad, upbeat, overwhelmed, confident—and virtually every other descriptor I can think to use.  To label all of them as brute oppressors and terrifying antagonists of women seems both foolish and impossible to support empirically.

This being said, our national dialogue about the sexual assault and harassment of women is both necessary and belated.  Human history has also been the history of organized warfare, daily violence, and cruel dominance—and a good portion of this has been perpetrated by men and has harmed women.  To argue otherwise would be ridiculous, and to fail to understand the pain of victims would be to deny the darkness that lies beneath our civilized veneer.

However, is it OK to hate men?

I would argue not.  Although we are all part of many groups and subgroups—and gender is perhaps the most easily recognizable grouping of all—men are not part of a collective hive mind and so must be assessed on an individual basis.  It is impossible to predict the behavior of individuals from the tendencies of the group.  In almost every collection of individuals—regardless of how they are sorted—you will find cruel and cowardly people mixed in with those who are decent and brave.  To presume every man is an animal and rapist—and so neglect the many good men in this world—might satisfy the rage of some, but it will build walls where none need exist and create a society that is far more lonely and suspicious than is actually necessary.

It is also appropriate to point out that men deal with a host of challenges as a group that are sometimes forgotten in the rush to castigate them for their “testosterone poisoning” or whatever the other clever insults of the day might be.  Men are 3.5 times more likely than women to commit suicide, account for over 90% of workplace fatalities, and are now far less likely than women to finish high school or earn a college degree.  Were we to point to this harsh statistical evidence of pain, danger, and ignorance affecting practically any other group in our nation, outrage would result—and a rush to find solutions would follow.  Unfortunately, men are presumed capable of bearing their pain on their own—or are somehow deserving of it—which are sad and isolating beliefs that condemn many to lives of misery and, worse yet, make them feel that asking for help is a sign of “unmanly” weakness.  Neither men nor women benefit when inane preconceptions based on gender alone drive our decisions or viewpoints.

Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 Presidential election convinced many that America is too innately misogynistic to ever overcome the more unfortunate aspects of the history of relations between men and women, but only the most blindly partisan could fail to note Secretary Clinton’s obvious shortcomings as a candidate.  Perhaps the better lesson to take away from her defeat in light of how so many women obviously did not cast their votes based on gender identity alone is that both women and men are looking more and more beyond mere surface realities regarding one another.  It could be the case that our perceptions are both more sophisticated and more nuanced than elite opinion could possibly imagine, and myths regarding how men and women see political and social issues dramatically differently might need to be discarded along with so many other ignorant and insulting ideas from the past regarding gender.

I hope there can be less hate and more understanding, less shouting and more listening—and more empathy and less derision—where relationships between men and women are involved.  Our differences are actually insignificant compared to all that binds us together as humans, and we should not allow partisans on either side of any issue seek to divide us for political gain.  There has been more than enough hurt and harm, and it is now time for healing to begin.

 

Want Change? Stop Subsidizing Failure.

It seems to me that our nation currently faces three major continuing crises—deficient public education, opioid abuse with its resulting fatalities, and unaffordable healthcare—that are both true and far reaching.  Unlike so many other crises that affect only one segment of the population or which are dependent on highly questionable data for support, these three are beyond any question fundamental, destructive, and ongoing.  However, after years—or even decades—of diligent effort and literally trillions of dollars of spending collectively to solve them, perhaps it is now worth asking a single, rude question: Is there the very least possibility that government can ever solve any of these problems?

Our current destructive track toward national bankruptcy, which is forever fueled by our propensity for shoveling gobs of government cash at whatever the crisis du jour might be, begs the question of whether problems born of human greed, human stupidity, and human weakness can ever be solved by even the most well-intentioned and thoughtful application of taxpayer money.  Given that government can sometimes barely keep the snow shoveled on a sunny day, it could perhaps be the case that attempting to reconfigure the human spirit to eliminate human frailty is beyond the reach of even the most dedicated government official or employee.

Consider, for example, the many decades—and many trillions of dollars—that federal, state, and local governments have spent trying improve our nation’s mediocre public schools.  By any rational reckoning, we are no better off academically than we were back in 1983, when the “A Nation at Risk” report was issued.  The majority of America’s students still receive their diplomas despite obvious academic deficiencies that will hobble their progress in college and careers.

Seemingly the only clearly demonstrable improvement—albeit a depressing one—all these years of stupendously expensive “reforms” have produced is that our nation’s education bureaucracies have become much better at fudging the dismal numbers to provide the temporary illusion of progress.  The depressing string of test score, graduation, and grade scandals in so many cities and states—now being joined by increasing evidence of dereliction of duty regarding student discipline and safety—has exposed a great many of these supposedly miraculous “improvements” in America’s public schools as nothing more than spreadsheet legerdemain or active fraud.  

Taxpayers are, however, regularly reassured that their local school districts are just one more spending increase away from solving all of their problems because it somehow turns out—when it comes to public education, at least—that prior failures are a guarantee of future successes.  Why any rational person would approve one thin dime of additional funding for failing schools seems to make little sense at first glance, but it is necessary to keep in mind that student success is essentially tangential to the operations of our nation’s public education system.

Why do our schools never improve?  Simply put, everyone understands how the game is played, and the subpar status quo turns out to have many proponents.  Students know that their school system desperately wants to graduate them so that no uncomfortable questions are asked about their ignorance; therefore, it is perfectly possible to glide through the system with little or no effort involved—which is just fine with many children and adolescents.  Teachers know that pencil whipping students through the grades is easy, eliminates the fuss and inconvenience associated with actual education, and keeps the paychecks rolling right in.  School administrators want to point to big, shiny graduation numbers while assuring parents that their child’s terriblestandardized test scores are just a result of test anxiety or poorly designed assessments.  Local communities and their leaders love any good news about their schools that will help to escalate property values and are perfectly willing to accept the free day care that is obligingly provided.  Elected officials never tire of posing with smiling children—particularly if some sort of shiny trophy is being held up.  Contractors and labor unions enjoy building new schools and completing the steady stream of work that arises from basic facility maintenance.

Consequently, everybody wins in the short term, but the long term consequences are appalling.  However, given that our national zeitgeist is to live for today and not worry about tomorrow, our public school systems continue just as they are—and they will continue to be strikingly mediocre no matter how much money is spent to improve them.  A relatively small segment of high-powered parents will always make certain that their children are assigned to the subset of schools, teachers, and classes where some actual learning might take place, the broad middle spectrum of students will continue to float through classes that require a minimum of effort, and the troublemakers and the troubled are always hidden where they can do the least harm to themselves or others.  Meanwhile, everyone cheers at the football and basketball games, Prom is fun, and diplomas are eventually handed to the literate and illiterate alike—just another successful school year in America.  Smile for your photos, everyone!

Our national crisis of opioid abuse is yet the latest chapter of our never ending concerns over our human love of mood-altering substances.  Our country’s history has been one of drinking, smoking, injecting, swallowing, and snorting whatever we can lay our hands upon to blot out either the horrors—or the dreariness—of the day.  Grandma and grandpa were smoking weed in the park.  Your parents were doing Jell-O shots and raiding mom’s medicine cabinet.  Now it’s Fireball and Fentanyl.  Who knows what will be in vogue a few years from now?

Although it could certainly be argued that some of the drugs readily available today are a bit too powerful and dangerous for casual recreational ingestion, the bottom line is that 99% percent of use is strictly voluntary—although incredibly risky and demonstrably stupid.  Presuming that cutting off access to one drug or another is going to sober up our constantly buzzed nation is the same fallacy that led us to our misbegotten national experiment with Prohibition in the 1920’s and 30’s, which produced little but systemic corruption and deadly crime as a result.  

I would prefer that everyone stick to beer, but our nation’s drug and alcohol addled MacGyvers will always find some stronger substance to screw up their bodies and minds when the opportunity arises.  Those who want to use drugs and alcohol, will do so; those who do not, will not.  Spending time and money explaining the dangers of drugs and alcohol to both young and old alike has probably not changed a single mind—but it provides both the illusion of action and many paychecks to those who do the explaining.  However, all across our great nation, America is still drinking, smoking, injecting, swallowing, and snorting whatever is available—and this will continue as long as our planet spins around the sun.  

Addicts straighten out their lives, if they ever do, only when the damage to themselves or others becomes too obvious to ignore—or their minds and bodies simply can no longer take the unending abuse.  Until that day arrives, all the well-meaning government programs in the world won’t do much other than create a national infrastructure that, perversely enough, helps to ease the lives of addicts rather than forcing them to face the consequences of their behavior.  Is continuing to pour money into abundantly ineffectual drug and alcohol treatment programs a good idea?  Make your own decisions about that, all you overtaxed citizens out there.

Finally, watching our government leaders and their minions continue to botch up a mission as basic and important as ensuring that Americans can afford to go to a doctor for necessary medical care is rather like watching a YouTube video of a puppy endlessly chasing its tail—all that frenetic action produces no discernible result.  Anybody with the least brain in their heads realizes that medical device and equipment makers, pharmaceutical companies, and corporate hospital chains have conspired for many decades to raise costs to the stratosphere in order to generate ungodly profits.  Patients and their needs are a hindrance to the real mission—keeping the stock price soaring.  The only way that the overall cost of medical care will actually drop is if Medicare, Medicaid, patients, medical providers, and private insurers simply refuse to pay inflated charges and demand steep and permanent price cuts.

However, price discipline will never happen because it would cause the profits and stock prices of the medical profiteers to drop precipitously (and eliminate a lot of well-paying jobs besides!), which would send these businesses immediately scurrying—cash in hand—to our complicit and compliant government for protection from actual marketplace pressure.  After positioning themselves as champions of change in order to catch all the campaign contributions that are certain to follow, our nation’s elected leaders and their anonymous bureaucratic minions will spend many years—and election cycles—laboring to produce “reforms” that are a boon for the business of medicine but an unmitigated disaster for the economics of healthcare.  Money will get shuffled about, our taxes will be raised in order to pay for all our newly affordable healthcare(however much sense that makes) and the true cost of reforms, such as they are, will be masked by yet more crushing government debt to maintain a fundamentally uneconomical and unfair healthcare system.

Government will never solve these problems—education, drug abuse, and healthcare—but it will happily spend our nation and citizens into the poorhouse trying.  In the meanwhile, perhaps we need to provide a few reminders to those concerned.

Students need to remember that studying your school book instead of your cell phone is the only sure path to academic success.  Our nation’s opioid addicts need to learn—sometimes to their great discomfort—that the high live is no life at all.  All those government officials and consultants trying to “reform” healthcare—and enjoying the ease provided by our tax dollars while they do so—are welcome to continue to fiddle around endlessly while avoiding the ire of their corporate masters, but the fact will always remain that our opaque, decentralized, and bureaucratized healthcare system is a prescription for maximum expense with minimum results.

Want change? Stop subsidizing failure. Start insisting on personal responsibility. Reduce expenses by firing the parasites that spend their time explaining away their waste of our nation’s wealth, health, and youth. We need no more study—we need results.

Disorder In The Courts

Setting aside for the moment the unbelievably dispiriting saga of the Supreme Court nominationof Brett Kavanaugh, which is clearly a political and cultural inflection point that will keep commentators scribbling for decades to come, it seems apparent that our entire federal system of jurisprudence is suffering from a crisis of legitimacy that is perhaps unprecedented in recent memory.  

Some of the problems are self-inflicted wounds that are the result of obvious miscarriages of justice that have wronged the innocent and released the guilty.  Some issues have arisen from moving far away from simply applying or interpreting laws and becoming super-legislators whose individual judgments supersede those of duly-elected representatives.  Other difficulties facing our federal courts are the inevitable outcome of our nation’s ever widening cultural and moral divisions—every ruling now produces an army of the disgruntled.

The law and our federal courts have, of course, always been imperfect tools in our eternal quest for justice on earth because the humans who write and apply our laws are themselves imperfect creatures who are subject to the same stupidity and shortsightedness as us all.  However, the hope was that rigorous training of both lawyers and judges in evidentiary proceedings conducted under rules established by both precedents and common sense would be sufficient to reduce the opportunities for either fear or favor to influence the rulings of our federal courts.  This has not always worked, but additional procedures for appeals are available, and a trip up the marble steps of the Supreme Court has always been the final leg of the journey for those seeking justice.  

It is important to remember that, even when the wheels of justice turned slowly, the general perception was that the federal courts were a reliable bulwark against destructive partisan passions.  Although we understood that justice was sometimes elusive, judges and the courts were still held in high regard.  Despite the sometimes reasonable perception that true justice often seemed reserved for rich, white males, Americans had a sense that the federal courts were capable of hearing the pleas of those who felt historically disenfranchised and responding—if belatedly—to their needs, and this served to burnish the reputation of our federal courts in spite of all their missteps on the path to modernity.  Consequently, generations of idealists worked to make improvements to both the operations and outcomes of our federal court system, which enabled a broader spectrum of American society to enjoy the benefits of living in a nation of laws.  If small town local justice sometimes seemed small-minded, the federal courts many times provided the necessary broad corrections that could later be applied nationally through the precedents set by their rulings.

How far away this all seems today….

Perhaps the most pressing problem now facing the federal judiciary is one for which they have only themselves to blame: Abandoning the role of arbiter and assuming the mantle of advocacy has turned judges into yet another subset of political hacks within a system rife with political hacks.  Outsized egos and a lack of respect for the dire consequences of judicial activism have pushed the federal courts further and further beyond their constitutional mandate, which is sadly understandable if you consider the foibles of human nature.  

As much fun as it might be to be a “rock star judge” who finds new and inventive ways to circumvent judicial limitations and seize the powers delegated to the legislative and executive branches of government under the Constitution, the price to pay is the destructive surrender of all-important perceptions of restraint and impartiality.  The unsurprising result has been that federal judges are now subjected to the same rough and tumble scrutiny as those who must regularly win re-election to their offices by presenting their partisan credentials to voters—welcome to the jungle, Your Honor.

As the federal courts have come more and more to both reflect and reinforce the partisan splits in our nation by seeking to circumscribe—or outright negate—the laws and regulations approved by the President and Congress, they have waded deeper and deeper into stormy political and moral waters they cannot possibly navigate without eventually drowning.  Moreover, by making their own partisan agendas ever more apparent through their frequent speeches and voluminous writings, judges serving at the federal level are discarding all remaining pretense of objectivity in favor of social engineering on a scale that would both astonish and alarm their more circumspect predecessors on the bench.  

The sadly predictable outcome is never ending sniping and frighteningly vicious confirmation hearings that are erasing whatever tattered prestige our highest level of courts still retain.

We may not at this late date be able to turn back the clock because our nation’s elite law schools have themselves become the training grounds for a radical judicial philosophy that—terrifyingly enough—believes judges are wiser stewards of our nation than those whom we elect to represent us.  The outright disrespect for our democratic processes that we today so often see manifested in the rulings of our federal courts is an insult to the genius of our nation’s political system, which is still the wonder of the world despite its human flaws.

Therefore, having founded a nation by rejecting the divine rights of kings, it might just be the case that we will renew our nation’s commitment to democracy—however maddening and messy as the will of the people might sometimes be—by opposing the “divine rights” that have been assumed by judges who believe it is their prerogative to strike down legislation, oppose the President, and impose whatever mandates they see fit upon a captive America with a single court order.  

The battle has been joined, and those on both sides of this issue clearly understand what is at stake.  Whatever the outcome might be, we can be certain that our perceptions of the federal court system and its role in relation to the other two branches of our national government are about to undergo a profound shift—and the outcome will either begin to heal or further divide our already troubled nation.