With all the grim news from the US Supreme Court today, it’s easy to feel despairing. And there are certainly strong arguments to support a pessimistic view.
On the other hand, we’ve been here before many times before. Arthur Hugh Clough’s poem Say not the struggle naught availeth was written in 1849 the aftermath of the collapse of Chartism, a movement that demanded universal male suffrage, secret ballots and other democratic reforms. Clough himself spent 1848 in Italy during the “Year of Revolutions”, most of which were defeated within a few years. Yet, in the end, the Chartist demands were met*, and then surpassed through the struggle for women’s suffrage. The struggle for democracy in Europe as a whole has ebbed and flowed (it’s ebbing at the moment), but has so far been successful.
Coming to the US situation, even though the right has all the levers of power, they are still losing ground on lots of issues, both in terms of public support and in terms of actual outcomes
* Obamacare has survived, and there’s now rising support for a single-payer system.
* The Republican tax cuts are less popular than ever.
* Equal marriage is firmly established, and talk of a constitutional change to stop it has disappeared.
* Gun control, one of the few issues on which the right had gained popular support in the culture wars, is now back on the agenda
There are lots more examples both economic and cultural, including minimum wages, Confederate monuments, and the decline of for-profit education.
That’s not to say that we are necessarily on the winning side of history. It’s easy, for example, to imagine a scenario where the Republicans offset steadily declining support with steadily increasing voter suppression. And the strength of racist/xenophobic appeals to a formerly dominant group, on the way to becoming a minority, can never be underestimated.
On the other hand, if the existing support of the majority of the public translates into a Congressional (or at least House) majority in November and a progressive Democratic President and Senate in 2020, a right wing majority on the Supreme Court won’t be able to reverse trends like those I mentioned above.
* The only exception being the demand for annual Parliaments.