Pragmatism is for Suckers?

John Bowling
2 min readSep 24, 2020

Jonah Goldberg, David French, and some others have suggested that Republicans should make a deal with Democrats in which Republicans don’t vote to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee in exchange for promises from a few reliable Democrats that they won’t pack the courts, make Puerto Rico and Washington DC a state, etc.

And, as usual, they frame their position as the principled one, standing strong against the beating winds of pure pragmatism. Those who disagree are concerned with what they can do rather than what they should do.

Here’s a thought experiment:

Suppose that we lived in an alternate world where everything remained the same except substitute the institution of slavery for abortion as it currently exists. So in this alternate world slavery was made legal in all 50 states after a supreme court ruling in 1973 — call it Anthony v. Douglas. Over the last 47 years abolitionists have made a lot of progress in reducing the number of slave owners and chipping away at certain legal protections here and there, but Democratic leaders remain committed opponents and are becoming more radical. Suppose, for instance, that Biden had previously said that no taxpayer dollars should go to organizations which try to catch and return escaped slaves but now Biden has flipped on that position because of pressure from the creeping radicalism of his party. etc.

And let’s say that while it still seems unlikely that pushing through a Supreme Court nominee would overturn Anthony v Douglas, it still a chance it might. But, what’s more, is that abolitionists can be confident that doing so would make it easier to continue to chip away at slavery at the state level — since the legal challenges that Democrats bring would be less likely to succeed.

Would Jonah et. al. still support their deal over the alternative, an “abuse of power”?

If Jonah or David or any of the other deal-proponents would opt for the “abuse of power” in this scenario then is it purely pragmatism and power that drives them?



John Bowling

Throwing half-baked ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks.