The problem with nuclear war is that there are no winners.
And that, in a nutshell, is what American legislators are now discovering – too late – after changing the rules concerning Supreme Court nominations over the past few years.
There was wisdom in the old process that served the US so well for most of its history. That wisdom was the stipulation that any nominee to the Supreme Court – as well as other top appointments – had to receive 6o votes in the Senate. The result of this was that there had to be some bipartisan support. It meant people from both main parties had to work together and achieve a degree of consensus – regardless of political affiliation. What a sensible, grown-up idea!
However that all changed – and both sides of the political divide are to blame. In 2003 the Republicans came close to changing the rules and implementing what Mississippi Senator Trent Lott had called 'the nuclear option'. They held back. But the seed of the idea had been publicly sown. It took root. And in fact it was the Democrats who in 2013 started tinkering. Some of the rules were altered – so nominees for cabinet secretaries and federal judgeships could be confirmed with just 51 votes.
Then in 2017, it was the turn of the Republicans to press the nuclear trigger as well by lowering the threshold of approval for Supreme Court justices too. They also would now only require 51 per cent Senate support. Bye-bye cross-party consensus; hello, yah-boo partisan politics in the realm of appointments to the highest court in the land.
And now we see the result. Because politics, at its heart, is about people. Play fast and loose with politics and you play fast and loose with real people's lives.
I watched quite a bit of the committee hearings at which Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testified. I hadn't intended to, but found it being broadcast live on the news channel I had turned on for the headlines. It was compelling viewing, but it was horrific. As one BBC correspondent put it, 'it wasn't really edifying for any of those involved'.
Here we had two people whose personal lives were being ripped apart and shredded in public like gazelles attacked by lions – their emotional flesh torn open and organs pulled out as they struggled to gasp for breath.
When you press the button of the nuclear option there are no winners – only death: in this case, the public living death of two ordinary vulnerable human beings, and the carnage of political exploitation masquerading as a public hearing.
I have no idea whether Ford and Kavanaugh were both telling the truth. They both looked pretty sincere and credible to me; my instinct is that both believed what they were saying. There may be all sorts of things that could account for that. But none of us know: and that's the point, isn't it? None of us know.
What I do know is that if any of us start to imagine our own personal hurts and struggles being dissected in this public way we can begin to appreciate how excruciating this must have been for both of them. All of us would be traumatised, wouldn't we? And what I also know is that if neither party had used the 'nuclear option' to change the voting system and bypass the need for political consensus then I doubt very much we would have ended up with this disgrace. One of the few people who emerges with any degree of credit is Jeff Flake, the Arizona Senator, who at least has had the courage to transcend party lines, think independently, and respond with humanity when confronted by protesters.
How should Christians respond? The American devotional writer Scotty Smith has been wrestling with some of these issues in his daily prayer blog. Writing with reference to the Supreme Court a few days ago he wrote, 'I want wolves and lambs, Republicans and Democrats, all kinds of enemies to live in perfect peace today... When will kindness replace all the madness? I want all nursing of grudges, fertilizing bitterness, and withholding grace to be things in the past. I crave the Day of no more minimizing evil, misrepresenting facts and manipulating circumstances.'
He goes on to remind us that in the new heavens and new earth such a day will come. But it hasn't yet. And in the meantime, we live right here, right now. And so he concludes his prayer: 'Father, keep teaching me what faith expressing itself in love looks like, no matter how long we have to wait for Jesus to make all things new. Keep me humble and gentle, present and expectant. May I live more as a peacemaker than a scorekeeper.'
American senators should read a few Scotty Smith prayers and then get on their knees and repent.
David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A