Editor’s Note: Nic Robertson is CNN’s international diplomatic editor. The opinions in this article belong to the author.
Thousands of miles from Washington, the ugly spectacle of America’s body politic writhing in its own divisions is having unexpected consequences.
Countries like Poland, whose right-wing leader Andrzej Duda is among Trump’s emerging roster of international friends, are paying attention and possibly picking up tips.
The US Supreme Court nomination process has put the world’s most powerful – and often emulated – nation where no stable democracy would want to be. Simmering political tensions erupted in unprecedented, vile and vicious rancor.
Perhaps the lowest point in the spectacle came at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, following emotional testimony by professor Christine Blasey Ford – the woman accusing the nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, of sexual misconduct.
Communication between the Democratic and Republican Senators on the committee was already acerbic. Tensions between them drawn taut by days of testy bickering finally snapped when Republican Senator Lindsey Graham erupted, saying that “this is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.”
His attack on Democrats went way beyond what any seasoned observer of the process could recall.
As a senator who had spent more than 300 days helping block President Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee in 2016, he had no moral high ground to hold.
Yet his castigation of the Democratic senators in the room may well sound as a clarion call to the autocrats increasingly in Trump’s orbit: “You all want power,” Graham screamed at the Democrats. “God, I hope you never get it. I hope the American people can see through this sham.”
Of course, Graham was playing to an audience of one – the President.
Trump is expected to fire his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in essence for failing to stand up for what the President wants. It’s a job that many believe Graham would like for himself.
That detail is just a twist in the sordid saga of Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. But it underscores how the leader of the free world is eroding the independence of the apparatus of his judiciary.
Republicans believe allegations of Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct are a plot by Democrats to stop the President’s pick from joining the Supreme Court, thereby preventing the court from tilting in favor of Republicans and reversing its most contentious ruling: Roe v. Wade, which upholds a woman’s right to abortion.
If Kavanaugh wins the nomination and gets the job for life on the Supreme Court, Democrats believe the court will tilt toward Christian conservative values forever, ban abortion and widen the country’s divisions.
In Warsaw, the Republican arguments and battle plans will not only bolster the government’s own ambitions, but give it the sense that the most powerful man in the world approves their tactics.
The ruling Polish party is rooted in conservative Catholic values. In many ways, right-wing Republicans are their ideological brethren. On abortion, they are blood brothers.
That they won’t emulate – or at least be inspired by – what they see in the United States is tremendously unlikely.
Today, many Poles – particularly the more traveled, cosmopolitan, city-dwelling set – are tormented by the government’s abrupt shift to the right.
The government’s overhaul of the judiciary, stuffing courts with its own preferred judges, has led to thousands of people taking to the streets. Duda has been forced to backpedal.
Nevertheless, his allies in the ruling Law and Justice Party continue tilting at the country’s 10,000 judges, nudging out those that they can.
The current standoff is over the 73rd member of Poland’s Supreme Court.
New government legislation demands that judges over the age of 65 must retire – irrespective of whether they have served their full six-year term.
Over the summer, the government tried to enforce this rule on the court’s president, Malgorzata Gersdorf, despite her having four more years to serve. The new ruling affected close to a third of all the Supreme Court judges.
Over the past three years, the Law and Justice Party has gained control of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, as well as many lower courts, using this same tactic.
The government says it needs control in order to rid the courts of communist-era corruption.
The European Union is considering reprimands that could cost Poland voting rights within the EU, although the process to get to that point is still only inching along.
For now, Poland’s drama is playing out largely in the shadows, shaded from attention by bigger international issues.
The poisonous fighting in Washington is sure to add to the obscurity, which suits Poland’s government well.