But that’s nothing compared with what would happen if Trump and McConnell pushed through a lifetime conservative successor to Ginsburg immediately after losing the presidency and control of the Senate. Far more than the block on Garland’s nomination four years ago, this would signal to the country and the world that one of America’s two major parties is willing to defy public opinion outright — at least when it moves against the party and the ideological commitments of its voters.

When public opinion as expressed through elections is flagrantly defied in a democratic republic, only one alternative remains to the people — and that is to reject the legitimacy of the system itself. Both parties have been inching in this direction in recent years. But we’ve never seen anything in living memory like what would transpire with such a blatantly anti-democratic power grab on the part of the Republican Party. Prepare for a strong push in favor of progressive court packing, and then a revival of the conservative case for the state-level nullification of Supreme Court decisions. And of course, Republicans would pack the court with even more conservative justices at their first opportunity, which would lead the Democrats to embrace blue-state nullification for decisions they reject.

It’s hard to see how the Supreme Court could survive as an institution under such conditions — or how the clashes emanating from the conflict could fail to infect the other branches of the federal government, individual state governments, and the country at large.