When the Republicans made the move on Thursday to trigger the “nuclear option” in the Senate, everything changed. This action is an effective rules change that will allow Judge Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed to the Supreme Court with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes it used to require.

In doing this, Washington just confirmed it really is as broken and hopeless as President Donald Trump and his supporters have long claimed it is. Gorsuch is an eminently qualified jurist, as the American Bar Association (which is not a conservative mouthpiece) attests to – the fact that his confirmation could not happen without going ‘nuclear’ confirms that nothing on Congress works anymore.

The bigger picture here is that the fight over Gorsuch’s nomination signifies the decay of political unity between the two major parties, and the culmination of increasing polarisation around the judiciary, and politics as a whole.

In today’s environment Democrats simply can no longer accept confirming a solid conservative to the Supreme Court. And the failed nomination of Merrick Garland similarly shows most Republicans no longer can accept confirming a solid liberal.

Tragic consequences

Congress’ dysfunction is no surprise to anyone, sadly. For years House Republicans pledged to abolish Obamacare as soon as they had the power to do so, and foolish voters believed that after seven years of thinking about it, a plan might exist. Of course we all know how that went.

But now, an even more humiliating, and consequential, disaster faces the new broken US Senate – Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are now forced to play a tragic and catastrophic game of chicken over the Gorsuch nomination neither wants to win.

There are four main reasons why this action will have serious consequences for Congress and the balance of power, and indeed for the short-sighted Mitch McConnell.

Firstly, the Republicans won’t be in power forever – so if the Democrats take over the Senate and the House in 2020, they will find it much easier to replace justices on the left, such as Ginsburg, with no ability for Republicans to resist. And the removal of this 60-vote requirement on the Supreme Court might lead to pressure for the Republicans to remove the filibuster for everything. McConnell has vowed against this for now, but his successor might not feel the same way about the slippery slope.

Secondly, Republicans have a good chance of winning Senate seats in 2018, including 10 that are held by Democrats in states that Trump won last year. Without the motivation that they need 60 votes to pass their agenda, the election message loses its urgency.

Third, the filibuster is a useful leverage tool against the current president, or really any president in order to deter their excesses and encourage compromise. “We’d really like to pass this, Mr. President, but you know we need to find a way to get to 60 … ” This argument, too, is now endangered.

Finally, the end of the filibuster would essentially transform the Senate into just a slightly more gilded version of the House. The Senate always prided themselves on being reasonable, where compromise and conciliation thrived, avoiding petty politics or responding to the whims of constituencies.

This is no longer.