Everything about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death has felt wrong. I don’t mean surprising—she was an 87-year-old woman who had battled cancer multiple times and been hospitalized earlier this year; it’s not uncommon for people with that medical history to die. But every second of what’s happened since the news broke of her death has felt like some kind of perversion of what should be happening.
In my nights of anxiety and insomnia since her death, robbed by the news cycle insistent on the politics of it all to be sad, I started feeling despair.
I thought about how the justice once said that “Real, enduring change happens one step at a time.” That’s a pretty thought. But it also takes hundreds of years for a forest to grow and one asshole with a can full of gas and a book of matches to burn it down. Positive change is gradual and collective; devastation is sudden. We can’t ignore the arsonist just because it’s more pleasant to pick flowers.
I thought about Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish that the Senate wait until after this year’s election to replace her, and how Mitch McConnell is such a power-grabby cacodemon that he released a statement defying her dying wish a mere hour and a half after we found out she was dead. It’s no secret that Mitch McConnell is incapable of feeling shame or projecting empathy, but the whole thing would have felt less ghoulish if he’d hadn’t vowed to leave a Supreme Court seat open back in 2016, because back then it would have been too close to the election. Maybe he could have waited until after the weekend to announce his hypocrisy. At any rate, there’s nothing we can do about it.
It’s infuriating that GOP senators rolled over for McConnell like dozens of circus gerbils, many pledging to vote for whoever Trump nominates before they even know who it is. It could be anybody. Ivanka, Dan Bongino, Roseanne on Ambien. Another one of Mike Huckabee’s shitty kids? Steve Bannon’s boat that he bought with the money a bunch of dupes gave to his Build the Wall charity? There’s nothing in the Constitution that says a boat named Warfighter can’t be a Supreme Court Justice!
Trump is going to nominate a woman, and she’s going to be a woman with terrible ideas. She’s going to be a woman specifically picked to help undo the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The fact that she is a woman will not be worth celebrating. Just as I wouldn’t celebrate a woman who burned my house down on purpose as a total badass achievement in feminist arson, I see a conservative antithesis to Ginsburg as a destructive force that should be stopped. Why on earth would people who care about gender equality celebrate the achievements of a woman selected, in effect, to erase the last 40 years of progress?
Trump’s Honorable Justice Woman will be instrumental in dismantling the ACA, Roe, equal pay laws, voting rights, LGBTQ+ issues, and organized labor. She’s going to be a woman who conservatives—many of whom have never in their lives thought about what sexism is or how it works—will defend against any liberal criticism by claiming all criticism against this woman, their current favorite woman, is sexist.
These conservatives are members of a party with a platform that is essentially a pledge to agree with Donald Trump, a man who has been credibly accused of sexual assault by dozens of women, a man who routinely picks fights with female journalists, a man who has been at the helm of government when migrant women were being subjected to forced hysterectomies by an unlicensed gynecologist. In the ensuing debate about the merits of a judicial zealot (who is a woman), I can’t wait to hear from all these new GOP feminist luminaries like Ted Cruz, Mike Pompeo, and guys who stand outside abortion clinics wearing Q shirts yelling at pregnant teenage girls that they’re sluts who are going to burn in hell.
As a lifelong Democratic voter, I’m often annoyed with Democratic politicians. But since Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, it’s fair to say I’m furious with some of them.
Democrats are clucking their tongues and wagging their fingers and tweeting as though they’re Mr. Smith and they’ve about to give Washington the old what-for, hopeful that Republicans will change their entire way of being if only they are on the receiving end of a stern frowning. But they should know from spending all this time around them that Republican senators do not care if other people know that they’re bad people. Democrats can’t shame Republicans out of doing something that will get them more power! A Republican in the year 2020 is about as likely to start acting like a decent human being on command as a dog is likely to stop peeing on fire hydrants out of respect to the first responders. They don’t care if you don’t like it!
Calling for a person who has no capacity for anything less than culty allegiance to display some decency or restraint is an exercise in futility. In fact, it’s worse than futile. Not only is it ineffective in changing the behavior of Republicans, it convinces Democratic-leaning majority of voters in this minority-rule country that nothing will convince elected Democrats to fight for the people who hired them. A president who lost the popular vote by three million people, along with a legislative body that is controlled by the party that actually represents 15 million fewer people than the minority party are about to undo decades of progress that most Americans support. Democrats are treating this like it’s a session of couple’s therapy, when it’s actually an unlicensed UFC fight.
The only way to bring myself up slightly from “wow, fuck this” since Ginsburg’s death has been to, despite all the noise, try to make room to think about her life.
When Ruth Bader Ginsburg started her legal career, she faced constant, cartoonish sexism. Employers were hesitant to hire her despite her Harvard Law degree. But she kept trying until she found a way in. When she was first arguing cases before the Supreme Court as an ACLU attorney, she strategized to showcase ways that sexist laws hurt men, so that the all-male Supreme Court would see it in terms they could understand.
As the court slid further and further to the right, she often found herself on the losing side of cases. She dissented when the conservative justices gutted the Voting Rights Act, she dissented as the court ruled that certain employers could prevent their employees from using their health insurance to access birth control (but only birth control). She witnessed all that backsliding, and yet, she still went to work every day. She worked from hospital beds, from home. She made a non-singing cameo in an opera at the Kennedy Center just weeks after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. She kept her head down and kept showing up, to the end.
Perhaps once all the anger and frustration disperses, Justice Ginsburg would have wanted us to think about her work ethic, about how, even when things weren’t going her way, she showed up to work.
For those of us left figuring out what next: Even if you fight as hard as you can, you might lose. But if you stop fighting, you definitely will.