I’ve heard the voice of death four times this summer: during farewell calls to my aunt and father figure who were in the last days of lives abbreviated by cancer, in the final goodbye from a friend who would attempt suicide, and in the sigh of my 94-year-old grandma who suddenly feels cursed by good health and is becoming impatient for the morning she does not wake up.
As eerie and hopeless as each of those conversations felt, as overly familiar as we have become with death in the first nine months of 2020, I was unprepared for the depth of anguish brought by the news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. Over several generations Ginsburg has been a constitutional bodyguard for women, LGBTQ Americans and minorities whose freedoms often come with asterisks, and it’s hard not to feel vulnerable without the protection of the Notorious R.B.G.
I remain hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court is not as partisan and predictable as both parties cast it for electoral advantage. Aside from Ginsburg, the leading champion of LGBTQ rights on the court, former justice Anthony Kennedy, was appointed by a Republican, as was the surprise author of this year’s majority opinion that affirmed sweeping employment protections for LGBTQ workers, Neil Gorsuch.
Paranoia over Supreme Court appointments has become the guiding propeller of U.S. politics, and there are millions of conservatives who believe three new justices — a third of the court — are worth wading through the sewage and decay into which Donald Trump has steered their cause and our country. Trump’s depravity can no longer be used to cloak the reprobate nature of Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, as there is no doubt the senators would be the same caricatures of hypocrisy if a Supreme Court justice had died in the final quarter of Jeb Bush’s first presidential term.
However, Ginsburg’s death has lit the fuse on a keg of shortsightedness many Democrats have been perched upon for almost a decade, and we are about to see an explosion of intellectual duplicity among liberals. Enraged by Republican obstructionism when the Democrats controlled the Senate, progressives have advocated nullifying the filibuster (something Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for during the presidential primary debates), an effort that probably will be abandoned now that the filibuster is the only barrier between the left and a judicial hellscape.
Without much comfort, I trust Senate Democrats have the competence to stave off confirmation of any Trump nomination until the election via legislative delays and campaign pressure on vulnerable Republicans facing reelection. With even less comfort, I understand how Trump supporters will consider any Democratic maneuvering or delayed vote to be a hostile act, and how eager they are to defend their leader from coups and “deep state” conspiracies.
I envy not only anyone who thinks the presidential contest will resolve the debate over who replaces Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but also those who believe we will have a meaningful national election in November. Already committed to delegitimizing mail-in voting and any negative election results, don’t be surprised if Trump uses the stalled court nomination as further proof to his followers that he is being usurped and their country is being stolen.
It feels naive to no longer expect 2020 to bring our worst nightmares to fruition, and there are still three months left in the year.