There is an alternate reality where she died where I can reflect on her life with the awe and admiration that her life and career deserved.
In that reality, I’m not super torn up about her death. She had an incredible run and her legal decisions have had ripple effects on law and justice in the US that reverberate throughout the rest of its history.
And in that reality I can acknowledge that she wasn’t perfect. Liberal as she was, she fell short of overcoming racism. In her entire career she only hired one black clerk, and her comments about Colin Kaepernick (for which she did later apologize) demonstrated that even trailblazers have blind spots, and that it’s important to always be welcoming in the next generation of trailblazers because for all of us, there will be a day when we will start getting in the way of progress.
But that isn’t the reality we get to mourn RBG in, is it?
Instead I am stuck worrying about Mitch McConnell applying a double standard that we could tell from miles away he was going to apply, and indeed he came up with a doozy of a bullshit reason for why it was okay for him to not hold hearings for Merrick Garland in 2016, but how he will indeed hold confirmation hearings for whomever Trump nominates.
In Portland we only just today got a break from the incredibly smoky air from the nearby wildfires that were keeping us holed up in our houses. And that’s just shortly after we were gearing up for the possibility we’d need to evacuate because of those wildfires and heavy winds. And that’s in addition to the general long-term threat caused by the climate change we’ve been letting happen for decades without trying to address with urgency.
And of course all that is in addition to the fact that we’ve been living in a pandemic for most of the year and the US is handling it worse than just about every other country in the world.
Also, the US is being pushed to reckon with centuries of racist history, and we’re struggling to do anything about it.
And most of the US agrees with me that we should do something about these issues, and presumably as a democracy that means we’d have leadership doing something about it, but we don’t, because of a mix of gerrymandering, the electoral college, and the fact that in the Senate, every state gets two senators, meaning that California, a state that if it were its own country would have the fifth largest economy in the world, gets as many senators as Montana. 37 times as many people, but the same number of senators.
It must have been such an incredible burden for Justice Ginsburg to bear, knowing that the court, already ideologically shifting further right, was somewhat being held in balance by her, and that she needed to stick it out until after Trump left office to avoid the court shifting incredibly far-right. To stay on the bench not because it was her ambition (which it was), but to soldier through illness after illness while continuing to work because there was no other good option.
The context makes all the difference.
And it’s in this context that the news of her death leaves me feeling so much despair. RBG’s death in itself isn’t the despair; it’s more the sprinkling of salt that brings out the flavor of despair in everything else we’ve been experiencing in recent history.
I look forward to a hopefully not too distant future where the wounds of today have healed and we can look back at RBG’s life and feel the inspiration I wish I could feel today.