Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, icon of the Supreme Court, is only the latest and most surprising public figure to develop mad cow disease in this sweltering full-moon summer of political life.
Her utterly out-of-character (her term) and ill-advised attack on Donald Trump as a faker was the one and only time the "bloviating fleshbag" (as a Scottish ‘Remain’ tweeter memorably called him after Brexit) might have had a point that somebody other than himself was saying something inappropriate.
It’s as if the Trumpian toxin has invaded the bloodstream of our body politic, infecting everyone.
Remember the sainted feminist Gloria Steinem telling us in February that young women only voted for Bernie Sanders to please their boyfriends, and the first woman Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, famous for her well-judged asperity, delivering a blow to Hillary’s cool factor by talking about the special place in hell for women who don’t help (and, by implication, vote for) other women, as if gender was all Hillary had going for her?
And who can forget the murder-suicide of Chris Christie and Mark Rubio in the Republican primaries, when Christie was so eager to please Trump as an attack dog that he came off as a street thug caught kicking a homeless man while Rubio, goaded by Trump’s Little Marco barbs, launched a last frantic outburst about the size of the fleshbag’s fingers?
Maybe I’m getting old school but I was startled to pick up the New York Daily News this morning and see the word PRICK emblazoned on the cover (as in “one prick at a time”) to characterize the GOP platform.
Everyone trying to deal with this election—riled up by anxiety, cable-news frenzy, and overdoses of online opiates—seems to be losing the plot.
I’ve been reading a book, Hurrah For The Blackshirts!: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between The Wars, about the leader of the British fascist movement in the thirties, Sir Oswald Mosley, stomping around the East End of London.
Mosley was as beloved by his blackshirts as Nigel Farage is by hardcore Brexiteers (and Trump by chanting Trumpkins). The big difference is that hate didn’t have digital amplification.
Mosley’s fringe stayed on the fringe. Ditto in the U.S., where white supremacists, misogynists in wife-beater vests, and all the other demented trolls spewing out imprecations now thrive online.
A generation ago the nation’s most prominent bigot on TV was a fictional character played for laughs. Today’s nonfictional, orange-haired Archie Bunker has ten million Twitter followers, and vox pop interviews make him the spokesman for a newly minted species of raging white resentment.
Trouble is, it’s catching. The other guests at a swell dinner party in the Hamptons a couple of weeks ago saw my normally mild-mannered husband nearly leap across the table and throttle a young entrepreneur who told him he was voting for Trump.
Said entrepreneur told an unsuspecting mutual friend the next day that it was now dangerous to go out in the Hamptons because you never know when you’re going to be attacked by some rabid old liberal. (Go Harry!)
All this dangerous emotion breaking down norms in social life means that temperament has never been more important on the public stage. It’s not just what Ginsburg said but that she said it to a reporter.
Was this tiny intellectual dynamo suddenly moved by all the noise and nonsense to channel her inner Antonin Scalia, whose contemptuous answer to pained questions about the Bush v Gore verdict in 2000 was always: “Get over it.”
We have all been impressed by the comportment of Dallas Police Chief David Brown. Learning his tragic back story—six years ago he lost his own son twice to gun violence, first when 27-year-old David Brown Jr. shot and killed a cop and a civilian, then when he too was shot and killed by responding police—only made us respect his composure more.
Ditto Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina and one of just two African-American members of the U.S. Senate, who on Wednesday calmly told his colleagues of his personal experience of being pulled over by police many, many times “for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood.”
There is painful internal conflict inherent in being a black American in a position of authority at the moment. To go home and hear painful stories of friends about their kids, to watch what video cams are showing us about brutality to young black men in custody, to feel the surge of the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and yet to be the face of Law and Order, must be something very like PTSD.
Of course, the ultimate black man in a position of authority is the President of the United States. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s illustrious Supreme Court predecessor Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said of Franklin D. Roosevelt that he possessed a second-class intellect but a first-class temperament.
Barack Obama has a first-class both. The intellect has been manifest in nearly everything he has said or written, beginning with Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, the extraordinary book he wrote in his mid-30s as a barely-known law teacher.
The low-boil temperament may be what won him the White House, when his reaction to the October 2008 financial emergency (“Presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time”) contrasted so strongly with his opponent’s panicky call to suspend the campaign.
It has helped him keep his head through eight years of tumult, challenge and choleric provocation, and it was on display again on Tuesday in his remarks at the memorial for the slain Dallas police officers. This week’s news—every week’s news, lately—only shows how very deeply we are going to miss this President.