How fast the Supreme Court nominee talk began, with the monumental life that precipitated it surreally relegated in its shadow.
It’s there in Donald Trump’s creepy, elated stump speeches, and Mitch McConnell’s pathetic justifications for his own hypocrisy; in the liberal scramble to avert their idea of disaster; and in the glassy eyes of pundits who rack up their appearance fees chatting ever so amiably about the violations of our democracy. It’s there in Meghan McCain’s foghorn petulance which makes The View so often unwatchable.
Everyone is in on the game, ghouls at a poisonous feast.
The race began on Friday night when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had only just died; it continued galloping on Saturday morning; it is on now. All those Republicans who obstructed Merrick Garland’s appointment are now ready to rush through whichever right-wing extremist Donald Trump chooses to attack women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ equality, voting access, and whatever other targets swing into the president and his party’s view.
In a flash, the tragic death of one of the most substantial political and cultural figures of our time became just another gateway drama. The added note of cruelty: RBG’s replacement will be tasked with undoing much of what she believed in.
This may be politics as usual for those who play in the swamp, but for many of us it is horrible and sick-making to watch; a total lack of respect afforded not just to Ginsburg and her family and loved ones, but also—and why should one have to say this?—because it is utterly appalling to behave like this after somebody has just died.
If you have ever lost a loved one, if you have ever experienced grief, you may have felt the horror of watching callous, inappropriate behavior that has nothing to do with politics. It was not an unfamiliar feeling with this administration—this is wrong, this disgusts me—but it was sharper than ever before.
This may be anathema to the 24-hour cable news cycle, and to Meghan McCain’s innate belief that only she is right and must be heard. It may not suit McConnell’s warp-speed timetable. But in all the talk of the Trump administration riding roughshod over democratic norms and weakening and making pliable the institutions of the state, RBG’s death crystallized how Republicans have also perverted basic decency.
As they crowed and scrambled to replace Ginsburg, her body barely cold, what could anyone think—regardless of politics—but what an exceptionally ghoulish, vile, craven group of individuals they are. In how it is treating RBG and her legacy, the Republican Party—allegedly so focused on family and the sanctity of life—has again revealed how un-fit it is to give any of us lectures on morality or the sanctity of anything.
It is disrespecting Ginsburg’s life in the most grotesque way possible. Trump boasts in his speeches that one of his successes has been to pack the courts—including, he hopes, the Supreme Court—with judges to see through his and Mike Pence’s ideological mission. This should not be how any president talks about the law and process of justice.
The Republican response to Ginsburg’s death shows (again) how the bottom is never reached with this administration. As we barrel towards authoritarianism, the boundaries of decent behavior are becoming ever fainter. The unacceptable, the gross, is becoming part of the everyday D.C. circus.
This is the greatest danger of all; that Trump reveling in calls of “Fill the seat” at a rally—referring to the seat on the Supreme Court occupied by a human being only dead a matter of hours—becomes a norm; that we as humans watch it open-mouthed and then we move on, brain-fuzzed, to the next calumny, like New York, Portland and Seattle being designated “anarchist jurisdictions” by the Trump administration. Where’s the next outrage? Over there. No wait, over there.
After RBG’s death, “hypocrisy” came the cry from Democrats. This is right and fair enough, of course; suddenly, all the Republican objections to Garland have been re-customized to suit their needs today. The Republicans tried to “both-sides” the charge of hypocrisy, but the Garland saga is right there, in plain view. But it will not sink them. Hypocrisy used to be a serious charge and source of shame to the person accused of it. It could even end a career.
No longer—at least not for those on the right who have no moral compunction when it comes to getting their own way. Trump says and does whatever he needs to to maintain power and expects the same of those around him—transactional, shape-shifting shamelessness is now a virtue. Mitch McConnell is very much an eyes-on-the-prize kind of guy; he doesn’t have time for all your whining about nuance and process.
Trump treats politics and policy-making as a game, and has staffed the most powerful institutions around him—most visibly in Bill Barr, the attorney general—with people willing to give absolute loyalty. This is loyalty to him; not the law, or humane behavior. These people do his bidding, they do not do what is tasked of them as public servants.
And we see this wrenching dislocation most clearly when somebody like Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies. What should happen in such a moment regardless of politics is a variation of, or all of: moments of reflection, expressions of condolence; and yes a horse race if you must, but a horse race run at the right moment.
You shouldn’t need RBG’s dying words to suggest that this seat should be filled after the election of the next president, an election happening in a matter of weeks. It is quite clearly the right thing to do. (And again from Trump today, a thoroughly indecent, despicable suggestion that RBG’s dying wishes had not been her own. This is not the first time he has attacked the dying and already dead. To him, his enemies have after-lives as convenient punching bags.)
Of course, disgust is nothing new to feel with this administration. The laundry list of terrible deeds and terrible things spoken is long, with much more sure to come out that we don’t yet know about. But everything that has happened since Ginsburg’s death on Friday has sharpened that revulsion. It is nothing to do with politics. It is everything to do with the moral corruption of the current administration.
The political logic, presumably, is that the base loves the gaslighting and lying, the wholesale disregard for decency. But this may ultimately be a far more dangerous mis-estimation for Trump, Lindsey Graham, and the rest. The contrast of Ginsburg’s life and work—in the service of others less fortunate. in the name of equality—with the all-consuming self-interest of Trump and his cronies could not be clearer. And perhaps that is why the disgust at the behavioral indecency of this administration feels worse—today, this minute—than ever before. We really see it now.
One hopes that undecided or moderate voters also see this appalling behavior for what it is, and ask themselves how they would see those who would use the death of a loved one with the same exploitative recklessness; whose only thought is to use that death for their own benefit. How could anyone who calls themselves a Christian vote for this kind of shameful behavior, this complete dereliction of propriety?
Trump’s great hope, of course, is that ideology triumphs over decency. Maybe he is right; maybe he and his ilk have so thoroughly corrupted the body politic that those who want to outlaw abortion see Justice Ginsburg’s death as a perfectly timed victory, and believe that bad behavior does not matter when it is in the service of conservative goals. Democrats should fight fire with the hottest fire they have; don’t debate it, just follow McConnell’s no-prisoners example.
The media should include in its horse-race reporting interviews with Republican lawmakers that focus on their behavior. Let us see our representatives questioned over how they feel about a cultural giant’s death being so abruptly transformed into a feverish bargaining chip. Ask them if they had a family member—their life only recently expired—is this how they would like them to be treated?
The mistake—and it has happened ever since RBG’s death was announced Friday night—is to force us as voters to move on at the pace the Republican Party and 24-hour news want us to. No.
Talk to Lindsey Graham, Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell not about hypocrisy, but about standards of decency. Ask them about their faith. Ask them about judgment. Ask them what God would make of their behavior. Ask every God-invoking Republican the same questions. Make this an election about our disgust and their lacking morals.
Don’t move on from that disgust. This is how they are treating a dead person of note in service of their own ends. This is what is becoming normalized. As you consider your vote, also consider the saddest, most chilling thing: this isn’t the end.