There’s a Jewish tradition that someone who dies on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, must have been a tzaddik, a righteous person. After all, God waited all year to carry out the decree. Perhaps that offers some comfort to those mourning the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Hebrew name, Yita Ruchel bat Tzirel Leah), who finally succumbed to cancer at the age of 87, after convincing many of us that she was immortal.
But the themes of Rosh Hashanah offer another lesson as well: a warning to those Republican senators pondering whether or not to support Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s unbelievable, shameful, cynical, immoral hypocrisy in pushing to replace Justice Ginsburg just hours after her passing and weeks before a presidential election.
The warning? That, in the words of Lou Reed, you’re going to reap, reap, reap just what you sow.
Let’s reflect for a moment on the breathtaking hypocrisy that’s about to unfold on the national stage. Mitch McConnell, who singlehandedly invented the fake rule that Supreme Court nominees should not be considered in an election year, is now going to break that same rule, forcing a vote on whatever right-wing extremist Donald Trump nominates to replace RBG.
Back then, McConnell told ABC News on March 20, 2016, that, “The American people are in the middle of choosing who the next president is going to be. That next president ought to have this appointment.” Now? The opposite.
It gets worse. Justice Scalia died 268 days before the 2016 election. Justice Ginsburg died 46 days before the 2020 election.
Indeed, we’re so close to the election already, this whole sham of a process may have to happen in a lame-duck session, potentially one with both a president and a Senate majority that have been voted out of office.
And between now and then, Republican senators will be twisting themselves in more knots than a troupe of circus contortionists. Senators Lindsey Graham (the judiciary committee chair who has the power to end this circus, if he has the integrity to do so), Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins have all said they wouldn’t confirm an election-year Supreme Court justice. Will they keep their word? Or find a way to weasel out of it? And what about Susan “I’m sure Justice Kavanaugh Will Vote To Protect Abortion Rights” Collins?
It is a great irony that McConnell’s moral travesty is unfolding just as the Jewish season of reflection, introspection, and atonement gets underway. And from the party of the “moral majority” at that.
Morality? McConnell is violating the Golden Rule.
The whole spectacle is truly, deeply pathetic, even if “pro-life” voters (who, by the way, seem curiously silent about forced hysterectomies at ICE facilities and mass deaths from COVID-19 at prisons) love it.
But it’s not just pathetic—it’s also unwise.
What’s really going on here is a final power grab by a minority party, which lost the presidency by 2.9 million votes, that controls the Senate despite its senators representing 15 million fewer Americans than those of the other party, and which has committed itself to a shrinking base of nativist, mostly conservative-religious, mostly less-educated, white men.
Republican leaders know that their days are numbered. America soon won’t have enough white people or conservative Christians to keep them in power. Sure, voter suppression can prolong the party’s viability for a few years. But sooner or later, Song of the South is going to lose and Moana is going to win. It is what it is, as someone recently said.
So they are making hay while the sun shines.
They are appointing record numbers of life-tenure federal judges, many of whom have been deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association. They have thrown principle and precedent to the wind, abolishing the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, abolishing home-state approval of judicial appointments (so-called “blue slips”), and turning judicial confirmations into Las Vegas weddings.
And come hell or high water, they’re going to try to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a conservative who will, once and for all, save the fetuses of America, undo gay marriage, and let corporations do whatever they want.
Except 2020 isn’t 2016.
Whatever happens to the Senate in November—and recent surveys have shown that liberal voters care more about courts and judges than at any time in American history—the Republican party looks to be headed into minority territory.
And as the late Justice Ginsburg recently said at a Supreme Court oral argument, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
It’s not just court-packing, though the threat of changing the number of justices on the Supreme Court may be Democrats’ best available move right now. It’s the debt ceiling. It’s the tax code. It’s the regulatory state. It’s health care. It’s climate change. It’s the fire in the belly of every Democrat in this country to undo the damage Trump and McConnell have wrought.
Even setting aside the morality of it, now just might not be the smartest time to once again trample on democratic norms, break one’s own stated commitments, and commit a laughable outrage in plain sight of the entire world.
Which brings us back to Rosh Hashanah.
For better or for worse, one of the core themes of the Jewish High Holiday season is that actions have consequences. There may not be an Old Man in the Sky auditing your personal Book of Life to see if you merit another year on this planet, but, these holidays say, you will reap what you sow. Actions have consequences. Call it karma, or just deserts, or the long bending of the arc of the moral universe toward justice. But eventually, these ancient myths promise, what goes around, comes around.
I don’t know if those myths are true. Bad people get away with bad things. But if there’s one truly religious soul left in the body of the so-called “religious right,” that bone should be shaking right now. Because it knows exactly what it’s doing. It knows that it’s wrong. And it knows that, sooner or later, there will be a reckoning.