What's Tony Thinking

RBG and Our Spiritual Struggle


Could the yin and yang be more stark?

On the one hand, the life and legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It is evoking an enormous response, even from people who may not have agreed with her on issues, but who admired her as a tough and kind, smart and courageous person.

On the other, the hustle to fill her seat, with power politics on full display. This is our chance. Hell with principles we ourselves so recently deemed inviolable and sacred.

This is where we are. This is who we are. Divided. Riven. Fractured. “The line between good and evil,” said Solzenitsyn, “passes through the heart of each person.”

We are an aspirational people — though that aspect of our identity seems circumscribed these days. Nonetheless, ideals still speak. Exemplary lives (like that of RBG) yet move us. Love and admiration fill us. We queue up in long lines to pay our respects. This part of us is real. It is us.

And we are a bitterly divided people, each alert for the next outrage, ready to blame someone, anyone, for all that is wrong with the world. Outrage and disdain — our cup brimath over. This part of us is real. It is us.

We are riven, heart and soul.

Shall our “better angels” (Lincoln) prevail? Or our baser instincts?

In 2017 Mitch McConnell jettisoned the norm that required 60 senators to vote in favor of a Supreme Court nominee in order for that person to be confirmed. Such a norm required bi-partisan, not party-line, support for a nominee. Lest we blame only McConnell and Republicans, Harry Reid starting that ball rolling, setting that 60-vote super-majority norm aside for other judicial appointments. Could now be a moment to return to the super-majority requirement, to bi-partisan support for a nominee to the Supreme Court?

Or shall the Supreme Court and judiciary, the third branch of government, now be politicized as wholly as have Congress and Presidency? Or will one remaining branch of government, the Court, eyes blindfolded with respect to persons, balancing the scales of justice with impartiality (never wholly true of course), be also politicized by a pre-election rush to fill the seat?

How do we access our aspirational side now? Is it still possible? Look to RBG, to John Lewis, to MLK.

Or do we descend further into a might makes right nation and society? Look to Putin, Nixon, Mussolini.

What was the Chinese curse? “May you live in interesting times.” By that measure, we are good and truly cursed.

I pray for a blessing, a blessing that will come as the wind unbidden, as the rain renewing the face of the earth, as a second-chance unexpected, miraculous. I pray for what no one sees coming. For something that breaks the deadlock between our hopeful and fearful selves, that turns us, metanoia.

At a crucial juncture in my life, working as a night janitor cleaning hotels, daytimes as a community college teacher, our first child soon to be born, an earthquake rocked the glass-sided hotel ballroom where I pushed a vacuum cleaner. All the chairs and table danced. After my terror, the word, the question I heard in the darkness was, “Will you live from your hopes or your fears?”


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