“Keep hope alive” isn’t a cliché. It’s a call to action.
We can’t perpetuate hope simply by searching for feelings of optimism within ourselves. We have to work, each day, to actively uplift our most vulnerable neighbors, to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers, to create space for marginalized voices that were once rendered unintelligible to be heard, acknowledged, and validated.
As we process the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and its implications for our nation, we must remember one of the great lessons of her life: that compassion is not just a moral virtue, but a penultimate political ideal. Donald Trump just appointed Amy Coney Barrett to Ginsburg’s seat, an Antonin Scalia disciple who will undoubtedly oppose reproductive choice, entrench executive power, overturn LGBTQ+ rights, and undermine racial equality.
We have a fight on our hands.
In reality, it’s the same fight in which we’ve been engaged for years, from before the time of Trump. It’s the fight against inequality and discrimination for which Ginsburg, herself, spent much of her life as a figurehead, never more so than during her final years. In the midst of a national emergency, we’re now dealing with a national tragedy. It is all unfolding against the backdrop of a countrywide reckoning with the roots of historical injustice that still structure the governing institutions of the United States. Justice Ginsburg strove, with every last breath, to prevent our nation from becoming a caste system.
We can’t let her down.
It’s okay to be fearful about our future. Trump has repeatedly sown discord about the upcoming presidential election. Given his repeated comments about staying in power–not to mention his authoritarian executive actions and professed affinity for dictators–we have to take seriously the possibility that he won’t leave office willingly if voters support Democratic nominee Joe Biden. If Trump does try to rush a Supreme Court pick through the vetting process before November, one of the primary questions Barrett will face will be: what should the Supreme Court do if Trump tries to overturn the electoral will of the people?
It’s also okay to be deeply concerned that Trump’s nominee will jeopardize human dignity. Trump’s pick, like Scalia before her, is beholden to constitutional originalism, a judicial philosophy steeped in what the late Harvard professor Svetlana Boym called “restorative nostalgia,” which “puts emphasis on nostos (returning home) and proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps.” Trump wants the courts to help him recreate the “lost home” of the xenophobic and monopolistic American past–a time in which abortion was criminalized, healthcare was unaffordable, wealthy businessmen reaped unchecked profits at the expense of working families, corporations commodified the environment with impunity, LGBTQ+ citizens couldn’t marry, and people of color were systematically disenfranchised, dispossessed, and disembodied.
In the spirit of Ginsburg’s famous dissents, though, we should maintain a fierce belief that together we can win the struggle for our nation’s future. Republicans need 50 votes to push Trump’s nominee through the U.S. Senate. They hold 53 seats in the chamber, but have already lost two votes–Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, the latter of whom is facing a strong challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon. Other Republicans are facing similar challenges or represent left-of-center states, like Cory Gardner of Colorado, and may be pressured to buck Trump’s attempt to tear apart our fragile national fabric. We have become the dissenters. It’s an odd label to give to a majority of the country, but it’s one that we, the people, must embrace by connecting the battle for Ginsburg’s seat to our ability to deliver hope to those who need it most in a time of crisis and confusion. Yesterday, we mourned. Today, we organize.
As Ginsburg famously proclaimed, may our dissents determine the law. It will be hard, but RBG has shown us the way.