Mrs Ginsburg

Death has a way of altering the circumstances of the living, not only for those who die. I have several times, and recently, noticed that with the death of some already aged person, who seemed not to be doing much except staying alive, “everything” changed. Well, perhaps not “everything” universally, but all within the compass of his settled influence, extending always farther than we can immediately see. The manner of his death might be the passing news, but the death itself was “significant,” as we say. Someone else steps up to the batsman’s crease, or some other persons are empowered when the dead man turns away from his hillock, and walks into the clouds.

The death of the prominent American jurisprude, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will be this morning’s example. I noticed that a favoured rightwing blog said, “Breaking news. Try to show some respect for the dead.” This comes more easily to a human being, if he is at least superficially decent. Self-discipline may make it possible for others.

Mrs Ginsburg was toward the left side of the Supreme Court in Washington, in her rulings and often articulate dissents, but I loved her anyway. So did the late Antonin Scalia, who when he died inspired real grief to exponents of the other side. They were notorious buddies, Ginsburg and Scalia. They were more than willing to hear each other out; neither was a hothead. Both were deeply informed about Yankee law, and human law generally, unlike most judges. They could discuss its principles at a high level; and at a low, with a sense of humour. Their mutual respect set an example in their vicinity, claquers who included other Court members. They were both utterly worth having at their stations.

One wonders if those days are gone, for the foreseeable future, when some degree of civilization was possible in legal and political debate. When I look instead at electoral campaigns, in which knowing, malicious lies are repeated by both sides, and both are trying to raise the temperature (I won’t say “equally”), I see something larger than the current political issues. We cannot have public order if this continues; only tyranny can be imposed by one side. Mistakes are being made by “my side,” when we forget that daily life requires negotiation. Or rather it doesn’t, if one prefers civil war.

On a practical level, as the newsmen have observed, Mrs Ginsburg’s departure from the circus changes the show completely. Mr Trump and the Republican Senate will try to replace her with a “conservative,” immediately. Those politicians currently associated with Mr Biden will resist, hoping for their own party candidate, come January. This wrestle, likely to be vicious, now happens during the countdown to a general election, that is likely to be disputed to the highest court — the way things are done in those Banana Republics. The idea of impartiality, even in the counting of votes, has lapsed, and hell follows. Had Mrs Ginsburg lived, the game might be a little more predictable. She was able to understand a system, in which the other side should be allowed to win, even if in your heart of hearts you think they are very devils.

Thomas More was good on devils in public life, and on giving them their due. The law is, and is meant to restrain them — and what we think our own better angels, alike. Without the law, there are no restraints. The Devil himself must be given benefit of law. This seems sometimes to be inconvenient, but we are not in heaven yet. And the way we are behaving, we may never get there.