“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
We live in polarized, partisan, deeply political times, and we are on the precipice of our nation becoming an authoritarian, protofascist state. It is in that context that some of us who have dedicated and continue to dedicate our lives to pursuing peace, social justice, sheltering the homeless, welcoming the stranger and pursuing racial justice and enfranchisement for all, are considering what we must do in the upcoming election. We have endeavored in our lives to prevent and heal the harms that our nation has inflicted on its own people, despite its ideals. That applies most of all to its original people and to people brought here as slaves, which is why we support the Black Lives Matter movement and the Sioux peoples fighting the Keystone XL pipeline or seeking to have their treaties honored; but it also applies to people abroad, many of them non-White or non-Christian, who have unnecessarily suffered from our military might. We have cried out for Nature and all its species, flora and fauna, insisting on an end to extracting and burning fossil fuels for our energy, and calling for a serious national and international effort to avoid climate catastrophe.
So, what does that mean for the upcoming election? How do we reverse so many losses suffered over the years of the Trump Administration?
Some of us are deeply wary of partisanship, and therefore some are saying “a pox on both their houses!” According to their consciences, the two major parties are really one and the same, and so they plan to sit out this election or cast a vote for someone in a political party sure to lose but that has a platform which reflects their values more closely. They consider that the first rung on a ladder to true democratic revolution.
But now comes the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a vital voice for women’s rights and voting rights and control over corporate power in the judicial branch of our government, and I must say to my friends who will not vote for the Democratic Party’s nominee: “I dissent.”
I dissent because I consider that approach (not voting at all, or voting for a 3rd party) in this historical moment a rebuke of Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish, which referenced much more than just the party affiliation of the person to take her seat. Justice Ginsburg knew the stakes well. She hung on as long as she could to avoid this moment in which we find ourselves now, because she cherished the ideals and framework of our constitutional republic. She sought the necessary balance on the Supreme Court to preserve and protect that system of governance and to make it live up to its founding ideals.
We need to honor her memory by fighting for her dying wish. I will surely hit the streets and clog up the hallways of the Capitol and Hart Senate Office, and risk going to jail, when Trump and McConnell declare their intention to proceed with seating a new Justice. That fight is not over yet. It has only just begun. It can and should happen at every Republican Senator’s home offices, too.
But if we lose in blocking a Trump appointment, as is all too likely, the election gives those of us who share basic values while disagreeing on tactics a chance to take back power. It is not a perfect way, but as the Reverend Ralph Warnock (running as a Democrat for a Senate seat in Georgia) has put it: “In this situation, none of our hands are clean. We’ve all got to get in the fight, roll up our sleeves, and claim the best in our democracy.”
Electing a Democratic Party president, Democratic Senate majority and Democratic House of Representatives is the only way we can assure that the America to which Justice Ginsburg dedicated her life and career will survive. If Mitch McConnell and Trump and their Republican enablers succeed in pushing through the third Trump injustice, as is most likely at this point, there will be even less protection against stopping America from descending into the abyss which the Germans experienced after the Third Reich consolidated power in 1933. Say what you will, that is an apt and not alarmist historical comparison, and not something to be ignored as we go to the polls in 44 days or before.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said “all options will be on the table” if Trump and McConnell confirm a new Justice before the next President is seated. “All options” means bringing in the District of Columbia and maybe Puerto Rico as states, offsetting the rural and white bias of the Senate as it is now. (Wyoming has fewer people than D.C., but has two Senators.) It means ending the filibuster so that a Democratic majority can walk into the chamber and take all sorts of actions by a simple majority. It means kicking out the coal baron running the EPA and otherwise seating a competent Cabinet. It means repopulating the leadership of great agencies like the CDC and developing a serious national plan to fight the pandemic. It could even mean judicial reform, expanding the Supreme Court by two or four members.
Aside from what Senator Schumer said, a Democratic Party majority in both houses of Congress and a Democratic Party President will owe their power to young people and to people of color, to LGBTQ persons and to a majority of women who believe that their reproductive choices are to be made, safely and legally, by them in light of their conscience and differing faith perspectives. All this means that Democratic Senators and a Democratic President can be pressured to take serious action on the climate, on voting rights, on women’s rights, on protecting and expanding marriage equality, and on racial justice to the point of considering reparations. There is no way that a second Trump Administration and/or a Senate remaining in the control of Republicans could be similarly pressured, and we can expect them to double down on discrimination and suppression of the rights of others, most especially their right to vote.
Is it dangerous, too, to have one political party have all power? Not really. It has happened before, briefly, and yielded some goods (look up the record of the 111th Congress, the first two years of the Obama Administration). However, at this time it would be a necessary corrective to have the Democratic Party in power, in order to roll back the many horrors of Trump executive orders, and to populate the Cabinet with competent people. And we who put them there will make sure they do not abuse the power we give them.
As solace for my friends deciding to vote for Biden despite some of his record, I invite them to see what Biden plans to do on the climate crisis and ask yourself how much of that agenda will be completed if President Trump is re-elected or the Senate remains in Republican control. Seriously, would the Republicans just take their money and run to their private, protected abodes, with their guns, while the planet burns and collapses around them? How far-fetched is such a dystopian future?
This is sad to say, but I must say it, given the stakes in this election. For those who vote for someone other than Biden (who is a compromised choice, to be sure), that choice will surely endanger our friendship because in this bifurcated time taking that position amounts to a vote for Trump by missing a chance to nullify a vote for Trump.
And it is surely a rejection of the legacy of Justice Ginsburg and her last wish. Look into that face and imagine meeting her in person and saying that you plan to sit out the election or cast a vote that increases the chance of four more years for Trump. How could you?