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An Election About Justice

September 25, 2020

Last night my partner and I were among thousands of people who lined up to pay respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg as her body rested on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. That immense outpouring of respect, grief, and love by ordinary people was happening because of what she represented: The expansion of justice and equality against the entrenched forces of privilege, money, and caste. Fundamentally, that’s what the 2020 election is about.

This morning, I watched the ceremony where her body was placed in state in the rotunda of the Capitol. The Republican leaders of the House and Senate were absent. Had they been there, the hypocrisy would have been unbearable, because as the ceremony was going on they were preparing to ram through a yet-unnamed replacement for Ginsburg before the presidential election less than 6 weeks away. Trump, of course, was absent as well. The day before he had made a perfunctory appearance at the Supreme Court, where he was greeted by the crowd with a chorus of boos and chants of “Vote Him Out”.

The network then cut away to an anguished protest in Louisville, Kentucky over the failure of law enforcement there to bring any charges against police who killed an innocent black woman, Brionna Taylor, in her own apartment. The message was clear. There will be no accountability. Some people can be killed with impunity. This came after a summer of nationwide protests prompted by the police killing of George Floyd against racially-motivated police violence to which Trump’s response was to dismiss the validity of the grievance and double down on police repression. 

That’s this election in a nutshell. Trump and the Republicans are doing everything possible to suppress voter turnout from targeted purging of state voter rolls to destroying the Post Office which will have to deliver an unprecedented numbers of mail-in votes. Trump, of course, continues his campaign to impugn the credibility of the election itself, setting up a pretext for refusing to accept the results if he loses. This, too, is a question of justice and may well wind up in the Supreme Court.

The basic theme of American history is ferocious resistance by reactionary forces to any expansion of rights and justice to those who had been denied them. After eight years in which a black man had violated American caste restrictions by winning the White House and expanding access to health care, the Republican Party declared its policy of implacable resistance and obstruction, and Trump rode that into the presidency. The result has been the most massive epidemic of official lawlessness, corruption, and malicious destruction since the Civil War. 

It all comes down to questions of justice. Do we want to live in a country where cops can bust into your home and kill you without accountability, or arrest and shoot you without provocation? Where the president and his officials can ignore legal subpoenas and exploit their offices for personal gain? Where the tax laws are skewed to protect the fortunes of the wealthy while programs that protect low income Americans are starved of funds? Where adherents of certain religions can impose their doctrines on everyone? Should good health care depend on your income? The list could go on and on. Virtually every major issue shaping this election hinges on a vision of justice.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg represented a expansive vision of justice, using the force of government and the courts to help people who had been oppressed and relegated to the margins of society, often by the force of law: black folks, gays, women, immigrants, asylum seekers, etc. If Trump succeeds in imposing his choice to replace her, the result will move the country in the opposite direction.

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