In our grimmest hour

I haven’t checked social media yet.

(And, as I write this, I’m determined not to. I’m not even googling to find out things like “which amendment was Prohibition again?” so I apologize, in advance, for factual errors or areas of vagueness.)

About 20 minutes ago (at the start of writing this essay) I walked out of my bedroom, where I had just spent several hours in isolation, trying to get day jobbe work done — door shut, noise-canceling headphones on.

I said to Paul, “hey?” meaning, “I stopped work for the day, what’s up?” and poked my head inside his bedroom, where the door was open.

I said, “Are you okay?”

He said, “No. Ruth Bader Ginsberg just died.”

I said something I won’t repeat here because of, you know, language.

Then I started in with the kind of pep talk I’ve been giving myself a lot for the past four years, ever since McConnell’s refusal to seat an Obama pick for SCOTUS — and threats to refuse to seat any potential Hillary Clinton pick, should the Republicans continue to hold the Senate — told us what was up: the Republicans are willing to compromise the integrity of the Supreme Court in order to hang onto minority power.

With those as the stakes, we’ve all been praying that one fabulous justice (and she is fabulous, no lie) could hang on for the whole four years, through increasingly frail health — because the clearest, easiest way out of this mess was to defeat Trump in 2020, take the Senate, and allow Ginsberg to retire.

That way is now closed off.

It’s going to get messy.

Which is pretty much the guiding principle of 2020, isn’t it?

People: I just don’t think there’s any way things could possibly get any worse.

2020: [gets worse]

People: Forking hell.

(Note: people, please stop speculating about whether or not things could get worse, 2020 takes that as a challenge.)

(Yes, that’s right, I’m claiming that 2020 the year is a conscious, malicious entity.)

Anyway, I’m going to give you what is, possibly, the most backwards sliver of hope anyone has ever given: we’re not as forked as you think right now, mostly because we were more forked to start with. The integrity of our democracy should never have been left hanging by such a slender, fragile thread — the life of one person, even if that person were young and in perfect health, is just too delicate. We need a robust democracy with strong institutions and vigorous checks and balances, not a stealth neo-confederacy enforced through selective fascism and held in check only through the actions of a handful of mortal individuals.

One of the things that should have become apparent, over the last few months of Black Lives Matter protests, is that Americans exercising their first amendment right to assembly, and journalists exercising their right to report stories for a free press, risk torture, maiming, bogus arrests, and even death at the hands of the police. When that’s true, doesn’t it seem like maybe maybe we live in a fascist police state already? A “right” that disappears the moment you actually try to use it isn’t a right, it’s a fantasy. A nice idea. A cover story.

Maybe we are, as a country, right now, fighting for freedom and justice we never actually had before. Not hanging desperately onto the shreds of a democracy that’s dying, but reaching out for a democracy yet to be born.

When this country was founded, “all men are created equal” did, in fact, mean men — not women or non-binary people — and implicitly meant only white men at that. The musical 1776 does a good job of dramatizing this conflict: a group of men who were striving to create a free society the likes of which had (as far as they knew) never been seen, undone from the start by the need to appease people who kept other humans as chattel slaves.

The “founding fathers” of this nation saw far enough to know that the rule of kings needed to go, but not far enough to know that the rule of white men needed to go as well. Some of that is, probably, selfishly, because they were themselves white men. But some of that is just the inherent nature of progress, of reform — you can see the next step, but maybe not several steps down the road.

To their credit, the founders created a society with the possibility for progress built in: among other things, the ability to pass amendments to the Constitution. One of our most cherished documents is the Bill of Rights, ten amendments that were made so early that we can hardly conceive of our Constitution without them.

Constitutional amendments can be flawed — Prohibition comes to mind — but flaws can also be corrected, as the repeal of Prohibition demonstrates.

(Raises a perfectly legal glass of booze, because God knows, if you drink, you’re drinking right now.)

(I’m not a certified Constitutional Scholar, just reasonably well-informed and highly opinionated, but it is my reasonably well-informed and VERY strongly held opinion that one of the reasons Prohibition was a Bad Amendment and ended up needing to be repealed is that the PURPOSE of Constitutional amendments is to GUARANTEE rights that are not otherwise specified in the rest of the document. A Constitutional amendment to REMOVE a right is always inherently bad and should not be passed. Now, ask me how I feel about “anti-flag-burning” amendment proposals.)

I have talked before about how my own political awakening happened when I was fairly young, with the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment — an amendment intended to correct the oversight of “men” meaning actual men, as opposed to what it also idiomatically means, “humans.” One of the reasons this was my moment of political awakening was because it was the first time I realized that American history — which until then had been presented as a more or less inevitable, steady march of progress toward greater rights, greater freedoms — could halt, in that march, fail to take the next step.

And then, the next few decades showed me, it could even backslide.

Like it does in fascist regimes, where a right that you thought was guaranteed just… one day… isn’t there, anymore.

But I’m an American. Down to my bones. There are some things about the Declaration of Independence as a founding document that I will never forget and never let go of.

Idea one: that rights are inherent. Endowed by a deist-style Creator, meaning, they exist. And, they exist, whether or not they are recognized by the state. This is how I feel about my own rights, to things like bodily autonomy or protest. I HAVE these rights, and if the state fails to recognize them, the state is wrong, and I will behave accordingly.

It won’t stop a cop from shooting me in the eye with a rubber bullet and causing permanent blindness. (Not a thing that happened to me, but a thing that happened to a journalist I follow.) But it stops me from accepting that the cop had an inherent right to do that. It stops me from giving up, surrendering, lying down, shutting up.

Which brings me to idea two: a just government flows from the consent of the governed.

“Consent of the governed” is something I’ve been thinking about a LOT for the past four years. Because, let’s face it: nothing the Republicans are doing right now is actually broadly popular with the American people, including the person who is currently acting as president. Sure, we might have a system — the electoral college as currently interpreted — that allows for such a thing, but it doesn’t actually give Donald Trump majority support from the people he presumes to govern.

Isn’t it interesting that, of the scant handful of presidents who served without winning the popular vote, TWO of them have been in the last two decades, and BOTH of them were Republicans?

Really makes you think.

Really makes you think that Republicans don’t actually believe in democracy.

That Republicans are, in fact, just fine ruling WITHOUT the consent of the governed. Which isn’t, to my mind, democracy. It’s something else. Fascism, or monarchy.

In 2016, when the conservative judge Antonin Scalia died, Mitch McConnell made up a “rule” that the Senate couldn’t seat a judge during an election year. Do you expect him to honor that same “rule” now, when a more liberal judge is dead?

(If you do, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you…)

He will, no doubt, have some made-up “rule” for why it’s different this time, but we all know, surely, that for conservatives there are no rules other than the rule of “take power no matter what.”

This lack of rules for the conservative side I find disturbing. At heart it’s fascist: no rule but power.

Maybe, if you are a conservative, you think that’s all peachy. Maybe you think “Yes, I know conservatives are a minority in this country, and our ideas are unpopular, but it is still our divine right to tell everyone else what to do.”

The divine right of kings.

We had a revolution to end that, more than two hundred years ago.

I’m not accepting it now.

A SCOTUS judge can make a ruling, but it doesn’t mean I, or anyone else, has to consider it legitimate, abide by it as law.

Any justice appointed by Trump NOW is illegitimate by the rules McConnell himself established.

I don’t expect HIM to abide by those rules, no. But I expect the rest of us to hold him to them. And, if the Republicans in the Senate follow his lead — ignoring all precedent, confirm whatever Kavanaugh-esque nightmare he suggests —

Well. That’s a revolution at hand.

We already had one, to reject one version of “divine right of kings.”

We could have another.