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The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has added even more turmoil to a country already sick, beaten and battered.
There’s the personal tragedy of a life that has passed, magnified by the impact she has had on countless people — as a role model, an inspiration and a sometimes lonely voice of dissent on matters of great importance.
Added to that, Ginsburg’s death has set our country on a collision course where the insatiable lust for power of President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will push our small “d” democracy to the brink to ensure a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court for years to come.
It’s up to other Republicans to stop them — Democrats have little formal power in the process — and I don’t believe that enough Republican members of the U.S. Senate have the courage or fiber to stand in opposition.
At the same time, in just over a month, voters will decide who the next president will be and which party will control the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
The stakes are impossibly high.
And because the stakes are so high and the temperature so hot, the American people will suffer — businesses will close, local and state governments will falter and people will die.
That’s not hyperbole.
COVID-19 continues to ravage the country, with the death toll growing every day, surpassing 200,000 on Tuesday.
Businesses that have struggled by during the warm months are looking at the coming winter season and wondering how they will be able to survive as their customers retreat back indoors.
And state and local governments will begin laying off hundreds and thousands of employees, even as 30 million Americans are already collecting unemployment.
And the U.S. Senate and the president are unable — unwilling — to take action to ease the suffering and provide the resources our country needs for recovery.
In May, the House passed a massive relief bill that included aid for people who have lost their jobs, support for local and state governments and money to keep the economy rolling.
It’s not clear to me that McConnell and Trump really care about the suffering in the country, but it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t at least taken a back seat to efforts to stack the Supreme Court with right-wing reactionaries.
If you’re a progressive like me — and you believe in the power of government to do good, to help people and to move our country closer to its ideals — our current situation can feel hopeless.
With the death of Ginsburg last week and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis in July, leaders who dedicated their lives to justice and equality, it feels like our country has lost its moral compass.
I take comfort in Lewis’ last words, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.”
We talk about politics like it’s an athletic event. Campaigns are marathons, we’re told. The candidates are in the “final sprint” to Election Day. We think about who’s ahead and who’s behind, and check the stats desperate to predict who will win.
But the better metaphor is a relay race, run across generations.
“The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it,” Lewis said. “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Lewis and so many others ran as long and as hard as they could continuing to inspire us even on death’s door. And now, though it feels like we need them more than ever, it’s up to us to carry the baton forward.
David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.