Let it wash over you: Donald Trump is picking another Supreme Court justice.
Nothing we shout at a protest, nothing we write on social media, will change that. Your prayers for Robert Mueller to unveil the smoking gun of Russian collusion or obstruction of justice have gone unanswered by the gods of impeachment politics. It's too late. Because Anthony Kennedy has already announced his retirement.
The fight about exactly who succeeds the quintessential swing justice will consume Congress as we head into a midterm election, throwing an October surprise into the mix just before July. Blame climate change, I don’t know. Nothing works right anymore.
The makeup of the court that gave us marriage equality will now shift 5-4 in the other direction. That’s a fact. There can be no denying it, though as with climate change, a few will try.
Let’s say Trump got booted from office tomorrow by some wish of a gay man to his fairy godmother. Mike Pence would be there to do the picking instead.
Imagine a Pence pick, and imagine a proudly preening Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council smiling over the shoulder of whichever cisgender straight white man gets announced as nominee at a press conference in the Rose Garden. It’s not a pretty picture.
Any discussion of what should be the response to Kennedy’s retirement has to start with acceptance of our reality. So I have to ask: What is that reality exactly? Even with a reality TV president, I feel like we’re struggling to determine whether we’re still falling deeper into the abyss, or whether everything is going to be alright, and we’ve caught our bearings.
Today feels like falling.
If I keep looking down into the darkness, I’m reminded of Rick Santorum appearing on Rachel Maddow’s show back in 2015. I wrote a story about it, one that people really hated: “The Right-Wing Plot to Overturn Marriage Equality.”
I wrote, “Some social conservatives are still holding on to hope that they can reverse marriage equality. The thinking goes that if Republicans keep control of the House and Senate plus win the presidency in 2016, their next target becomes the Supreme Court.” I remember the eye-rolling at the thought of Republicans somehow wresting that much control, and yet here we are, falling.
I wrote, “If any of the next president's nominees replace justices who voted in favor of marriage equality, expect to see an immediate effort from the right wing to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges — which was a 5-4 ruling.”
Kennedy actually penned the majority decision in Obergefell. If Santorum were picking someone to replace, that’ll do.
The final step in this plot had Maddow incredulous. Sure, Santorum said, the Supreme Court can rule in favor of marriage equality, but they don’t get the last word.
"If the Congress comes back and says, 'We disagree with you,' and were to pass a law and get it signed by the president saying the courts are wrong—"
Maddow stops him: ”You could not pass a law that could contradict the constitutional ruling of the Supreme Court."
"Why?" asked Santorum, to her surprise.
"Because they are ruling on the constitutionality of that law," explained Maddow, not realizing the lengths to which Santorum would go to stop same-sex couples from getting married. The plan, he said, is to pass a law that deliberately contradicts the court’s ruling, then let that bogus law wind through the appeals process until it arrives at the high court.
"And if you have a new group of justices,” said Santorum, “you might very well get a different decision."
Voilà. Marriages undone.
As the fight over Kennedy’s replacement ensues, I’m going to try not to think about that interview.
These days have been so terrible lately, I paid good money to go see Buddhist author Pema Chodron and a Jesuit priest, Father Greg Boyle, speak the other night. Apparently, a lot of people had the same idea. When they reached the Q&A portion, every question from the audience was about how to deal with Trump.
I'm so angry, one person would say, how do I deal with my anger? I can't do enough to stop people from getting hurt, what do I do? How can I just watch this happen? And on and on.
We want to be aspirational, as a people, as Americans. We want to stop feeling this way, like there's no end in sight. Right now the American Dream feels out of reach because the America part has gone missing. None of us knows quite what to do about it.
Maybe it ought to be obvious, but we’re not falling alone. Look around.
LGBT people are over here, worried about our rights. Look to your left and there are the women worried about reproductive rights. After Kennedy made his announcement, Roe v. Wade was trending on Twitter, and not for a good reason. I can see the Muslims falling, worried they will be locked out of America, kept outside with the Latino immigrants, who are falling. There are thousands of us.
I don’t like to imagine Trump having pushed us all over the edge of the cliff, and to see our reaction as screaming in fear. If I can do anything, it can be to refuse to be fearful. If I can, I want to be courageous.
Here’s what I believe. Even as we are falling into this abyss, we are nearing the moment when we’ll land. We don’t know how far we’ll fall, but we know the landing is nearer. And when we get there, whenever we get there, we’ll look up and start climbing. Every protest, every conversation with a neighbor or call to a senator, every assuring word to a child of the next generation, will be like a muscle yanking us back up that ravine.
We’re falling, and we don’t know what to do, how to behave, as the wind rips through our hair and clothes. I say, to fight is to let it wash over you. Screaming won’t stop it or make us feel better. Punching the air, or clawing for walls that aren’t there, is all futile. All that screaming and clawing is what Trump wants, because it stops us from holding onto each other. That’s our reality.
Tell yourself it’s going to be OK, because it’s true. Then tell your neighbor. They can’t scare us with this fall, no matter how long it lasts or how dark it gets, because we’re going to claw our way back up together.
If Santorum rejoices, and marriage equality is contested at a new Supreme Court, we will one day return to that court and win again. If they lock kids in cages at the border, we will be there when they’re released, having waited all night and all day and all week or year, to send a message that suffering never goes unnoticed. We will care for the victims.
Nothing could be worse than to feel like we’re suffering alone, that no one cares, especially when it’s not true. People care — no matter what Melania Trump's clothing projects into the world.
We have fallen before, like in 1981 when gay men began dying from a disease that had no name and no funding to stop it. We won marriage equality in California only to have it yanked away in 2008 with Proposition 8's passage. There was courage then. We even prevailed.
Here’s one thing we can do while falling. Hold hands. Pull each other together. Promise each other that when we get to the bottom of this, we're going to mend these wounds and then climb back up that chasm. We will do it together. Let’s make that promise in the urgency and with the truth that can only ever be expressed when faced with a horror like today.