“I attack ideas; I don’t attack people. And some very good people have some very bad ideas. And if you can’t separate the two . . . you don’t want to be a judge.”
Justice Scalia died of natural causes and was quite certainly not assassinated. But given the abundance of disrespect and vilification in discourse today, we can hardly blame the tin foiled for their silly speculation that he was. I certainly don’t.
How can I? Within exactly zero minutes of the news’s outbreak, the loud and proud grave dancing and defecation began. It soon became uncomfortably clear that these were not merely isolated leftist crazies, but far closer to the national median than many of us expected. People hated this guy.
This is beyond tragic, and quite personally wounding. I’ve stopped writing and publishing substantive issue-based political opinions because of my limitation of time and the fact that my legal education has made me increasingly reluctant to show my hand. It’s one thing for people to know if you lean conservative; it’s another for them to know your opinion of X. I am above such things now… or at least I aim to be.
I am breaking that rule today, and not just because it is my own way of honoring the memory of Justice Scalia beyond the obligatory Facebook tribute. I would be writing this even if we were instead reading about the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, accompanied by conservatives spitting on her grave. If the precedent of such shameful behavior this past week is any indication of the contemporary state of public discourse, such unpleasantness will assuredly happen when death comes for her. Worse, conservatives will then use the social atrocities of this week to justify their own misbehavior, and the cycle of dehumanization will continue.
How did this come about? It’s simple: today’s society is comprised of a most judgmental people who have no idea how to actually judge the content of character.
Today you are your social media profile picture, 140-character bio, public posts, and reply comments. First impressions were always carried far, yet now such impressions are those not of you but serial-number account versions of you. With our self-embrace of selective advocacy identity, you are what you post. Our individual worth is based on how cooperative we each are to varying conceptions of a brave new world. Respect is confused for genuflection in such institutions of communication that reward snark over substance and punish the sincere. Today you’re accused of mounting a tall horse when you refuse to treat a person of polemic belief as something other than a person, because you’re spoiling everyone else’s fun. Worse, you’re getting in the way of their exercised inflation of self-esteem.
Look, I’m human. I laugh at stupid liberals often, and if you’ve made a conventionally ignorant leftist talking point without irony, I’ve probably laughed at you for it as well, even if you’re my best buddy. But I don’t actually judge you, because I haven’t earned that right. People ask me often why I never hit the unfriend button. I’ve never given a good answer, but it’s because I have yet to be truly wronged and injured to the point that the bridge is already burned. Until then, I won’t do it because I’ll always wonder if I’m really doing it out of annoyance with their positions and my inability to persuade them out of their set and stubborn ways. People deserve a chance to assure you that nothing is to be taken personally. I know I’d want one if someone thought that animus or malice fueled my own opinionated verbal aggression.
But no. To many I’m nothing more than an enabler of your worst political nightmares.
This is but a microcosm of everyday difficulty in discourse, but it is amplified when we’re looking at a person of mass public controversy. The attitude is a twisted breed of pragmatism, with a kind of faux-logic that pole vaults across the chasms of causation breaks. Judge men only by what you see them associating with and eventually you’ll be judging everything like that. If you look at me and see only a grotesque enemy of human decency from the fact that I vote R and spin words eloquently into contrary conclusions, that may assist, however minimally, in the promulgation of your bad political juju, I shudder to imagine how you see someone who actually matters.
If we cannot even look beyond the veil of political allegiance when interacting with each other as regular folk, is it any surprise that we then cannot wait a single minute to acknowledge the humanity and importance of someone of such influence and consequence as Justice Scalia? And when such assumptions become so deeply rooted into the democratic status quo, can we really blame his admirers for falsely believing that someone with a soul more depraved than your average leftist actually went and killed him?
Such is the sad state of today, and it’s even worse than what I’ve characterized above.
This would all be more excusable if such a person of interest was actually committed to that which any objective and reasonable person would understand to be abhorrent. I bet even Mike Godwin didn’t fully appreciate how people would, overtime, be quicker to conform to his observations about them. You don’t need to weep for Osama bin Laden or Adolf Hitler; they literally killed people on purpose. But to mangle your perception of the world so that anything you disagree with necessarily meets their level of evil, against which no tactics go too far, is to confuse your lost perspective for gained enlightenment. And it is no surprise that a great majority of people with such authoritarianism to their self-righteousness have recently been propping up Debsian indoctrinators like Bernie Sanders or power-drunk megalomaniacs like Donald Trump.
The essential difference is that we knew who Hitler & bin Laden were. They had absolutist manifestos that preached violence upon non-conformists and sought to bring about by force the world’s adherence to their totalitarian ideologies.
What do you know about Antonin Gregory Scalia?
When you look at him, are you looking at a meme or something real? Did you read his life story or scholarly work? If he wrote for or voted in the majority of a decision you didn’t agree with, do you hate it for the legal rationales that carried the day, or are you just mad that your birth control pills won’t be presented to you on a silver platter? Or that your neighbor might be able to lawfully acquire a handgun? Do you really know all you need to know about his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas from an out-of-context sentence or two, or would your impression change if you had read the whole thing and/or learned that he later regretted writing part of that dissent the way he did? Have you studied his opinions, or sought to understand the larger generalized legal principles and methodologies he championed? Maybe you hate him for his dissents on artificial “substantive due process” rights, but do you know how much he’s done to shore up real Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights for private citizens and the criminally accused? Maybe you hate him for his part in the outcome of Bush v. Gore, but do you know how many conservatives he angered by his principled swing vote in Texas v. Johnson, upholding the First Amendment rights of a man to burn the American Flag? Or did you just listen to a twelve-second sound-bite about affirmative action some hack tweeted to cultivate your outrage, and draw your conclusions accordingly? On that note, have you even verified that what you have heard or read from Scalia were actual opinions stemming from his own beliefs about the world, and not his interpretation or application of, y’know, law?
I bet you haven’t done all of these. I bet many of you haven’t even done two of these. You’ve placed him into an identity box, just as you do to one another. Even the Onion, hardly a conservative source of satire, once nailed the insanity of this. And before you start making excuses about how you’re not a lawyer and therefore have little reason to learn more, I was reading up on the man long before I came to law school, and I’m no weirder than any of you. The information is everywhere, and you can thank Nino himself for that. Few men and women of the profession today have done more to ensure the accessibility of law and reason than he has. Everything you know, and think you know, about the law, rights, or the Constitution has been affected in incalculable ways by him.
The fact is, Antonin Scalia was an immensely complicated man, and not one who made judgments from some relished desire to make life difficult for women or minorities. No other justice on the current Court, or even in many courts past, is as widely known for their grace and genial charm as he was. He sparred with Justice Ginsburg more than most, yet they were best friends who dined together, attended operas, and went on exotic trips around the world.* He wrote sharply and combatively to educate and provoke intrigue into the seriousness and difficulty of the subject matter, not to elicit tears of anguish. He practiced law and reason, not policy and pandering.
But you wouldn’t know any of that if you go by the social media picture. The internet has made information available to the world and brought us closer together, and we have adapted to such a gift by closing each other off. We were supposed to become more conscious of our peers, more empathetic to each other’s problems. Instead we draw immediate, irrevocable conclusions about the content of one another’s character on the basis of the superficial. And now we breathe relief and express unbridled joy for the death of whomever is the incarnation of Satan this week.
In many ways the fault is equally my own. I’ve condescended quite ferociously to those whom I have seen in my own networks partake in the morbid parading. I’ve often been harsh and unforgiving to a fault in answer to the added toxicity to the state of discourse. I probably included some of that in this very article without intending to. Even composing this, with personal admissions of grief, is a sign that even I have, to some extent, been broken by the full force of such mass dehumanizing. I don’t like what this has done to me, but I lament far more for what it has done to would-be good and honorable people who ought to know better.
If the events of this week make me happy of anything, it’s that Justice Scalia didn’t live to see the extent to which the immediate treatment of his death would impugn the character of our supposed democratic society. I only now wonder with dread who we will turn our wrath upon tomorrow.
*That people are continually surprised by this, as though friendship and hospitality for people of opposite agendas has simply become too much to ask of today’s bustling phone-obsessed citizen, is just further indication of how far we’ve fallen.