Saturday, February 20, 2016

Ruth and Antonin - what respect looks like.


I love heated, compelling, persuasive debate and discussion.  I find it to be stimulating and exciting, and if done well, it can also be challenging, humorous and even fun!  In fact, it has often been my belief that parties should be able to debate each other's ideas vigorously, and still be able to go out for coffee and a piece of pie together for the sake of simply enjoying each other's company.

Unfortunately, that kind of mutual respect between people with opposing world views and philosophies is very rare, and getting more elusive every day.

Today, people have the ability to share their views and opinions easily and instantly over their computers and phones. But likewise, the ability to bash those views and opinions can also happen in an instant with commentators hiding behind anonymous comments, posts and tweets spewing vitriol and hatred with nary an effort to develop a cohesive argument or a compelling case. And because the time between the thought and action of hitting a "send" button is about a nanosecond, there is no time to think about anyone else's world view or motivation. It's all about the tear down and the viral tweet.

This past week has been a shameful example of that.  With the death of Antonin Scalia, the country lost one of the longest serving justices of the supreme court, a wife lost her husband of 55 years, and children and grandchildren lost their father and grandfather. But what we used to call "respect" for the dead, or at least a respect for the grieving was lost. Before the body was cold, both sides started arguing about his replacement. Even more shamefully, those that had a different world view of Justice Scalia's views couldn't wait to express those differences in the crassest of terms.








Enter Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  As Scalia was a champion for the right, Ginsburg is the icon for the left on the supreme court. That they should like each other may be surprising. That they considered each other best friends and socialized outside of work is remarkable.  Yet many stories abound about their friendship, and their true fondness for each other. 

They vacationed together, got together for holidays, and even helped each others in their written dissents and opinions on the court.

Yet even in his truly biting dissents from court decisions, such as the landmark court approval for same sex marriage last year, Scalia attacked his friend's opinions - but not his friend. It has even been said that Ginsburg looked forward to reading his dissents because even though they could be blistering in their rhetoric, they helped her to see the weaknesses in her own arguments and helped her to become better in making her own written opinions.

Last week Justice Ginsburg wrote of her friend :

 From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the 'applesauce' and 'argle bargle'—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his 'energetic fervor,' 'astringent intellect,' 'peppery prose,' 'acumen,' and 'affability,' all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp.
"Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend."


Ginsburg and Scalia were both born in the 1930s - a time when the nation was struggling through the Great Depression, only to find itself in the middle of a major war a few years after that. They grew up knowing what real struggle and hard work was - and maybe that is why they knew how to appreciate each other's accomplishments and talents despite their glaringly opposite political views and philosophies. The grace Justice Ginsburg has shown this week is inspirational and elegant - two qualities that escape the capabilities of a generation of spoiled millenials used to getting their participation trophies and having the world pay attention to their incessant entitled whining.

There will be a huge battle to fill the seat of Justice Scalia ( as if anyone could) over the next few months. And more ugliness will abound.  But perhaps for now, we can marvel at the friendship of these two unlikely "best buddies" and make an effort to be as magnanimous as Justice Ginsburg was this week.  I disagree with her on just about everything, but she has proven herself to be a true class-act.




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