On Friday night, after learning that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died and having accepted that Republicans would certainly destroy the legitimacy of all institutions to fill her seat without any thought to renewing their so-called electoral mandate, I could not bring myself to watch RBG or On the Basis of Sex, as we might otherwise do on such an occasion.
Others far more qualified than I will eulogize her. I came late to her fight, and clumsily at that. Deep down, maybe I knew that I would try too hard and try to fill a moment better filled by other people, who know more and have fought longer and harder for what she stood for.
In some sense, though, it is fitting that Ginsburg has become the locus of our evolving American tragedy, as she uniquely represented the promise of pre-Trump America. But her death has become highly ironic as well, as it ushers in a new, bleak chapter of raw factional politics.
Still, mere experience qualifies me to make a couple of observations. First, for those that feel they lack time and space to mourn properly, I empathize. My wife’s family lost two homes—and we our favored refuge—in the Creek Fire two weeks ago. And yet, time and reality press against us. There are 45 days remaining. The clock does not stop for tragedy. Cobra Kai does not honor timeouts. Mitch McConnell had the press release written for months, and released it before her body was cold. These are desperate, cornered men, and combat is all they know. They will draw blood, at least metaphorically, before power is wrested from them.
Before I get to the second observation, you may wonder what we did end up doing Friday night. Well, I fiddled with the remote control for a while, absentmindedly flipping between TV apps with no real desire to commit to anything but a three-decade or so nap. Finally, I landed on our existing purchased movies list and scrolled through that. The rest of the family was eager for something to happen, and after the usual interplay, my twelve-year-old son said “Let’s watch that.” I had just scrolled on The Martian.
You have seen The Martian, which will save us a lot of time. Matt Damon is a botanist astronaut stranded on Mars, and an all-star A-list cast must save him. Jeff Daniels is involved, so we know it will all work out. We have seen the movie before too, but his affirmative declaration served as the necessary commitment.
The Martian is great. If you haven’t seen it, you should. But it is like Hamilton—it feels as it is from another era. Does anyone even remember 2015? In the movie, a diverse, international coalition pulls together to save a single man from Mars. Part of the plan involves the Chinese agreeing to use their prototype rocket for the rescue mission. Donald Glover plays the mathematician who formulates the rescue plan. At the end, the whole world cheers as Matt Damon is recovered and makes his way home.
The movie is a paean to American ingenuity and global cooperation. It is so light-hearted, it won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical the year it was nominated.1Yes, this was more award show manipulation than appropriate classification, but the movie is no Alien. It isn’t even Apollo 13.
It is hard to imagine releasing such a movie today. Half of America believes that scientists and experts are a threat. The same half would insist that Damon’s existence was a fraud, cooked up by the “Democrat” Party to distract defense manufacturers from completing munitions projects. Republicans would complain that Damon’s vegetarian potato diet was unAmerican. Jim Jordan and Rudy Giuliani would accuse NASA of storing Hillary’s e-mails on the spaceship. James Woods would play the mathematician, and Donald Glover would play a NASA protester shot by a cop.
America could use China’s rocket, but China would pay for it or Trump would impose 300% tariffs on…midwestern farmers. When Damon’s old crewmates decide to turn around and participate in his rescue, Trump would call them suckers and losers and wonder what was in it for them. Fox News commentators would tell Damon to “pull himself up by his bootstraps” and “stop expecting a bailout from the American taxpayer.” And so on.
But I digress. I do not know if we can go back to the world The Martian was released in. It was released on October 2, 2015–three months after Donald Trump’s infamous escalator ride kicked off his campaign. And since Trump took the podium, Republicans have been working to reimpose their vision of America. White. Imperious. Ignorant. Self-Absorbed. Cruel, cold, and only for those with “racehorse genes.” Stranded on Mars? Good luck to you. Bad break.
This would never have been the world Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have wanted to inhabit. But it may be of some small comfort that she did. She overcame her obstacles and did extraordinary things for an extraordinary purpose. And now we must similarly stand our ground and see our battles through to the end. Even if it means two straight years of potatoes before help arrives.