RBG's Anti-Trump Comments Have Wider Implications

In some ways, it’s the kind of epic match up reserved for comic books. Superman versus Batman, or the X-Men versus the Avengers. But the ongoing battle between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Donald Trump has taken on the strange flavor of a tennis match in which the judge asks for the crowd to be quiet even though one of the players has set the net on fire.

The 83-year old Supreme Court justice recently inveighed against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee during a New York Times interview, earning a fierce response from Republicans. Trump lead the charge, calling for her to resign, declaring on Twitter that “her mind is shot.” House Speaker Paul Ryan weighed in as well, saying that the statements struck him “as inherently biased.” Some House Republicans have echoed Trump’s call for Ginsburg’s resignation, with Rep. Randy Weber of Texas stating that “Justice Ginsburg's actions must be met with consequences.”

But the criticism from the left has been almost as surprising as the right’s reactions have been predictable. An op-ed in The New York Times ran with the eye-catching headline “Donald Trump Is Right About Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” though the piece referred to Trump’s statement that “I think it’s highly inappropriate that a United States Supreme Court judge gets involved in a political campaign, frankly,” and not his call that the she resign.

An article by Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern grapples with why Ginsburg would want to tarnish her reputation by getting into the political muck, stating unequivocally that going on the record about a political candidate as a Supreme Court justice is “not just unethical; it’s dangerous.” One of my colleagues here at Bustle, Cheyna Roth, argued that Ginsburg herself would have chafed from similar politicking by one of the other justices.

While I understand — and value — the need for judicial impartiality, the dog-piling on Ginsburg strikes me as the least useful reaction to her comments. It bears reiterating: Something has shifted in American political discourse in 2016, and Trump has given the green light to a breed of ugliness that normally is not allowed purchase. Moreover, I think we need to acknowledge the extent to which the Supreme Court has changed in recent years, to a point where we know so much about the justices politics that presuming some amount of impartiality feels like a farce. After all, we can often predict the how the majority of them will cast their votes because of their already-known leanings.

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Maybe rather than appalling us, Ginsburg’s comments should signal our need to wake up.