The first time I learned about Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in APUSH my junior year of high school. What I remember from my teacher's lecture was that she fought for gender equality, she beat cancer twice, and, rather than retire, she was going die on the Supreme Court bench. This was during Obama's first term, just before RBG exploded into pop culture. The last point had, of course, been my teacher's prediction.
Maybe, the speculation that RBG was going work until the end was well known among politically engaged adults. My APUSH teacher was born during the Eisenhower presidency, grew up with the rise of second wave feminism, and was also a cancer survivor who continued teaching while undergoing chemotherapy. Maybe she just knew.
Among the multitude of iconic women throughout history, RBG inspired me in a way deeper than passive admiration.
If not for her, I would have thought that to be an effective activist dismantling oppressive systems, you'd have to work from the outside. Organize grassroots movements. Make splashy headlines. I am very grateful for the presence of people in these roles, but even if I shared that vision, I could never have followed those paths—I don't have the temperament for it.
RBG was a tireless advocate for equality and justice. She was an activist— she saw opportunities to create change in an existing system, and she effected change in a way that was steady, methodical, and no less radical. She made me believe that there was room for people like me to make real difference in this world.
When she passed away in September, the fear and anxiety was real, but the grief was stronger.
Among the people whom I'm grateful to call a mentor, the one least like the others is the venture capitalist.
Into my otherwise cool, blue liberal bubble, he injected some hot takes. He had little patience for red tape in government, was enthusiastic about the privatization of wilderness, and, when I felt overwhelmed by the feeling of wanting to use the skillset I have to do something meaningful with my life but not knowing how, he advised me to look to Elon Musk for inspiration.
"Elon Musk didn't set out to put solar panels on children's hospitals, he built Tesla first," he said.
This was his way of saying that I was putting the cart before the horse. Somehow, he updated an analogy around a long-obsolete mode of transportation and came up with something less relatable. But I'm being unfair. I was never very good at following his advice, but I always liked hearing it.
In mid-2015, when Trump's presidential candidacy still seemed like an elaborate PR scheme, he said he'd vote for Biden but didn't think he'd run, and entertained the idea of a Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson dream ticket. And when 2016 rolled around, he was one of the millions of Americans who voted for a third-party candidate.
I had gotten a subscription to the New York Times after I graduated from college. The venture capitalist thought that the New York Times was as left-biased as Fox News was right-biased, a sentiment I vehemently disagree with. When I asked him where he got his news, he named the Wall Street Journal.
I started reading the Wall Street Journal recently. Not because I believe its reporting is truly impartial, but because for my own sanity, I needed to hear a different perspective— one that doesn't believe democracy will be upended tomorrow.
I made the mistake of reading the Op-Ed section of the Wall Street Journal first.
A piece written by its editorial board last week about the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett included the following gem: "Mitch McConnell deserves special credit for helping to reshape the federal courts after decades of liberal dominance."
What liberal dominance? I wondered. I thought it was widely acknowledged that the Supreme Court had for decades been comprised of a 5-4 conservative majority. Whom did the editorial board think was liberal? Chief Justice Roberts, who gave us Citizens United?
Two paragraphs down, the editorial continued, "As for Supreme Court's new 6-3 conservative majority…" as though the writers didn't have editors who saw this as an obvious contradiction.
My boyfriend tells me I need to stop reading op-eds. I would later learn that the WSJ's journalists had complained to the publisher about the editorial board's disregard for evidence and lack of fact-checking.
It was still disappointing. I had hoped to hear a different perspective, and instead, I came out of it feeling like that perspective only makes sense if you lived on a planet where logic has different rules.
A while back, a friend invited me to a dinner hosted by a young professionals' network to which she belonged. The seating was assigned, and we happened to sit with someone who seemed like the poster child of men's rights activists. In addition to being utterly charmless in every other way, he told my friend—whom he just met— that instead of focusing on her career, she had five years left to look for a husband, and that instead of having high expectations, she should settle for "Mr. Good Enough."
This guy himself was over thirty, single, and working for his dad, factors that are not inherently problematic, except that in this case, served to highlight his hypocrisy.
Rationally, I know that a misogynist loser could belong to any part of the political spectrum, but one of the first things he mentioned was going to some kind of Republican convention.
Recently, that friend and I were talking about the election, and with this fellow in mind, I had joked, "Well, I'm sure you know someone who's voting for Trump."
That statement took her by surprise. Then she told me that her dad and her brother were. Her brother, because he had invested in stocks that were likely going to increase in value with a Trump presidency. And her father, because he believed the economy was doing well.
I had met both the dad and the brother of this friend, most recently at her graduation from law school. The brother had given a really funny speech, and I thought it was sweet that the dad got all teary eyed.
It should have been obvious. But it was sobering nonetheless. If Trump gets reelected, the voters carrying him through the election weren't the one-dimensional caricatures the New York Times often makes them out to be. They were going to be people who make you laugh, and give you a ride home, and choose kids in cages over being slightly less wealthy than they are today.
So what can I do? I'd voted already. I'd donated. Even in the best of scenarios where nothing is contested or controversial, this election would show how close we got to erosion of faith in the democratic process.
The one silver lining that I can think of, and I'm not entirely sure if it's true, is that the conditions in which Ruth Bader Ginsburg started her career is harsher than what we have today. On the one hand, income inequality is certainly worse, and trust in institutions is weakened. But I also think it's fair to say that the world today is objectively less sexist, racist, and homophobic than it was 60 years ago. And that means that there are more opportunities for progress, and there's no excuse to wallow in hopelessness.
It's not the ideal world I want to live in. But it's a world I'll live in to work towards change.