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Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died and the political seas have changed. She was a beacon of American conscience in a nation that has no conscience to spare. For those of us in America who see a nation in steep decline, this loss further deepens the gap between hope and reality. Most importantly, Justice Ginsburg’s death puts the last of the nation’s three core constitutional institutions at deep peril. The Congress is already a dysfunctional failed deliberative body, and the Executive has been overwhelmed by corruption and incompetence.

This doesn’t leave much to fall back on. Progressives will allow for a moment of silence to celebrate Justice Ginsburg’s life. And then, it will be time for her death to propel our determination that Trump be deposed and his acolytes dethroned. We will need to get even angrier than we have been and more committed to the singular objective of winning the presidency.

Many progressives surely wish that these were different times. Then, we could focus on social and racial justice, on a national plan to confront the coronavirus pandemic, on universal access to meaningful healthcare, on economic equity, on affordable housing, on quality public education, and on reimagining good governance. But we cannot do that now. Now, we have to do everything that we can to get Joe Biden elected president.

On the plus side, there continues to be a somewhat encouraging sense in America that maybe, just maybe, all the lies, all the ignorance and incompetence, all the corruption, and all the chaos are finally catching up with the demonstrably worst American president in modern times. And that is saying a lot given that George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon would be the competition. So with that said, and only Joe Biden to choose from, staying focused on the singular goal will be easier.

To reach that goal, it would be nice to be able to say that Joe Biden is an inspirational candidate who can will the nation to a better place, can open the eyes of the willfully blind, and define an agenda of transformational change. But he is not that candidate. Rather he is a candidate who can win the presidency, surround himself with honest and committed advisers, and begin the long and difficult trek toward undoing the Trump damage.

For me and many others, being the only serious candidate not named Trump is enough to ensure my vote and to ensure that I will do what I can to get him elected. For others, however, it may be important that Biden be for something, not just against Trump.

As Biden tries to define his agenda and demonstrate his policy priorities, he will have to do so carefully. The effort may win over some wavering or undecided voters, particularly if he focuses on healthcare issues and articulating an understanding of the intractable racial morass that is today’s America. Appealing to a tired nation with calm and a resolve to simply make things better could help as well.

However, there is peril for Biden in detailing much of anything beyond broad general policy themes. This peril lies primarily on his left. For the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, too much “visionary” detail of a future beyond November 3 can provide more insight than may be healthy for Biden’s campaign. For now, since it remains critical that “all the roads of our discontent must merge at this time to meet the singular threat”* of a Trump reelection, progressives can and likely will stay focused on this prize alone.

Yet, as Biden begins to define the policy goals of his future administration, the details as they are emerging crushingly disappoint. The goals are so connected to yesterday that it is hard to envision a better tomorrow. It will be easier, for sure, to live without the daily lies and the pernicious undermining of the nation’s institutions, but it will be no easier for those in need to live with a return to “normal.”

To provide early solace, Biden and his administration will surely strive to return some measure of good governance to federal institutions, a key metric if there is ever to be the transformational change that America’s outdated and tired “democracy” so critically needs. However, it will all seem so incremental, especially to those in need now who have waited so long and to those who have spent a lifetime advocating for those in need.

This is where Ruth Bader Ginsburg as that beacon of conscience can enter the fray anew. She never gave up on her extraordinary drive to simply right things that were wrong. She is gone, but her zeal has to live on in enough of us to get this election right and then move on to the hard challenges that lie ahead. As I have moved from sadness to resolve, I have looked at a lot of what Justice Ginsburg had to tell us. There is something about the following quotation that seems worthy of the moment:

“Yet what greater defeat could we suffer than to come to resemble the forces we oppose in their disrespect for human dignity?”**

Maybe it is respect for human dignity that so separates Biden from Trump, Democrats from Republicans, and progressives from conservatives. Look at the quotation again, and then reflect on the sickened and dying in our communities in the midst of a crippling pandemic. And then take as a clarion call that Trump, the Republicans, and the conservatives in those same communities are fighting to deny access to healthcare to millions yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That is depraved. That is inhumane.

If Biden does not win the presidency, those with a palpable disrespect for human dignity will surely further stain America. If Biden is victorious, there will be a renewed urgency for progressives to step to the fore to stress that any new administration must commit to a respect for human dignity as the core principle required to elevate America to be so much better than it is. If Justice Ginsburg knew this, maybe the rest of us can learn it, some for the first time.

We must make that commitment for ourselves, for our nation, and as a final tribute to the extraordinary Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

* (with apologies for quoting Hard Left Turn)


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