Sometimes it felt like she was America’s last hope. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court judge since 1993, achieved celebrity status during Trump’s four years. Affectionately given the nickname “Notorious R.B.G” by a slew of online followers, she was the subject of superhero memes and the inspiration for much light-hearted merchandise (Urban Outfitters stocks T-shirts emblazoned with her face and her famously blunt quotes, and I gifted a friend in Brooklyn a cuddly Ginsburg doll for her newborn last year.)
Beneath the jokes, the quotes and the well-designed tote bags, however, ran an undercurrent of anxiety and fear. The fact that Supreme Court judges have lifetime appointments meant that many were morbidly obsessed with Ginsburg — who battled cancer on numerous occasions, and died of its complications today — staying alive long enough to get to the election. She herself clearly felt the same way, if NPR’s reports about her dying wishes are to be believed: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she apparently said not long before passing away aged 87. She was only the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court.
And there’s no getting round it: Ginsburg’s death is a terrible opportunity for Donald Trump. With a new seat on the court vacant so close to the election, he can make a song and dance about his legacy and his future promises by installing an extreme conservative. At the Republican Convention a few weeks ago, the President dedicated an entire night to the “pro-life” cause, bringing in speakers who waxed lyrical about his “concern for the unborn” and making allusions toward overturning Roe v Wade once and for all. Ginsburg’s death puts women’s rights in grave danger — not to mention the rights of many others who are historically overlooked or targeted by the ultra-right wing.
This is because Trump’s supporters are now, quite frankly, fringe conservatives who are happy to do away with established legal interpretation in the United States. Many have spoken about “reinterpreting” or “kicking out” the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which gives everyone born on US soil automatic citizenship. It’s true that lifelong Republican politicians are walking away from Trump’s presidency and distancing themselves as polls point toward a possible Biden win — the Lincoln Project and a slew of disgruntled former staffers are testament enough to this — but the president has responded by digging his heels in and attempting to galvanize enough extreme conservatives to make up the numbers. Replacing Ginsburg while working to this playbook will be damaging for America in the long term, far beyond any presidential term Trump might legally hold; it will mean that the 45th President leaves a damaging legacy behind him for generations to come.