Bernie’s timing was, I think, just right. A lot of Democrats were understandably impatient for Sanders to move on, accept defeat and begin to help unite the party against Trump. But Sanders hasn’t been running just to get himself to the White House; he’s been running to effect change. Waiting as long as he did helped keep up the pressure for change, and the result is a Democratic Party draft platform that is the most progressive since 1972.
There was a related practical reason for Sanders to hold off: if he was to be maximally effective in bringing his supporters on board for November, he needed to have something to show for his long efforts. Now he’s got it, and even still, some of his supporters—a small minority, hopefully destined to dwindle—are decrying his “sellout.” But polls are already showing that most Sanders supporters are coming around to Clinton, and Sanders has reportedly indicated that he intends to campaign alongside Clinton in states where he can be most helpful. Party unity is not going to be a major problem for the Democrats this election year.
It is of course inappropriate for a Supreme Court justice to take sides in a US election campaign. That is, it’s inappropriate under most imaginable circumstances.
But let’s imagine some extraordinary circumstances. Suppose by some surprising turn of events a major party nominates for President of the United States a candidate who is unlike any previous candidate for that office? A candidate who is utterly unfit for the presidency? Imagine a candidate who brashly stokes religious and racial bigotry; who demonstrates a chronic, possibly pathological, mendacity; who physically mocks a disabled person on national television; who habitually hurls adolescent insults at his political opponents. A candidate whose statements suggest an alarming attraction to authoritarian government.
It’s hard to imagine that such a person could win a major party nomination for president, but what if it actually happened? Certainly, it would fly in the face of our ideas about what is normal and appropriate in US presidential politics. Even a Supreme Court justice highly respectful of the norms of political neutrality that constrain her role might feel duty-bound not to observe those norms under such abnormal circumstances. She might feel that to remain silent would in effect be to participate in the normalization of a candidacy that is not normal, a candidacy that should be unimaginable. Ruth Bader Ginsburg knows what she’s doing.
The events of the past week prompted me to review some of the posts I did over a year and a half ago on this subject. While there is nothing I would take back, it strikes me that I may have been a bit unbalanced in my generally harsh treatment of the cops. Unbalanced because I never explicitly acknowledged what President Obama pointed out the other day: that the police in minority neighborhoods do have a tough job, that they live with danger and generally want to do good. But cops aren’t magically immune to the racism that pervades American society. Many cops’ daily experience probably even reinforces negative racial stereotypes. And, unlike most civilian racists, cops carry guns and can use them with a presumption of legitimacy.
So, police racism is symptomatic of our country’s still unresolved race problems. Police racism is everyday racism exacerbated by special circumstances and empowered by the legitimate authority of the state to use violence. It would be remarkable if police racism weren’t a serious problem in the United States.
Justice Ginsburg has expressed regret for her remarks about Donald Trump. That was undoubtedly the politic thing to do, but I still think she was on defensible ground.