Knowing how polarities work, the wise leader does not push to make things happen, but allows process to unfold on its own. The leader teaches by example rather than by lecturing others on how they ought to be. The leader knows that constant interventions will block process. The leader does not insist that things come out a certain way. (John Heider, Tao of Leadership)
Ruth’s seat isn’t yet cold. And the urgency to fill it with a ‘user friendly’ replacement appears paramount in the Republican fold — summoning to mind any number of adjectives: expeditious, opportunistic, cynical, hypocritical, partisan. . . the list goes on. As well, prompting comparisons with Obama’s nomination in March 2016 of Merrick Garland to occupy the seat of Antonin Scalia left vacant following the latter’s February 2016 death.
That same year, with an election looming, the argument was made by none other than Mitch McConnell that ‘The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president’. Hmm? That was evidently then; this is now. Adding to the ‘both sides of his mouth’ phenom’s ‘fluidity’ is a readiness to use filibuster as a political tactic. At the time (post 2013), the strategy had been disallowed for all circumstances except Supreme Court nominations, and was employed to delay Senate consideration of Obama’s nomination. In April 2017, the exemption was eliminated — as it suited — to allow appointment of Neil Gorsuch, a Republican choice, to take a seat on the Supreme Court. But then reversals, internal contradictions and inconsistencies, political expediency in 2020 should surprise no one.
I had occasion to hear two interviews recently with Julia Samuel, a British psychotherapist, as she discussed her new book, This Too Shall Pass. A widely acknowledged expert on grieving, this time out she explores coping strategies in times of change, crisis. She reframes some existing concepts — but in language and context that provide contemporary application. She raises the time-honoured practice of ‘sitting with’ change, embracing it even. This versus the, again, familiar and knee-jerk responses: fight, flee, freeze — as dictated by our ‘lizard brain’.
In sum, she suggests viewing change as first, inevitable, secondly, a protracted process best served by adapting (vs. being resisted, ‘wrestled against’), and thirdly, best seen as (and I love this term) a fertile void (a kind of existential opportunity). The task then becomes one of eschewing our inclination for polarizing, entrenching in one extreme or the other, and locating the equanimous, middle ground — while we adjust. ‘Using times of crisis and change as space for conversation we’ve perhaps never had’, to paraphrase Samuel’s words. She differentiates this posture from the all too common (evolutionary) alternative: remaining ‘wired for danger, on high alert’, with our emotions mismanaged and impulse control compromised. She quite correctly sees the latter stance as paralyzing to adjustment, adaptation, moving forward. We remain pushed into our respective corners — fuelled by, ‘coached’ by those that would promote the immobilizing effects of fear, high anxiety.
To Amy Coney Barrett. A crass, transparent choice by some accounts. Another calculated ‘brick’ in the conservative wall, tipping a balance that was precarious at best and only held even by the extraordinary presence of RBG. To be sure, her appointment would bring with it a presumed pro-life, anti-gun control, ‘originalist’ vote (reference the literal interpretation of a constitution devised in very different times); a vote that would remain active for many years, given her age (48). Equally, she is qualified on a number of stages, academic as well as experiential: first in her class, clerk to the Justice Scalia, circuit court justice, law professor.
And so we are presented with a change, a crisis some would say: inevitable (apparently), protracted (in place for years to come), and potentially ‘disastrous’ (with the spectre of the dismantling of much of RBG’s hard-fought gains). There can be little doubt that Barrett and Ginsberg occupy very different ‘value orbits’ — as did RBG and Justice Scalia. And perhaps a time to recall some of Ginsberg’s balanced, patient perspective:
Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘my colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way,’ but the greatest dissents do become court opinions.
When I can’t get the fifth vote for something I think is very important, (I) go on to the next challenge and give it my all. You know that these important issues are not going to go away. They are going to come back again and again. There’ll be another time, another day.
To echo Samuel’s sentiments, this is most certainly a time for conversation, not polarization — and that is not about the individuals’ particular positions. It is about the respect for the institution, championed by RBG. It is about patience and process — and a readiness to revisit and not be defeated by a single issue (or a single appointment). A long-established business hiring practice, creative abrasion, in fact endorses, encourages dissenting views as a forum for cultivating ‘best practices’, ‘best solutions’.
The villain in the piece may well be our own readiness to entrench, to choose up sides, and to retire to our respective corners. It makes us too vulnerable to the fear-mongers, the ‘champions of divisiveness’. I’m frankly getting a little tired of the Stephen Colbert’s, the Jimmy Fallon’s, the Seth Meyer’s relentless, obsessive ranting, the New Yorker’s and Post’s lopsided editorializing. How is this any different than DJT’s craven duplicity, shameless pandering?