Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Mourning the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Sep 22, 2020

Columnist Eugene Robinson will be online every Tuesday at 1 p.m. Eastern for Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson, where he'll talk about the latest political and cultural developments. Catch up on the transcript of his latest chat below.

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Hello, everyone, and welcome back to our oasis of sanity amid a cosmos of craziness. Today we mourn the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a titan of jurisprudence and a fierce champion for women's rights. It's important to celebrate her life and mourn her death, even though Republicans took approximately nine nanoseconds after her last breath to begin naming her replacement, who will give the Supreme Court a 6-3 conservative majority. The GOP has the power to stack the court in this manner, and so that is what President Trump and Mitch McConnell will do. Get mad about that, but get even on Election Day. Take away the Republican Party's power -- and then we can begin the process of repairing the great damage they have done to our nation. Let's get started.

I’ve read where some of the “I will vote for Trump” even though they don’t like him. They’re afraid Biden will be a puppet for the Far Left to get all their ideas pushed thru. Do you think Biden will be his own man as president?

Of course he will be his own man. What president, ever, has not been his own man? This line of argument is ridiculous. Maybe these people are fooling themselves, but they're not fooling anyone else. If they want to vote for Trump, they should go ahead and do so. But don't try to rationalize that vote bi fantasizing that Biden is not, in fact, Biden. Give us a break.

If Trump gets his conservative Supreme Court pick, which leads to Roe vs. Wade being overturned, can't congress (hopefully a Democratic President, House & Senate) legalize abortion at a federal level along the lines laid out by Roe vs. Wade?

Yes, Congress can pass a federal law concerning abortion. And Congress can pass a federal assault-weapons ban. And Congress can pass a strengthened, updated version of the Voting Rights Act that ends GOP attempts at minority disenfranchisement. Congress can do a lot of things, if and when Democrats capture the Senate and the presidency, and of course keep the House.

Biden says he is not for expanding the Supreme Court number of Justices. Are there any other tools, assuming he wins and Dems retake the Senate that can politically be done to make the court more reflective of how our country really is?

Again, Congress could do a lot of things. I believe it could also impose term limits for justices, for example. Changing the number of justices or making other changes to the Supreme Court would be a big, consequential step. But it has been done before. And the way Republicans denied Merrick Garland even a hearing but now pledge to confirm Trump's pick before the end of the year -- well, that's big and consequential, too. All of this is moot, however, if Democrats don't sweep the GOP out of power in the coming election.

We've registered to vote, we've sent postcards to help registered Dems in other states with mail-in voting, we've donated and donated and donated. What else can we do? It feels beyond frustrating to just keep experiencing the impact of minority rule - Republicans, especially from rural states, holding outsized power in our lives. They act without morals or conscience. Dems have to win by so much more to just break even. How can everyday people advocate for change?

You could work for Democratic candidates, if you have the time and inclination. Phone-banking can be done from anywhere. I have friends who live in Connecticut who plan to spend Election Day in Pennsylvania working the polls, because they wanted to help protect the democratic process in a swing state.

While I have reservations in suspending the filibuster (rememberIng what McConnell said when Harry Read changed senate filibuster rules for circuit court judges “ be careful what you wish for” and look at the current state of the judiciary), I feel that the only way for Dems to pass meaningful legislation for DACA recipients, reproductive rights, health care (expanding the ACA), LGBTG rights, is to take this monumental step. Your thoughts on the pros and cons of eliminating the senate filibuster....

I think the idea of the Senate as a genteel, clubby place where the hot-blooded ideas that come over from the House are cooled down and continuity is preserved through the eras of Democratic or Republican rule -- I think that's a nostalgic fantasy, at this point. You can blame McConnell, you can blame Harry Reid, whatever. The fact is that the Senate, right now, is just a smaller, less efficient version of the House -- a body split along party lines. The filibuster just facilitates gridlock. I guess if I were Chuck Schumer and became majority leader I would give the current system a try, but I wouldn't let tradition stand in the way of progress forever. There is so much that needs to be done.

Gene, my rage at the complete desecration of so many things in the last couple of days -- Trump's mockery of the deaths of 200,000 people ("it affects nobody”), his utter cruelty at suggesting that RBG's last words were made up by Schumer and Pelosi, and above all the Republicans’ blatant hypocrisy and total disregard for Constitutional norms -- knows no bottom. Thank you for your calm and clear-eyed column. Voting in numbers that have never been seen before is the only solution. I only pray that everyone heeds your advice. More is on the line than ever before because this has to stop.

And we have the power to make it stop. If everyone who hates what Trump and the Republicans are doing actually votes, Democrats win in a historic landslide -- taking the Senate and the White House. So vote!

I would place mine on Lagoa. If she’s on a safe list for Trump, she will be irresistible. He will believe fully that it will lock up FL for him (he may not be wrong that it will help there). And her one liability—that her abortion views haven’t been tested—is probably a positive for Trump, who likely thinks the other woman is a bit crazy...like Pence and his wife.

McConnell reportedly favors Amy Coney Barrett because he believes it would be quicker and easier to get her confirmed. Trump desperately needs to win Florida to have a chance at reelection, so the idea of Lagoa may be attractive to him. I really don't know which way he will go.

Gene, I'm way past angry at this point; I only expect the worst of the GOP and Trump. I mean, I wouldn't be shocked if they decided to appoint 3 justices to the Supreme Court this week, or declared civil war on all non-supporters, or decided to make it illegal to vote for Biden. I'm going to vote blue, of that I have no doubt. But I also have no doubt that even if the GOP is crushed on Election Day and Trump is soundly defeated that there will still be strife and issues with them letting go of power. Why should I expect people who ignore the will of the majority to suddenly respect it if/when they are defeated? Am I being too pessimistic?

Republicans will do their best to cling to power. That's why the best thing would be an overwhelming Democratic victory that leaves no doubt about what the country wants. Everybody needs to vote. The margin matters.

What kinds of options do we have if the Supreme Court aims to strike down the ACA, Roe, and any other progressive legislation that the Dems put forward, assuming Biden wins and a Democrat senate majority? We need some hope! Thank you!

If the court strikes down the ACA -- and at this point we have to expect that it will -- Democrats can write and pass a new national health program that satisfies the court's requirements. If, that is, Democrats win the power to do so. 

One thing that struck me about Obama was that he appeared to bifurcate politics into a campaign season and a governing season. The current Democrats seemed to mirror this approach. The GOP, even before Trump, were and are relentless in pursuing every means to keep power and do so every waking minute. There are no seasons but a relentless fixation on doing anything and everything to undermine any obstacles to their end goals. The Democrats need to get mad, yes, but they need to become as resolute to obtaining and keeping power as the GOP, everyday, all the time. Every election must matter all the time (dog catcher on up) and every strategy must always be on the table (GOP voter suppression? Fine, you can now register to vote at every gas station, grocery store, etc. Change Senate rules, fine, we will too. Steal 2 S.C. justices, fine, we will pack the court.) The GOP is shameless, relentless and the Democratic leadership needs to wake up.

It does seem that the two parties have been playing by different sets of rules. When Republicans hold power, they use it to the max. Democrats are going to have to do the same.

I am heartbroken. We knew it was coming, but were all wishing her to live beyond inauguration day. I'm pretty sure she tried, too. She was ferocious to the end, in a way that told all who would pay attention that she was in this not only to raise and actually establish rights for women, but also those of men. Not too many (or surely not enough) have figured that out. As an attorney, I worked on a project with her in the last century. I'm also a woman, and there is not enough gratitude to express to this woman who fought the good fight. May we embrace her legacy and carry on, with love and respect. RIP RBG!

May she Rest in Power. Amen.

Trump promotes the idea that he has done great in protecting the nation over the past 6 months. Implying that he is acting like a great war time president. How about this. In the first 12 months of Britain's WWII, the Germans, without opposition from England's air force (no ability to engage at night) bombed the country mercilessly and killed 47,000 Englishmen and women. Trump, in 6 months, has failed to lead resulting in 200,000 deaths. 4 x the death toll of the German attacks. Some leader!!

The United States and South Korea recorded their first cases of covid-19 on the same day. South Korea has had fewer than 400 deaths, and the U.S. has had more than 200,000. Most of these deaths could -- and should -- have been prevented. The Trump administration's response to the pandemic has been an epic, tragic failure.

First, thanks so much for doing these chats. They're one of the highlights of my day. Strategically, I don't see the Republicans voting in a justice until after the election, it exposes too many at risk senators to Republican hypocrisy regarding this issue. If they loose the Senate though then all bets are off in the lame duck session. How likely do you think it would be if the Republicans install a justice now; in spite of a Democratic win, that Biden then stacks the courts?

Barring some skeleton-in-the-closet revelation at the hearings for Trump's nominee, the Republicans will indeed confirm a new justice -- and it might well happen before Election Day, because the Trump campaign apparently thinks a confirmation will generate momentum. I think it also puts McConnell's Senate majority in grave peril, but we'll see. If Republicans don't understand what an icon RBG was for Democrats, including young Democrats, they will soon find out.

Thank you for chatting every week! I'm desperately trying to make lemonade from the lemons of RBG's death. It seems like the writing is on the wall for the Republicans to jam one through, with only two dissenting voices. But here's a tiny positive thought. If the seat were open through election day, the right wingers and evangelicals would be more motivated to vote, but with the seat filled they might relax a little, figuring that Trump gave them all he could, and maybe declining to vote for the horrible person. Meanwhile the democrats will be enraged and vote in greater numbers. Is that possible, or are there only lemons here?

I wondered the same thing. The risk in waiting until after the election is that if there's a blue wave, and Democrats take both the White House and the Senate, the will of the American people will be clear. Some Republican senators who are up for reelection in 2022 might have second thoughts. Still, I think the most likely outcome is that the nomination gets pushed through anyway.

Is DC statehood the proper response from Dems if they win the senate and presidency? Does expanding the senate enable a shift in political balance?

Republicans sure fear that it does. Look, the reason that D.C. should have statehood is not primarily to affect the balance of power in the senate. It is because 700,000 taxpaying American citizens are denied voting representation in Congress, which is simply wrong and unacceptable. 

Do you ever despair that traditional, responsible news outlets such as NY Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, NPR, etc. are being drowned out by right wing propaganda, e.g. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart, etc., and especially by the conspiracy theories and other garbage on social media? How can we have a working democracy if 40% of the people believe the lies they are fed by cynical manipulators and foreign bad actors, and can't see anything wrong with Trump because they dismiss all criticism of him, no matter how warranted and antithetical to the values they hold, as "fake news"?

Of course I worry about this, but I confess that I don't have a solution. I worry even more that while the major news organizations you cite are thriving, with more readers than ever before, most metropolitan newspapers around the country have had to dramatically reduce staffing and many will not survive. We need a common encyclopedia of facts and a common chronicle of events, and increasingly we have neither.

If Democrats win the White House and both chambers of Congress, should they retaliate against Republicans by repealing their precious tax law, AND reinstating Eisenhower era tax rates at 90% for the super wealthy?

Biden has made clear that he intends to ask Congress to repeal the huge tax cuts that Republicans awarded to the wealthy. But no, I don't foresee Eisenhower-era top marginal tax rates.

If Joe Biden is ahead 8 points in the national and an average of 5 points in the battleground states, including Ohio and Florida, on Nov. 2nd will journalists go out on a limb and declare trump politically dead?

I'm more interested in when polls become election returns. So ask me on November 4, and again on November 5, and again and again until we have a final result.


That's all for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for joining in, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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