Antonin Scalia, may he rest in peace, made some decisions I strongly disagree with. Citizen’s United vs. FEC, with its explicit finding that corporations and unions are entitled to the protection of the First Amendment just as people are, was the one that troubles me most. His dissents on gay marriage, while well-reasoned, were an affront to anyone who believes that part of SCOTUS’s role is to identify bad laws, even if the bad laws have existed for centuries. His xenophobia towards immigrants was logical, considering that he was too traditionalist to overturn the welfare-warfare state (unlimited immigration into a welfare-warfare state is irrational; as a minarchist I favor unlimited migration and oppose the welfare-warfare state). He was a rigorous enough thinker to restate a racist argument in Fisher and offer a chance to debate it, though he wound up being pilloried for even uttering the words. Regardless of his judicial record, he’s passed beyond the veil which claims us all now, and that reality is, as always, stark and unanswerable.
Being in Ecuador and watching the Presidential race long-distance via news sources and social media has been, well, embarrassing. The most embarrassing thing, of course, has been Donald Trump. His hatefulness has only one virtue: it is omnidirectional. He is as far from Scalia’s intellect as he can be: Trump’s bombast, ignorance, and narcissism mark him as singularly undeserving of the attention and power he has acquired to date. How could I ever explain to my Ecuadorian, Canadian, or German friends if he were elected?
The mass media and social media both treat elections as a sort of sporting event. One side wins, the other side loses. What will their strategies be? How will this move or that move affect the score? It’s easy to get swept away in the collective tribal frenzy and forget that this is supposed to be a forum of ideas, and thus there are far more than two sides to every issue. Even as a libertarian (socially liberal and economically conservative), I sometimes find myself entertaining the question of which “side” is better.
And here is the thing: given that the extremes of the “two sides” boiled down to Trump and Sanders, I found myself wondering if maybe the Bernie bots had a point. I found myself falling into the irrational, primitive “us versus them” model. Even though socialist governments have directly murdered millions and starved and deprived hundreds of millions more, even though I’m on the same continent with suffering Venezuelans playing out the inevitable socialist endgame, Bernie is just so likable and avuncular! And he is polite. Unfortunately, that’s a rare trait in today’s world, and it’s one of my core values. Contrasting Bernie’s courtesy with Trump’s out-and-out rudeness, I found myself drifting into a complacent “that’s not so bad” concurrence with smiley socialism.
Then, Scalia died. And all at once, my social feed and the comments section of news outlets was overflowing with vitriol: “Good. I’m glad he’s dead.” “I hope he rots in Hell.” “Some people don’t deserve to be alive and he was one of them.” “He harmed so many people he deserved to die.” “I’m just sorry he didn’t suffer.” Some of the people spewing this hatred were liberals I considered friends. We agreed on things like freedom of expression, freedom to marry whomever you like, freedom to use whatever drugs you like, freedom from unwarranted search and seizure and police brutality, and so forth, while we disagreed on freedom to own and carry firearms, freedom to associate and do business with whomever you choose, freedom to use offensive speech, and the right to keep what you own and earn. We’d enjoyed some agreements and also some stimulating disagreements. Yet, when called out on their hateful words about Scalia, they didn’t care. They had dehumanized and demonized this brilliant, erudite, and principled man.
And it woke me up! I remembered that the entire system is based on coercion and violence. I remembered that the reason someone like Trump can rise towards the top is the same reason someone like Bernie can: people want think magically and endow a leader with powers they do not themselves possess. They want to be deceived. They want to believe that a leader is going to look out for their interests and help them fight against the Other, the dark and vicious subhuman enemies of their tribe. Just as Scalia embraced the ideal of government power, they want to imagine that the collective they embrace is more than a fiction. In this frame of mind, they say things they would never otherwise say about other human beings. This is where ethnic cleansing, lynchings, Gulags, and internment camps come from. This is where witch burnings and Crusades come from.
This is the place we go when we support the US military’s savage massacres and occupations around the globe. This is the place we go when we allow, even encourage, the government to keep secrets from us, who pay its bills. This is the place we go when we obey unjust laws. This is the place we go when we defer to the police who beat and kill us. This is the place we go when we stop a man from feeding the homeless and hungry. This is the place we go when we shut down a child’s unlicensed lemonade stand. This is the place where individual moral agency and responsibility disappears. Don’t go to that place. Don’t go there.