The Notorious RBG

A few days ago, some friends invited my wife and I to join them at the Wilmette Theater to see “RBG,” a profile-documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I admit now that I didn’t expect much more than a factual film that gave me a clearer idea of who Justice Ginsberg is.

I was expecting a film historically interesting but dry. What I got was a terrific movie, entertaining, eye opening, inspiring. It left me in awe of Justice Ginsberg, not just as a judicial mind but as a human being. She is one of those extraordinary figures in our history that comes along every few decades and “changes everything” for the better.

Before RBG, the rights of American women were still viewed under our constitution as a separate category of human beings, naturally placed in a different position on any diagram of human rights. Since RBG came on the scene, America’s courts, legislators and society in general have been much more sensitive to gender inequities. Discussions of equal pay, equal opportunity, equal protections for women are no longer treated as liberal pipe dreams. Of course none of this progress is happening without pushback from some who are anxious to maintain the status quo.

In fact, the film reminded me how thick-skulled even bright, highly educated people can be (sometimes even Supreme Court justices) when confronted with irrefutable logic that challenges their cultural norms. The 98-minutes of “RBG” fly by — entertaining, revealing, thought-provoking, If you have the time, go see it. It’s in a bunch of local theaters and it’s a piece of American history we should all know and appreciate.

One thing I learned from the film is that Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s courtroom arguments as a lawyer and later her opinions as a federal judge and eventually a Supreme Court justice have consistently displayed a masterful use of logic, facts and the English language. Her brilliant choice of words has proven to be one of her most formidable weapons.

Ah yes, words. They can be quite powerful so it’s always a good idea to choose the words we use wisely. Just ask Rosanne Barr. Her words describing Valerie Jarrett as descended from apes was language taken from the days of Jim Crow – not our country’s finest era. Of course, I’m old enough to know that such stupid characterizations lingered far into more modern times. But I honestly thought that by the late 60’s, expressions of such mindless bigotry were becoming relics of a shameful past. And I thought that today, with the exception of the fringiest elements of our society, no Americans clung to such cruel, asinine views. I guess I was wrong.

The success of Donald Trump’s inflammatory appeals to disenchanted voters did more than just win over supporters with legitimate grievances. It gave permission to the closeted bigots still among us to start spewing out their verbal garbage once more without reservations. It was good to see the uproar that Rosanne’s ignorant comment caused across the public spectrum. Even Fox News disapproved. (We’ll see how long that enlightenment lasts, but every little nudge toward decency can’t hurt.) It will also be interesting to see if Donald Trump can resist the urge to tweet some sort of support for Rosanne, one of his biggest fans.

Yes sir. The President sure does love to tweet. In his weekend holiday message with just his first three words he revealed, once again, how truly ignorant this man is: “Happy Memorial Day.” — Really? Happy? I always thought it was a solemn holiday recognizing the men and women who died fighting for our country. — What an oblivious, self-involved dope.

Today in the New York Times, Tom Friedman referring to the upcoming November Mid-term Elections said: “What this election is about is your first chance since 2016 to vote against Trump.” However, I would say it’s not exactly our first chance. Here in Illinois over the past 18 months we’ve had local and state elections that offered opportunities to prevent right wing ideologues and Trump apologists from gaining more power. And we’ll have more. Even so, Friedman is right that the federal elections coming up in November can be a turning points and we should do all we can to win all we can.

That’s one more reason to put “RBG” on your movie schedule. Winning in November won’t be easy. Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s steely determination should inspire us all to believe in the power of individual effort to steer our nation toward a more just and hopeful future.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973 

P.S. Tomorrow evening, stop by the Wilmette Wine Cellar and share in some wine and conversation. No political speeches. Just a chance to see old friends and to make some new ones. — Also if you can, bring along a few items for the New Trier Township Food Pantry (see the details below). I hope we see you there. I’m looking forward to it.