Ruth Bader Ginsburg—legal scholar, hero to many, occasional meme, Supreme Court Justice—died today, at the age of 87, after suffering from a long battle with pancreatic cancer, and an equal-length and exhausting bout of carrying the hopes of the entire American political left on her well-conditioned but aging back. Ginsburg is survived by two children, Jane and James, and a long career spent fighting, more often than not, for women’s rights and the needs of the marginalized in the highest court of the United States—although god only knows how long the latter are going to be able to hang on, now that she’s not there to protect them.
Given that the Justice’s death—which, in addition to being a tragedy in its own right, is likely to destabilize the very delicate balance between right and left on the Supreme Court, two months before what was already going to be one mean fucker of an election—is probably going to end up being one of the defining deaths of the early 21st century, pretty much everybody within 10 feet of a phone has already expressed whatever personal ratio of despair, determination, and genuine grief is currently running through their system right now on social media. (The major exception being most of America’s political leaders, who are presumably watching Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell like hawks with their eyes stuck on a particularly ornery turtle, waiting to see if he’s going to try to ram a right-wing replacement candidate through the Senate before November.) (Update: Turtle decides to suck total shit.)
Credit where it’s due: Most of these folks talking about Ginsburg’s death are doing their damnedest not to give into fatalism, focusing energy on reminding people of the importance of protest, resistance, and voting—and holding fast against the rising-water-feeling of knowing that we’d somehow let rights as precious as abortion, and other fundamental liberties, hinge on the continued life of a noble but aging 87-year-old cancer patient. (Sorry, sorry we’re trying to keep our heads above water here, too.) To cherry-pick just a few of the best responses, Kerry Washington probably said it in the simplest, most affecting way—although Dan Rather also eulogized with signature gravitas.
Then there’s Julie Cohen, co-director of Ginsburg documentary RBG. Or Hillary Clinton, talking about the ways the Justice paved the way for women like her to rise up the ranks of America’s political system. And dozens more, from comedians, to actors, to everybody, all trying to process this in a way that feels like some measure of profound, possibly even hopeful, despite all.
But here’s the thing: This is going to be one of those events, rare and often horrible, that wind up happening to everybody in America, all at once. Which means that many of these tweets are less about their content—heartfelt, despondent, or hopeful as they may be—than about the way they act as a mirror for the way millions of other people are reeling. Is there comfort in knowing that Seth MacFarlane (Mindy Kaling, Patton Oswalt, Stephen King, Sarah Silverman, dozens others) are feeling that same pit in their stomachs that’s settled so comfortably into ours? Hard to say. But their voices are all raised up right now, expressing their grief, not just for Ginsburg the woman, but for the bulwark against cruelty that she’s come to symbolize since 2016—a protective shield that now feels incredibly fragile, and in need of a vigorous and passionate defense of its own.
So, yeah: Fuck.