Sunday, February 14, 2016

Remembering Antonin Scalia: Twitterverse Testimony

I grew up in a family with a strong Irish tradition of refraining from speaking ill of the dead. I honor that tradition. Kindness towards the surviving loved ones of anyone who died is a sine qua non of a decent, humane society and a decent, humane person.

But there's more. A day before the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, I finished reading Elizabeth Strout's new novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton. A central theme of this novel is the struggle of a woman dealing with a legacy of childhood neglect and abuse by her parents to come to terms with her childhood memories.

Lucy Barton is a writer. The novel recounts what happens to her when she takes a workshop with a skilled writer who tells her that, if she's really going to be a writer who writes something that matters, she must never fudge the truth — in any way whatsoever, whatever the consequences. This injunction produces a crisis of sorts in Lucy Barton's life, given the fact that she is working through the pain of her relationship with her mother, and recognizes the imperative to be kind and to forgive, at the same time that she recognizes the imperative to seek and tell the truth. The tension between the two imperatives is a central theme in the novel, which ends with the suggestion that one can (and must) seek both kindness and truth, holding both imperatives together in a well-lived, honest life that aims at love of others.

I'm thinking through the theme of the novel as I read responses online to the death of Antonin Scalia. The overblown tributes from many mainstream media sorts are, though entirely predictable, glib and false, as far as I'm concerned — especially when they disguise or gloss over the real harm many of his positions and statements have done to some of his fellow human beings. That harm is the more troubling when one remembers that Scalia dished it out in the name of a God whose name is Mercy.

As Jon Queally said at Common Dreams last evening, 

Though much of the mainstream press was quickly lining up on Saturday to offer glowing commemorations of his career as a public servant, many on Twitter wanted to be sure that his destructive judicial legacy was not completely whitewashed.

In addition to Katie Grimes's tweet at the head of this poting, here are some of the tweets I've read last night and today that stand out for me as truth-telling — but not unkind — responses to the news of Justice Scalia's death:

And then there's Charles Pierce, who knew Scalia personally and found him charming and interesting in an admirably eccentric way, who has also inherited that Irish tradition of not speaking ill of the dead, but who includes his memorial statement about Scalia yesterday with the following observations: 

He began to act out beyond the chambers of the Court as well. He famously gave the ol' "vaffanculo" chin-swipe to a photographer on the steps of a church. More seriously, in 2004, he went on a Louisiana duck hunting trip with then-vice-president Dick Cheney—and came home unscathed!—just after the Court heard a case involving Cheney's secret energy task-force. This reminded some people that, when the Court ruled on Bush v. Gore, both of Scalia's sons were working for law firms in the employ of the Bush campaign. (The following April, one of the sons, Eugene, got a job in the Department of Labor under the president his father had done so much to install.) Conflicts-of-interest and subsequent recusals were for lesser humans—like, say, Justice Elena Kagan—not for Nino Scalia, Intellectual Anchor. He disappointed me in all of this. These were the acts of a banal political hack. I thought better of him once.

As one of my Facebook friends (I see his Facebook feed is set to share with friends only, and is not public, so I won't link to it or give his name) sums things up,

May he know the mercy and love of a God in death that he refused to show to others in his public life. 

And to that I say, Amen, and I consider this prayer which combines honesty about the legacy Antonin Scalia left behind with hope that he encounter mercy eminently Christian.

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