Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s patriotism and lifelong motivation

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away last night, at the age of 87. The second woman and first Jewish woman appointed to the nation’s highest court,  Ginsburg leaves a legacy whose judicial opinions will be studied by legal minds for decades to come.

The political implications of her passing six weeks before the 2020 presidential election is a volcanic-like eruption on an already existing political minefield over the issue of abortion in particular. She knew this and decried the process surrounding Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 confirmation and hoped that “patriots on both sides of the aisle” would step up and reject the “dysfunction” surrounding future confirmations. 

The day before her death, President Trump announced a patriotic education initiative. In this confluence of separate events, a fitting way to reflect on her life is to look at what motivated her and how she viewed patriotism.

We are part of a world whose unity has been almost completely shattered. No one can feel free from danger and destruction until the many torn threads of civilization are bound together again,” her 2016 autobiography “My Own Words published of one of her many quotes.

Though she appears to describe life today, she wrote these words as an eighth-grader. In this essay called One People published in 1946, Ginsburg reflected on healing and unity after World War II. 

This daughter of a Jewish immigrant from Russia’s Ukraine vowed to never forget the horrors of Nazi concentration camps that slaughtered 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews. 

The war has left a bloody trail and many deep wounds not too easily healed. Many people have been left with scars that take a long time to pass away.” At this young age, Ginsburg understood the pain of antisemitism.

“Prejudice saves us a painful trouble, the trouble of thinking,” she wrote, quoting a rabbi, in her essay, which was published in Brooklyn’s Bulletin of the East Midwood Jewish Center.

Think she did. Her intellect was one of her most dominant characteristics. Four years after she wrote this essay, she met her husband Marty Ginsburg. He was “the first guy ever interested in me because of what was in my head.”

Her intellectual abilities and patriotism were more than apparent in this 1946 essay. Ginsburg didn’t want America to be caught off guard ever again, lest prejudice lead to violence, death and even genocide. 

“In our beloved land, families were not scattered, communities not erased, nor our nation destroyed by the ravages of the World War. Yet, dare we be at ease?” she warned.

The tenacious Ginsburg was never at ease, especially about work. In her last months as she fought cancer, she asked questions through a phone at a hospital during oral arguments on a Supreme Court case.

In this essay at the dawn of her teen years, she zeroed in on a theme that would become her life’s work.

“Then, too, we must try hard to understand that for righteous people, hate and prejudice are neither good occupations nor fit companions.” 

This motivation led her to become one of nine women out of a class of 500 at Harvard Law School at age 23, a Rutgers Law School professor at 30, a litigant for six Supreme Court gender discrimination cases starting at 38, and a Supreme Court Justice at 60.

Yet, in this teenage essay, she understood that prejudice doesn’t bring people together. It still doesn’t.Ginsburg’s death coincides at a pivot point. This has been a summer of violence, filled with looting, rioting and murder in America streets.

One of the reasons that Ginsburg’s passing creates a political fight over her Supreme Court replacement is the issue of abortion. Ginsburg presumably would not vote to overturn Roe v Wade.

But what if a hundred years from now, 95 percent of Americans are anti-abortion rights? What if they decided to tear down memorials to anyone who felt the opposite today? In this hypothetical scenario, Ginsburg would be on the chopping block because of her pro-choice views. Would this be fair? No, some would rightfully say because she isn’t alive to defend herself. Her contributions are too important to be thrown out. She must be understood in the context of her circumstances, which should be the standard for evaluating people in history. 

Like any historical figure, Ginsburg deserves to be remembered for her accomplishments, her resilience and tenacity. She also deserves to be remembered for what she wrote in eighth grade: an aspirational, patriotic message relevant today. 

There can be a happy world and there will be once again when men create a strong bond towards one another, a bond unbreakable by a studied prejudice or a passing circumstance,” she wrote. “Then and only then shall we have a world built on the foundation of the Fatherhood of God and whose structure is the Brotherhood of Man,” the 13-year-old Ginsburg concluded.

Her words are not that different from President Trump’s the day before her death. “The only path to national unity is through our shared identity as Americans.”

Indeed, that is what Ginsburg and Trump have in common, a shared identity as Americans. This thought may rankle both sides of the political aisle but it is important to our nation’s unity to remember it.

From her life’s work and words, it’s clear that Ginsburg wanted America to be built on strong bonds of mutually shared values and common interests, one where both men and women regardless of skin color, ethnicity or religion had an equal opportunity at the American dream. 

She worked for that vision of America and deserves a place in America’s patriotic history because of it. 

Jane Hampton Cook is a presidential historian and author of ten books, including her new book “Resilience on Parade: Short Stories of Suffragists & Women’s Battle for the Vote.” She was the first female White House webmaster (2001-03). 

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Donald Trump Jurists My Own Words Roe v. Wade Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court of the United States

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