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RBG Is Dead, And Everything Is Going To Get So Much Worse

Under normal circumstances, the justice's death would be a time to consider her legacy. Instead, we’re bracing for the next worst thing.

Posted on September 21, 2020, at 5:51 p.m. ET

Alex Wong / Getty Images

A brief recap of the last few weeks, to remind you that time doesn’t matter anymore: Jacob Blake was shot by police on Aug. 23. On Aug. 28, Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer at only 43. Massive wildfires triggered evacuations of thousands of people on the West Coast, starting on Sept. 4. Schools reopened nationwide at the beginning of the month, and with them a rise in infections and more deaths. Bob Woodward wrote another useless book, quoting the president as having not only known that COVID-19 was bad, but that he “wanted to play it down.” On Sept. 14, a whistleblower complaint alleged that women in ICE custody were receiving unwanted hysterectomies. Then, on Sept. 18, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, leaving a seat open on the Supreme Court 46 days before the next presidential election. The next day, according to some estimates, the coronavirus death toll in the United States passed 200,000.

We just don’t have the time to process like we used to.

What’s the point of this recap? Consider it a reminder that there seems to be no time to pause for a moment and grieve. Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who many felt was holding America together, died on Friday, but it feels like we’ve all aged a couple of years in one weekend. Under normal circumstances, we would take the next week to meditate on her legacy. There would be the requisite takes about her greatness, her position as a pop culture fixture, supercuts of Kate McKinnon playing her on Saturday Night Live, and questions around her complicated legacy. In fairness, some of that is still happening now, but the tone is markedly different. We just don’t have the time to process like we used to.

There’s hardly any time to appropriately process Ginsburg’s legacy, the good (she fought for women to have the right to sign their own mortgage) or the bad (her record with Indigenous people and their land rights was garbage). Instead, we have to prepare for the next onslaught, the next grand indignity. What’ll it be, I wonder? More stories of alleged foreign interference in this year’s election, perhaps with the goal to have the US become a Russian franchise, like the opposite of when a Burger King opens abroad? Sentient rats that start taking over all the bodegas in my neighborhood, maybe replacing my preferred chip selection (jalapeño, of course) with their own (I can only imagine rats prefer Classic Lay’s)?

In 2020, a death like Ginsburg’s means a renewed sense of dread. Her death at any other moment would have invariably meant a likely protracted fight around appointing a new justice to her chair, but would it have felt like the end of the world? In another timeline, RBG dying less than two months before one of the most important elections in the history of the country’s time as a “democracy” would be the nadir. Instead, it’s just another day in 2020, the year that made 2019 seem cute. There have been obituaries and thinkpieces about her — including this one, I guess — but none of them are really just about her. Instead, they’re meditations on what her death will mean for those of us who are still very much alive.

On Twitter, on the night of her death, some were concerned it was “too soon” to talk about the ramifications of Ginsburg’s death — and her failure to protect certain Americans — but taking time to consider the enormity of a world event is now a long-lost indulgence. There are many valid criticisms to make of RBG, but who has the time to consider them when Sens. Tom Cotton and Ted “Zodiac” Cruz are just around the corner, like the hyenas in The Lion King, hungry for her vacant seat.

Time to grieve is now a luxury for those who don’t need to stay vigilant for the next attack on our health, on our laws, on our sense of safety. The day after Ginsburg died, there was a mass shooting in Rochester, New York, which killed two teenagers and injured 14 others. Who has the time to think that hard and that long about her life? All we can worry about is what her death will mean for those of us unlucky enough to have to suffer the consequences.

It’s that foreboding feeling we’ve all had a million times in 2020: Yes, this is very bad, but that just means it’s about to get worse. Nothing that’s happened this year has been adequately reflected upon, adjusted, or fixed for the future; even attempts to record it have been lackluster because there just isn’t enough time. Since the coronavirus forced everyone to stay home in March, despair over the consistent bleakness of current events has been at an all-time high.

It’s just another day in 2020, the year that made 2019 seem cute.

And that timeline I gave at the beginning of this article? That’s just an extremely short list of current events in the US that most have some awareness of, even if we don’t remember exactly when they happened. It doesn’t account for the personal toll of this uniquely depressing year, for the people personally affected by those COVID-19 deaths, for the funerals that no one could attend, for debt racked up after months of being unable to work, for every anxiety attack provoked by a news notification on your phone (although anyone with their push notifications turned on is a glutton for punishment). It doesn’t account for the hurricanes or derechos your town may have been hit with, or the smoke-filled air that makes it impossible to breathe outside. It doesn’t account for personal tragedies: layoffs or breakups or forced moves, or just the inability to hug your parents during a time when a hug is so desperately needed. The news events of this year so far have been insurmountably tragic, never mind the personal ones, plunging all of us into a panic response that leaves no processing time.

Maybe next year we’ll have the time. Maybe in 2021 we’ll find a few moments to think about what Ginsburg gave us and what she didn’t, just like we might have the time to think about what hundreds of thousands of coronavirus deaths — and counting — looks and feels like in this country.

Maybe we’ll have time to think about all the little losses we’ve suffered this year, from our favorite bars closing to everything we didn’t get to do this summer, and we’ll try to get some of it back. But for now it feels like there’s no time and there’s no room, because there isn’t. The time we would normally spend licking our wounds is now time needed to prepare for the next onslaught of bad news. There is no flight option anymore — we’re not supposed to travel, remember? — which leaves fight as the only option, making for an exhausted, frustrated populace that doesn’t often get the time to grieve their innumerable losses.

It’s been three days since Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. There are no shortages of shoes to drop. Don’t get too comfortable; the next one is coming any minute. ●

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