On Saturday, the country was stunned when reports began to surface saying that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had passed away at the age of 79.
Well, at least part of the country was stunned.
Another, uncomfortably large, percentage of the country decided that his death was cause for celebration and rejoicing. This kind of rhetoric is not acceptable and should be swiftly condemned if there is to be any hope for any kind of political compromise in the future.
When Osama Bin Laden was killed in 2011, many on the left were quick to condemn people for celebrating the death of a man whose life mission was to destroy Western Civilization and kill as many Americans as possible. Americans who (understandably!) were feeling relief over his death were tsk tsk’d for daring to be happy that a man who killed thousands of innocents was finally no longer residing on earth.
Compare the reaction and moral pooh-poohing from the left to the celebrations of the death of Bin Laden to the celebrations by people who identify as liberal that occurred online following the death of Scalia. His Wikipedia page was immediately vandalized. Twitter became a figurative dumpster fire. At least one journalist tweeted (and eventually deleted) a party popper emoji in celebration, along with a message that she was “literal lol” (laughing out loud) at reports of his death. A word cloud of reactions to his death on Twitter had “racist” and “bigot” as the top two words, followed closely by “evil” and “homophobe.” Charming.
Twitter expressed its condolences to Justice Scalia yesterday pic.twitter.com/8yUH3A6Nm8
— Doug Saunders (@DougSaunders) February 14, 2016
Others were hoping that Scalia would be immediately sent to hell, and, even ghastlier, wished for the death of fellow Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Twitter with such frequency that his name was a trending topic for most of Saturday. It’s one thing to express happiness over the passage of someone, but to actively wish death upon someone else because you disagree with their interpretation of the law? Disgusting.
And yes, conservatives do deserve at least some criticism for jumping to politicize his death. However, to equate saying that “hey, let’s hope the president appoints a Constitutional originalist to replace him” with “LOL BURN IN HELL YOU RACIST BIGOT HOPE YOUR FRIEND CLARENCE DIES TOO” is a stretch.
This type of rhetoric doesn’t bode well for the future of this country. Platforms like Twitter give an average Joe the ability to have their comments on politics read by a much larger audience, and that’s a double-edged sword. While on one hand, it’s a good thing that political commentary is no longer dominated by elites, on the other, this allows for a level of extreme ugliness to rise to the surface. This rhetoric is only going to divide the country further and impede any chance of people learning to get along with people they disagree with instead of just name calling. Studies have shown that people are increasingly likely to unfriend or block a friend online over political differences. (Heck, there are even published guides on how to filter out friends who like certain Facebook pages.) That’s sad. Political beliefs should not be the entirety of one’s being, and one would hope that humanity would have matured past this. Unfortunately, I only see the opposite happening, and I don’t see any signs of the situation improving.
The irony in all of this is that one of Scalia’s closest friends was his political opposite: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Scalia and Ginsburg only voted together a handful of times, yet remained extremely close and were able to see past each other’s ideological differences. We should look to them as an example as how to act when someone with whom we disagree with passes away. Ginsburg’s statement on Scalia’s death was touching, classy, and heartfelt. We should aspire to be like that–not tweet happy emojis or death wishes for his ideological partners.
Dancing on someone’s grave does nothing to further the political process, and it makes me frustrated and sad to see this takes place. While this isn’t the first time that the internet has erupted with glee over the passing of a conservative figure, chances are slim that this will be the last. And that’s a shame. If there is to be any kind of political harmony in the future, a modicum of respect is needed.