Film Review: RBG

There are two quite wonderful documentaries floating around right now. One is about Fred Rogers, the longtime host of the PBS children’s series Mister Rogers Neighborhood. I saw that, and loved it. Simple question for anyone who saw the documentary or knew about Mister Rogers Neighborhood from its years on TV: would you rather hang out with Fred Rogers, or with anyone from the Trump administration? There you go.

The other wonderful documentary is RBG, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg wants to stay on the Court for another five years, until she’s 90. Please God she is able to do so.

There are many lingering sadnesses from Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016. One is that under a Clinton administration, Supreme Court nominees and federal judgeships would have reflected the fullness of American society, not the throwback conservative white men beloved by Trump and his base. I know firsthand from family members who are ardent Trump supporters that they hate being told they are trying to take the country back to the 1950’s, when white men ruled. I get that and yet — it pretty much looks like Trump’s base is most comfortable when white men rule. Just look at Trump’s judgeship nominations, and at the people he relies on in his cabinet. Then look at the women who stand blankly by his side with empty smiles and seemingly no role other than to look beautiful. I think they call it “arm candy”. Melania, anyone? Ivanka?

No one would have ever mistaken Ruth Bader Ginsburg for arm candy, even though she was beautiful as a young woman.

Ginsburg may be in the minority in the Court now, and for the rest of her tenure. But she’s not going to stand down without a fight. She was a quietly brilliant young student at Cornell, Harvard Law School and later Columbia. Unable to get a job with any major law firm in New York because law firms simply didn’t hire women, she took a job teaching law at Rutgers. She became a volunteer attorney for the ACLU, and was later named to the federal bench by President Carter. During the 1970’s, she argued cases before the Supreme Court six times, winning five, and basically changed the architecture of legal thinking to include protection of women’s rights under the 14th Amendment.

She is an icon of the women’s movement, then and now.

The documentary includes touching details about her more than 50 year marriage to Martin Ginsburg, who died in 2010. She has two adult offspring, and grandchildren who refer to her with the Yiddish “Bubbe”. She works all the time, and still has a prodigiously keen legal mind. She exercises with a trainer in the gym at the Supreme Court. She does pushups.

I feel an immense gratitude to Ginsburg, and an immense sadness that there will be no opening on the Court for the next Ruth Bader Ginsburg for decades. That means protection under the Constitution for women and minorities will certainly not advance, and may indeed retreat. Ginsburg reminds us in the film that the 1950’s were dark days too, with Senator Joseph McCarthy and his enablers finding communists hiding behind every door. She’s right, but it’s hardly a comforting comparison.

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