History is important. It matters. An absence of knowledge of history opens people up to abusive manipulations of historical fact in favor of fiction—and that is a potentially very dangerous thing.
Take Saturday Night Live for example. Last week it did a (tasteless) skit portraying 85-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Justice Ginsberg has led a remarkable life that includes more than 25-years as a member of the Supreme Court. There was something glaringly wrong with the SNL skit though. Something I consider to be critically important. During the performance, the Ginsberg character (who was predictably mocking Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh) referred to “breaking the glass ceiling.” The audience cheered. That cheering was for a patently false implication that Ginsberg was the first female member of the Court.
That honor goes to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, appointed to the Court more than a decade before Justice Ginsberg and by a Republican president, Ronald Reagan. O’Connor was the true trailblazer, not only for her own remarkable life and years of service but also for her willingness to retire at 76 when, in part, she felt she might no longer be able to review and rule on cases with the speed and clarity that all-important job requires. (If only other members of the Court and Congress would follow that example!)
Sandra Day O’Connor broke the Supreme Court’s glass ceiling, not Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and yet when has anyone heard that mentioned recently via the Mainstream News or the entertainment industry? (I know, it’s getting tougher and tougher to tell those two things apart these days.) Is it because O’Connor saw her job on the Court not as something symbolic but simply as something judicial? She consistently pushed aside the “first woman on the Court” accolades. She wanted to be recognized for her ability to rule on sound Constitutional principles, not as someone who reflects back the ever-changing image of popular opinion. She wished to be known and respected as a Supreme Court Justice—period.
“The power I exert on the court depends on the power of my arguments, not on my gender.” -Sandra Day O’Connor
The writers of SNL are either ignorant of American history, or willfully negligent of its truth. It is one or the other. The inserting of the topic of a glass ceiling into a Ruth Bader Ginsberg skit might seem a small thing, but it isn’t. The breaking of that glass ceiling was a significant moment in American history – one that belongs to Sandra Day O’Connor, Ronald Reagan, and all those who recognized then what a momentous occasion it was even as the ever-humble O’Connor herself tried to downplay it.
Saturday Night Live is guilty of abusing that history, lying about it, neglecting its truth, and in doing so, spreading a falsehood.
I have to think Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg would never approve of such a thing.
D.W. Ulsterman is an author, educator, socio-political commentator, and the creator of the popular San Juan Islands Mystery series.
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