The inevitable swearing in of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court happened this week. I say inevitable not because I’m defeatist; there really was no stopping it. We couldn’t block him even with the filibuster, and it was simply inevitable that unless it was discovered he secretly performed abortions and used the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in a tweet, the Republicans were going to get their way.
Lots of folks have warned us that Gorsuch will be worse than Antonin Scalia for progressive causes, and there have been plenty of other folks who have tried to paint a much softer picture of him, even pointing out he has close LGBT friends. Some have noted that he would have affirmed same-sex marriage, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a conservative — and that’s the point. There’s always going to be conservatives; they’re not going anywhere.
When testifying on his stance on marriage equality, Gorsuch said that he had no interest in taking the country back to “the age of the horse and buggy.” He said he viewed the Fourteenth Amendment and its Equal Protection Clause as precedent for granting the right of same-sex marriage, and that while some of the people who wrote the Constitution were racists and/or sexists, the fact they guaranteed equal protection is what matters. To be fair, this is a lot more liberal a viewpoint than Scalia’s. Then again, Scalia was so focused on the original intent of the writers of the Constitution and amendments that Samuel Alito snarked about it during a case argument on video games with “I think what Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games.”
But this doesn’t change the fact that Gorsuch has voted to allow discrimination to occur against women in the name of religious freedom, a very shaky position to take as it can lead to all sorts of discriminatory behaviors — what if a Christian doesn’t want to sell a cake to a Jew, or a Protestant to a Catholic? While Gorsuch may not be as conservative as Scalia (who is?), he still is one.
There’s long been talk among the left that a big leap forward for civil rights and improving race relations in America will come when “the older racist generation dies off.” That’s terrible thinking and it ignores a truth — we have seen, over time, where many conservatives have become more liberal on race issues, at least in the long view of history. I know there is still racial bias in this country, but that’s my point. The conservatives of today, at least generally, aren’t in favor of bringing back slavery or Jim Crow laws, and certainly wouldn’t support open anti-Semitism or racism. This is about the part where a few of you stop reading and head to comment section to begin your rant about how awful I am (still, those folks are better than the ones who read the title and skip the article). Conservative ideologies have generally shifted to what a person in the 1950s would consider more liberal in some ways and yes, gotten more conservative in others, like providing social safety nets for the poor. Some modern conservatives have veiled some of their biases and prejudices behind dog whistles, but a vast majority are just as horrified at the idea of segregation as any liberal is.
Still, the change in thinking and ideology is not happening fast enough, but the idea of “waiting for them to die off” is wrong-headed. Firstly, because as we have seen in the recent presidential election, new bigots are born every day. There’s no shortage of #MAGA hashtags and Pepe the Frogs being produced by young people who are more brazen in their bigotry than at any point in my lifetime. Bigotry and its marriage with conservativism isn’t going away, because our world keeps producing new racists and homophobes; you can partly blame our nation’s disinterest in proper education.
Additionally, and this is important to remember, what is liberal and progressive is seen as conservative, reactionary, and/or regressive later. I’m personally big on freedom of speech and don’t support the idea of violently disrupting “discomforting speech,” especially on campus. For a lot of liberals and progressives, this is seen as a conservative and problematic position to take, and many would paint me as a bad person for this. This always amuses me because it ignores my other political views as well as the fact that many of the people who also advocate this position who are older than me are also further to the left of me. I’ve seen articles about the campus free speech issue that feature old hippies from the 1960s who conducted sit-ins, protested the war in Vietnam, brawled in the streets of Chicago, and established the Free Speech Movement. Now many are stunned that younger people have these views about restricting the speech of someone like alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos.
Younger folks often have positions they view as the most liberal and progressive in the course of history, positions that supplanted the ones that came before them. That may be so, but the next generation will likely out-liberal them before they too eventually take a turn to the right as their lives grow more settled and secure. Some of the raised fists of the ’60s have fallen victim to the simple march of time and are now, for many, the problematic conservatives.
So we must give up the notion that characters like Trump and Pence will disappear and electing someone like Sen. Kamala Harris — a liberal woman of color from California — to the highest office will be a cinch. Whether they retweet racist frogs or have simply fallen behind the times, conservatives are going to be with us for perpetuity. We have to educate them, especially those who insist on holding on to truly backward viewpoints, without letting them off the hook. Conservatives should be judged not by how much they’ve evolved from the horrific beliefs and actions of their predecessors, but by our progressive positions today.*
*Progressive positions may vary by education, race, gender, sexuality, income, location, and life experience. Please consult other position holder for intersectional details. Offer void during Twitter fights.
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @EternalKerri.