The only surprise — or maybe it’s the least surprising thing — is that he didn’t nominate a woman.
It would have been a canny and dastardly Supreme Court pick. For the past few days it seemed possible — likely — that President Trump would nominate Amy Coney Barrett, an extreme religious conservative, to do the dirty work of bringing the ax down on Roe v. Wade, and with it women’s legal right to terminate their pregnancies. She’s a beloved favorite with the far right, and was set up to become a star. And the woman willing to do the job of punishing other women is, after all, a storied figure.
There were the anti-suffragist women, and anti-feminists like Rose Wilder Lane, and perhaps most famously Phyllis Schlafly, the woman who led the ultimately successful charge to kill the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982, yet was never afforded any political power of her own within the Republican Party (for which I say an eternal prayer of thanks, with a grateful nod to sexism on the right so bad that it kept a party from recognizing one of its most gruesomely talented leaders). Look too to Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Kirstjen Nielsen or Kellyanne Conway, the women Trump puts out front to give public voice to the power abuses he’s enacting on women and immigrants and African-Americans and the Earth. Get a woman to do it! And make sure it’s the kind of woman that Trump and his party value: a white woman. The kind who can be made out to be vulnerable, a victim of the masses whose rights and protections she’s working to strip-mine.
It would have been the smart move, enough to prompt at least a week’s worth of head-scratching by the slower members of the political press: If it’s a woman, can she be anti-woman? (Of course she fucking can; this is how it works.)
But in the end Trump couldn’t do it, and went with Brett Kavanaugh instead. Perhaps because he wanted to stick the knife in deeper, save Barrett up as a bitter one-fingered salute to feminists should he get a chance to replace Ginsburg. But my guess is that it’s precisely because he knew on some level that Barrett might have become her own star, her grim power far exceeding his own, stretching miserably over generations. He couldn’t have that.
Trump needed this moment to be the affirmation of what he ultimately values more than even a compliant white woman: himself, and grand, stupid displays of his own power. So he staged his reality show, made a beauty-pageant buildup for a prime-time showcase of what is in this instance his truly immense and punishing might: the ability to reshape this nation’s future, to enact harm on millions. Not just by banning abortion, though yes, that’s what’s likely to happen. But also, by tripping the wire that will lead to restrictions on contraception, the grave rolling back of voting and collective-bargaining rights, of gay marriage, of affirmative action, of immigration and environmental protections; the shrinking of individuals’ rights in exchange for the expansion of corporate freedoms.
This is the power that the Electoral College afforded Donald Trump and tonight he got to put it on display, a big-boy demonstration of his tiny-fisted potency.
And so when the moment came to pick the person who’d be the symbolic embodiment of his grotesque legacy, Trump couldn’t do anything but select someone in whom he could see his own ruddy-faced reflection. (And who, not for nothing, has an extensive paper trail exhibiting his dedication to not indicting a sitting president, and works therefore to protect and bolster Trump’s grip on power.)
The person who the simple-minded patriarch chose to be the tool with which he’d protect himself while enacting harm on nonwhite, non-male, non-rich America, the guy who’ll do the dirty work of making the vulnerable more vulnerable and the invulnerable even more so is a white man. Of course he is.
The specter who’s about to change our future will look just like America’s past. It may or may not be smart. But at least it’s honest.