BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, 83-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (pictured) was interviewed on BBC Newsnight in late February and declared, “The true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle. It is the pendulum. And when the pendulum swings too far in one direction it will go back … we are not experiencing the best of times, but there’s hope in seeing how the public is reacting to it.”
Bader Ginsburg is obviously a progressive – generally viewed as belonging to the liberal wing of the US Supreme Court. Before becoming a judge, Ginsburg spent a considerable portion of her legal career as an advocate for the advancement of women’s rights and advocated as a volunteer lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
I was in hospital during the Ginsburg interview having just undergone a knee operation called an osteotomy. Stuck on my back in a hospital bed – immobile and unable to sleep – Ginsburg’s words bounced around my head and her angry shiny eyes had caught my retina. I mulled over her pendulum metaphor as a way of encapsulating America’s current state. And her parallel really bothered me; it just seemed so clumsy and lazy; it didn’t seem to make any sense at all.
While Obama tried to take the United States to the left in so many ways, he failed to achieve anything of any lasting significance because of the impasse caused by Republicans who filibustered everything in the Senate and who voted against almost everything he proposed in the House. So, for the Trump White House, according to the pendulum model, to be where Ginsburg thinks it should be – way out on the right – Obama would have had to have taken the US way out to the left without resistance. The evidence is simply not there to say he did.
Perhaps Bader Ginsburg meant that Trump is initiating the extreme? I pondered the physics:
Two dominant forces (air resistance is a negligible third) act upon a pendulum bob at all times during the course of its motion. Gravity acts downward on the bob. It results from the Earth’s mass attracting the mass of the bob. A tension force acts upward and towards the pivot point of the pendulum. The tension force results from the string pulling upon the bob of the pendulum.
So, if Bader Ginsburg’s pendulum metaphor is credible, and Trump is way out on the right of US politics without resistance (the Republicans control the legislature and, in general, seem willing to do business with Trump) then US Politics is heading back in the near future, perhaps after one Trump/Pence term, to Bernie Sanders way out there on the left.
Again, this simply lacks credibility. Those who still feel the Bern in the US are proportionally as few and far between as Corbynistas over here. Bernie seems as busted a flush as Hillary.
I started to feel short-changed by Bader Ginsburg. I had a temperature. Her metaphor started annoying me. While she was a useful distraction from my pain, her metaphor did nothing to assuage my growing sense of frustration at cold sweats and feeling pinned down in my hospital bed.
My high tibial osteotomy – involving a forced break of my right tibia by surgeons to realign my leg’s weight bearing line – is known to be one of the most painful knee surgeries around. Rugby was to blame – I tore my right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) as a nineteen year old playing good rugby before retiring from rather more average rugby aged 37. Now, in my early forties, I was too young for a knee replacement so an osteotomy was the alternative option. The operation redirected the weight bearing line in my right knee away from the inner knee (reduced to an agonising detritus of bone scraping bone and arthritis) and to the outer knee where arthritis had stayed away. The idea being that the osteotomy would give me 10 to 15 years before succumbing to a full-on knee replacement; allowing me to continue collecting rugby coaching badges and be able to run around again with my kids and reassume certain career tasks I had to delegate of late.
And then, at a temperature of 101, it occurred to me: America is no pendulum. It’s my right knee.
In the early 90’s my ACL went – while the US rustbelt bedded in, faced with cheap imports from Japan, technology advances and a move out West of heavy industry from Trump states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana.
Over the years, economic decline, population loss, and urban decay set in as a generation passed. Just as my right knee – displaced by the lack of an ACL – resulted in a wearing down of the left side of my right knee joint on account of daily usage leading to the onset of an angry and painful arthritis, which prevented me scaling the physical heights of years gone by amidst a growing frustration.
In November 2016 I confirmed with my knee surgeon that I should proceed with the osteotomy just as the forgotten people of the rust belt in the United States yoked themselves amidst hope and desperation to Donald Trump’s campaign to be President. I signed on the dotted line for the operation in late November in my 45th year just as American voters voted in Trump as their 45th President.
The weight bearing line on my right leg has shifted somewhat to the right – to a place it’s not been before – and is fixed there by several pins and a plate for ten to fifteen years (not made in Russia but in the US), just as the direction of American politics seems now fixed with Trump for two terms if he does what he promises, followed perhaps by a Pence single term. The arthritis on the inner knee has been cleaned out and the ACL remnants tidied up, just as Trump has thrown out Obamacare and seeks to extricate Obama acolytes from US Government departments and the US security apparatus. The pain that such a radical political operation causes has been met with enraged resistance – just as the osteotomy has caused severe swelling and considerable pain to me as I embark on a 6 month, uphill recuperation, starting with baby steps and the occasional tumble from my crutches. Though still painful now, the swelling in my knee has decreased over time.
The risks of an osteotomy are a rejection of the metal plate by my body and/or the surgical area can become infected. The Democrats desperately hope that Trump’s Presidency gets blown apart by toxic Russian links or business corruption and he gets impeached. If any infection does not respond to antibiotics, another surgery or series of surgeries may be required. Pence may end up taking over as Trump’s appointees continue to tumble in the face of resistance from a hostile mainstream media and Obama apparatchiks fearing a culling. Trump’s lack of political experience may result in him failing to make the political office of President as effective as he and his supporters hope – just as the bones snapped open at the osteotomy site may fail to grow together and heal.
Barring infection, a continuation of my healing process seems most likely. I have been told by the medical experts to hold back on high impact activities for a year. Meanwhile Trump’s early slew of executive orders surprised many, although most agree that the high impact plans he has for the US cost serious money and for that money to be forthcoming from Congress there will need to be at least a year that passes.
In the late 2020’s my osteotomy is made redundant. My right knee will be replaced and a whole new weight bearing line will come into play along my right leg. Just as US politics by then will be reset – not according to the laws of physics of Bader Ginsburg metaphors but according to the weight-bearing will of the Great American People.
Understanding one concept in terms of another – the metaphor – depends on parameters which are often beyond one’s control.
“Do you want more morphine?” asked pretty Nurse Rocio.
“Oh, go on then,” I smiled and the grimace on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s face soon evaporated, along with all parameters.