Thistlethwaite: Ketanji Brown Jackson and the joy of democracy


Opinion: Susan Thistlethwaite


I am fizzing inside with happiness that Ketanji Brown Jackson has been confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. It is a sign to me that perhaps, just perhaps, we can live up to the promise of democracy.


There is a struggle for the identity of this nation going on. Will we be a multi-racial, participatory democracy or a white supremacist autocracy? Those two possibilities are alive today. Just look at the flags carried by those who attacked our nation’s Capitol building.

But I am happy today. There is a “nevertheless.” As Sen. Cory Booker said at the contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for the appointment of Judge Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, “Nobody’s stealing my joy.


Said Booker: “And I want to tell you, when I look at you, this is why I get emotional. I’m sorry, you’re a person that is so much more than your race and gender. You’re a Christian, you’re a mom, you’re an intellect, you love books. But for me, I’m sorry, it’s hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom, not to see my cousins, one of them who had to come here and sit behind you. She had to have your back. I see my ancestors and yours. Nobody’s going to steal the joy of that woman in the street, or the calls that I’m getting, or the texts. Nobody’s going to steal that joy. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.”

Booker’s joy is particular. He sees his mom, his family, his ancestors. There is tremendous power in that history and identity that cannot be overstated.


My joy is more general, and Booker names it as well. This woman is a “great American.” There are still great Americans and we must hold them up and shine lights on them.

We must highlight these great Americans because the “joy stealers” are going out of their way to wreck this country. They engage not only in partisan attacks, but partisan attacks based on half-truths and downright lies.


Over and over, Judge Brown Jackson was attacked over her sentencing on child pornography offenders, especially (though not exclusively) by Sen. Josh Hawley. But no less than the conservative National Review published an article by Andrew McCarthy entitled “Senator Hawley’s disingenuous attack against Judge Jackson’s record on child pornography.”

While saying he opposes Judge Jackson for other reasons, “For now, I wanted to discuss the claim by Sen. Josh Hawley that Judge Jackson is appallingly soft on child pornography offenders. The allegations appear meritless to the point of demagoguery.”


I believe that these attacks regarding child pornography were not only political demagoguery, they were “dog whistles” to the QAnon conspiracists who circulate these kinds of absolutely baseless allegations.


If you don’t know QAnon, lucky you. It is a widening conspiracy theory that Democrats, liberals, and basically anyone that these ultra-right-wing conservatives don’t like are responsible for a global pedophile cabal. Nutty as it may sound, this is a threat to our democracy.


Promoting conspiracy theories is downright dangerous, as the American Society of Psychiatry and the Law argues in providing information to therapists who encounter this conspiracy among their patients.


The repeated and baseless questions of Judge Brown Jackson on pedophilia were political pandering to such conspiracists. This goes beyond partisan politics and moves into the realm of deliberate subversion of our regular democratic processes. It was abhorrent.

Judge Brown Jackson did an exceptional job of fielding these off-the-wall accusations with facts and reasoned analysis.


But how long can that last in our politics? Will the dangerous demagoguery increase to such an extent that it overwhelms reasoned discourse? I fear that.


But for now, I’m happy. I’m really, really happy.


The demagogues, the racists, the political panderers did not win this week.


And nobody can steal our joy in that.


Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.

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