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Thursday, October 19, 2017

WASHINGTON — Two waves broke this week: a pair of deaths on our national shore that changed everything. They are inseparable in the annals of our time. Goodbye to all that a Supreme Court Justice wrought, and the House of Bush brought.

If only it were that simple.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is dead at 79, the Dickensian, most opinionated character on the bench. Friends — many of whom knew him as an operagoer, a city denizen, and an avid socializer — called the father of nine children Nino. His burial is Saturday.

The “master of invective,” as one put it, Scalia was considered brilliant, and was often callous in withering dissents on, for example, gay marriage. Taking a dim view of President Obama’s lead in the delicate Paris Agreement on climate change, his last vote was to immobilize the emissions standards. How nice of five Republican men to disrespect the Democratic president in the world’s eyes. As it happens, the Folger Shakespeare Library is staging “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — fitting, considering Titania’s haunting lines that warn of global warming.

Nobody on the creamy marble Court was more polarizing since the Civil War. The unabashed carrier of the conservative cross, Scalia seldom let up on his pounding force and lashings, even in victory.

On “60 Minutes,” Scalia scolded half the American people, saying: “Get over it!” He referred to the infamous 2000 Supreme Court decision that swung the presidency from Al Gore to George W. Bush by one vote. He had a chance to be civil; he didn’t take it.

Meanwhile, the Bush dynasty hangs onto its last breath with Jeb Bush’s floundering presidential campaign. His brother, former President George W. Bush, left Texas to campaign, but the magic was missing. The 43rd president looked aged. Jeb has a penchant for saying their father, Bush senior, is the “greatest man alive,” or some such.

Here’s the double knell: The House of Bush is the House that Scalia built. At least, he was an architect. Now a tragic link ties those names together.

Their historical cadence will join other follies. “Sophocles long ago/Heard it on the Aegean,” English poet Matthew Arnold wrote in “Dover Beach.” Now I know what Arnold meant when he saw an elegiac sadness in ages and armies.

All we need to do is go back to 2000 — when our known world ended — when five Republican Supreme Court justices gave new meaning to “one man, one vote.” The deciding votes were out of the citizens’ hands; nine officials voted 5-to-4 — freezing a close vote count in Florida to determine the true winner. They shut democracy down.

That rude decision changed the course of the 21st century. George W. Bush swerved into war in Iraq, giving rise to ISIS today. Remind me: What were we fighting for? Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, were the pretext to war, when 19 men (15 Saudis) were hijackers in a clever plot. The unprepared U.S. Army and the American viceroy, Paul Bremer, destroyed civil society in Iraq. What a mess.

The Court outrage for the ages must not be forgot in Scalia’s dramatic death, political to the end. The decision is full of rich contradictions. Scalia, who often mocked “nine unelected lawyers” in democracy, sprang into action by stopping vote counting in Florida. The governor of Florida then was Jeb Bush. In unseemly partisanship, Scalia departed from his so-called “originalist doctrine” to strongly urge the Court to stop counting. He also abandoned his emphasis on states having a say in governance by shortchanging the Florida Supreme Court. Hs loyal colleague, Clarence Thomas, followed him every step — Thomas who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

Justice Scalia died on a West Texas luxury ranch during a hunting trip. His death was apt, given his pugilistic style in upholding gun rights and every conservative cause in creation. Washington can’t get over that he’s gone, friends and foes alike. The senior sitting justice loomed large as the fiercest player, in every word he spoke and wrote. The vacancy gives President Obama one more try to work his will on a hostile Senate.

It will take time for the country to heal from the bitter beginning of the 21st century that Scalia and the Bush dynasty gave us. And for the record, I will never get over it.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com.
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Photo: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks at an event sponsored by the Federalist Society at the New York Athletic Club in New York October 13, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz