Amy Coney Barrett speaks after being introduced by President Donald Trump at the White House Sept. 26. CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

Charles Lewis: Barrett a ray of hope in divided America

  • October 15, 2020

The United States is in the midst of political crisis; divisions among Americans are at a fever pitch. I do not think the country has been this polarized since the Vietnam War era.

The presidential debate in September was a troubling reminder of how bad things have gotten. Never in my life did I think two candidates for president would end up in a screaming match. Anyone who tuned in looking for answers and hope was terribly disappointed. Thirty minutes is all I could take. I found it embarrassing and discouraging. It was a disgrace.

The old idea of “we’re all in this together” has been replaced by the shout, “It’s all your fault!”

But there are some things out of this morass that gives me hope. A seed planted for better days ahead.

One of the sore points has been Trump’s nomination of federal judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The Democrats were furious, and I think they had a point, that in 2016 the Republican- held Senate refused to hold a hearing to consider Obama’s nominee. The stated reason, by several Republican senators and Trump, was there should be no nomination of a Supreme Court justice in an election year.

Still, Americans will be lucky to have her on the bench. She is a highly respected jurist and deeply religious Catholic. She does not hide her faith to be politically presentable. This is not just a model for Catholics but for all religious people.

She will be the greatest of pro-life allies while at the same time understanding how divided Americans are. She has a beautiful family with seven children, two of whom, Vivian and John Peter, were adopted children from Haiti. The youngest son, Benjamin, has Down syndrome. She is a living testament to what it means to live the pro-life ethos to the full.

My friend Fr. Raymond de Souza wrote a beautiful tribute to Barrett in the National Post recently. He included this quote from Barrett speaking of her adopted daughter Vivian:

“Vivian was 14 months old when she came home, and she couldn’t make any sounds at that point, nor could she pull herself up to a standing position, because she was just so malnourished,” Barrett said. “At the time they told us they just weren’t sure whether she would speak. She had been so sick she hadn’t had a lot of practice making sounds and hadn’t been spoken to a lot. She had rickets so her legs were kind of bowed out.”

Fr. Ray added: “The Barretts were told that Vivian might never walk. They loved her back to health and now, at 16, she runs track and field. Judge Barrett calls Vivian ‘our miracle.’ ”

This next line from his column shows why her addition to the court is necessary: “Enthusiasm for eugenic abortion, racial and genetic, has a long history. Planned Parenthood, on racial grounds, just disavowed its founder, Margaret Sanger, who thought abortion would be good to keep down the number of Black children. That view today still prevails regarding special-needs children. There are elements of the abortion industry that are terrified at what a future Justice Barrett might think of those arguments. It’s a new, diverse experience that will be welcome on the court.”

I watched Barrett’s speech after being nominated. What impressed me was her tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Barrett and Ginsburg would not have agreed on much. Though Barrett had the grace to praise Ginsburg for the good she did, especially in clearing the way for American women to advance to greater levels of service.

She looked past Ginsburg’s view on abortion to seek the good and the positive. We are all not one single issue.

Most know that Ginsburg and the late Justice Antonin Scalia became close friends despite the clash of their ideologies. Their ability to see each other as decent people actually became a 2015 opera Scalia/Ginsburg.

More remarkable was the story of how Scalia took Ginsburg on a hunting trip. To put it bluntly, there are not many Jewish women from Brooklyn who hunt.

But such was their friendship that she trusted Scalia.

To many on the left and right, both would be considered sellouts. That is the price one pays for seeing the person instead of the ideology. Their friendship showed their ability to listen with an open heart.

I hope Barrett builds on that example. In fact, I am sure she will.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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