U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away unexpectedly yesterday (Saturday).
Maybe I’d better clarify something right away, to avoid giving the wrong impression. I was not one of Justice Scalia’s supporters. I believe his views were motivated by hate, and he may have had a mental illness which should have precluded practicing law in the first place.
I don’t like to speak ill of the dead. Unless people have to be alerted to something important, saying bad things about a person who can no longer defend himself is pointless. It can also blow up in your face, which I’ll explain at the end of this post.
Now it’s time to clarify something else. My immediate reaction to Justice Scalia’s death wasn’t compassionate. My first thought was President Obama would have an opportunity to nominate someone more level-headed, and that would be in the best interest of the Court and the United States.
I wasn’t ready to run outside and look for one of those oversized plastic celebration horns you can hear all over the neighborhood, though. That wouldn’t have been an appropriate reaction to anyone’s death.
Yesterday, Twitter turned into the equivalent of the loud, obscene horn. Lots of blowing (pun intended). A GIF of Ding-Dong, The Witch Is Dead from The Wizard Of Oz began circulating.
We don’t need any of this schoolyard-level crap. Scholars and some journalists have already documented Justice Scalia’s unprofessional background on the Court, and they should. Historians (the ones who don’t work as Fox News commentators) will be brutal to him just by recording the truth, which future generations are entitled to hear. It isn’t as if anyone needs to blow the whistle (or the fart horn) immediately after this man’s death to tell us he had no integrity.
Twitter’s 140 character limit isn’t kind to anyone trying to present a reasoned argument. Wrong impressions are made often, and personally I’ve regretted posting some tweets that were misinterpreted. That didn’t stop me from speaking out yesterday, though.
I have a primary, private Twitter account which is separate from the @HCwrites account associated with this blog. It isn’t locked, though, so anyone can see the posts.
I wish I’d kept screenshots of an exchange with a stranger over Scalia’s passing. I had posted something to the effect that people should show more class after a death. Then someone who probably disliked the late Justice as much as I did replied with a personal insult suggesting I wouldn’t know class if it bit me in the ass.
I believe — although I’m not sure — that Twitter user mistook my post as support for a right-wing activist jurist. Well, when you’re stuck with 140 characters…
I should have known better than to react the way I did. Presently, I’m reading So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson, which includes horrifying examples of people being harassed on social media in ways out of proportion with their offenses.
My reaction was prompted by exasperation and general disgust. I RT’d the abusive tweet, and typed a comment with it. I called the user an “a-hole,” and added that he and I were free to insult each other, but why bother?
My retweet and comment didn’t just sling it back at him. It also dismissed his so-called valuable opinion. Predictably, he blocked me, so his comment disappeared from the retweet. I deleted the rest of the post a few minutes later.
Spending hours at the computer and trying to argue against hostility must have worn down my patience. Retweeting the a-hole’s post wasn’t something I’d ordinarily do. It felt as if others’ graceless behavior was rubbing off on me.
We learn through experience and observation. I probably won’t make that mistake again. The wise thing to do would have been to ignore the abusive tweet, and if I heard from him again I could quietly block him. I’ll remember that.
One more thought on the topic of how we conduct ourselves after the death of someone we don’t respect: If Fox News wants to hold a panel discussion on the alleged inelegant behavior of Antonin Scalia’s detractors, all they need to do is type the hashtag #Scalia in the Twitter search space and they’ll have all the documentation they need. People who crudely spoke their minds about the late Justice’s bad character may have played right into the hands of reactionary media.