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2020 has been spectacularly tragic, with its death and unexpected chain of events. Many of us are hesitant to turn on the news. Each new day has been unpredictable and frightening, making real our worst existential fears like a collection of Stephen King novels come to life.

The year started to slide off the cliff in February with the untimely and tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and the other passengers on a helicopter flight over the mountains of Calabasas, California. In hindsight, Kobe’s passing was the opening act in the year of spectacularly tragic, death and dying. 

COVID-19 and the economic calamity that followed sits in the saddle of a trojan horse, releasing man-made and natural disasters. Twenty-first-century lynchings at the hands of the police unleashed the plaintive screams and cries of protest in Americans over the racist, murderous predilections of the police. Deeper psychic wounds manifested an increase in wonton violence in communities of color like a recurring and metastasizing cancer. 

Catastrophic wildfires engulfed the West Coast, and hurricanes and flooding on the East Coast, bookended the country. All of this happened as the president told lies, making ludicrous statements that flew in the face of science and hard facts as he funneled our concerns, fears and hopes through the sieve of political calculus. He downplayed America’s state of emergency in behest of getting another four years in the White House.

I was writing this piece when NPR aired a breaking news alert that elicited an inaudible, “Oh no!” from me. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was dead at 87 years old. RBG, the defender of rights for the least of us is gone. I tuned into news outlets for what I knew would be the politicization of her passing at a time when the celebration of her life — a life lived so well — was the antidote for our grief. 

We can worry after the funeral about the vacant seat on the high court. Let Donald Trump — frothing from the mouth in his insistence that a conservative Supreme Court nominee be immediately vetted and confirmed — wait until she is buried before he shamelessly uses the vacant seat on the SCOTUS to mine the electorate for votes. Mitch McConnell said he would put the confirmation on the floor for a vote as soon as a nominee was selected despite the hypocrisy, clear to all who remember Merrick Garland. 

Justice Ginsburg stayed on the bench to ensure the court had ideological balance. It was one of her last wishes that her seat on the high court be vacant until after the 2020 election. But our comings and going to and from this life offered no fealty to the machinations of men, good or bad. Even though it is my intent here to excoriate the politicization of Justice Bader’s passing, I am all too aware of the importance of her passing relative to the 2020 presidential contest.

In almost every challenge America faces, the patina of race and class rusts through to the innards of our consciousness on both sides of our collective left and right brains on everything from race to climate change. Race, bigotry, xenophobia, bias, prejudice, tribalism, class and money, all seem to have claimed a space in the consideration of our politics, law, economics and the general welfare of the masses. Sometimes those considerations have an obtuseness that seems inseparable from the issues. 

Cable news personalities question politicians and their spokespeople about the absurdity of their positions not in the interest of the greater good but to let them equivocate, pivot and parry. 

There are lines that should not be crossed, but those lines have been crossed so many times we no longer know where those lines begin and end.

I have extreme difficulty understanding how anyone of any political, racial, social or religious affiliation can countenance the present lack of leadership, lies and apathy that has resulted in the deaths of more than two-hundred thousand Americans. 

I am neither Democrat nor Republican. If I could vote, I would vote my conscience. I am persuaded by science, truth, equity and justice, as these are principles I had to reconcile regarding my former participation as a citizen. I am affected by much of what happens to people who live outside my bubble. I had COVID-19 in March and just stopped having post COVID-19 symptoms recently. My family members are essential workers on the front lines. My aging mother has COPD. 

America is my home. I want the best for America though I fear she does not always feel the same about me. I have a vested interest in what happens to us Americans. For all the reasons stated here, I pray and hope every able-bodied American goes to the polls and votes their conscience.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Reginald Stephen is a writer incarcerated in New York.