Scalia is at pains to say that none of the hunters he hangs out with are lawyers. Or very few. With the exception of his old friend Ruth Bader Ginsburg (of whom he says, “if you have low expectations, you’re not disappointed,” when they don’t agree with your ideas), Scalia seems to have virtually completely immunized himself from contact with progressive ideas, progressive arguments, and progressive progressives. Although he is clear that he likes to have at least one socially liberal clerk against whom he can test his ideas.
So it’s going to be easy to read the new interview as an indictment of Scalia’s tiny political bandwidth. He only reads two papers! One of them is the Washington Times! He only listens to a.m. radio! He thinks intellectual diversity consists of giving equal time to the Federalist Society and deer hunters! He doesn’t like the nastiness of Washington or the shrillness of the Washington Post but feels it’s incumbent upon him to write “sharp” dissents. Oh! And he’s never met anyone openly gay!
But what makes the colloquy with Senior even more incredible are the moments when he turns all this against her, and on those of us who would judge him. He says he wants nothing to do with social media because “I don’t know why anyone would like to be ‘friended’ on the network. I mean, what kind of a narcissistic society is it that people want to put out there, This is my life, and this is what I did yesterday?” In response to which Senior breezily tells him “I’ve gotten used to it.” The whole interview lifts off completely, in fact, when Scalia tartly challenges Senior, whom he suspects is poking fun at his professed belief in the devil, for the constraints of her worldview:
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.
When Senior apologizes for the perceived disrespect, Scalia doubles down: “I was offended by that. I really was.” This may just be Scalia acting out. But it also serves to illuminate the extent to which this interview encapsulates the nearly complete polarization of political discourse. She can’t believe this man (or any man in 2013) has grandchildren who still think homosexuality is morally wrong. He can’t fathom that she’s never met anyone who believes in the devil. Jump back Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. This really is Even Worse Than It Looks.
I asked Senior whether this felt accurate. She replied, “It's embarrassing, but the overlap between our worlds is almost nonexistent. It explains why the left and the right both responded so enthusiastically to this piece. Each side sees its own view, affirmed. One sees a monster and the other sees a hero. It's extraordinary, actually. The O'Reilly constituents think he's speaking sense; the Jon Stewart vote thinks virtually everything the guy says is nuts.”
Part of this is probably generational. When Scalia suggests he doesn’t know anyone—especially “ladies”—who uses foul language, you can practically hear Senior’s eyebrows clang against the ceiling. Part of it is gender, to be sure. But at least a part of it is the absolute polarization of American life: the complete intellectual silos that are our neighborhoods, our media, our friends, and our intellectual sparring partners. The Scalia interview is an amazing tell into all the ways Washington has changed, and it’s about more than just the guest lists at Katharine Graham’s parties. We don’t know the other side anymore. We don’t even know anyone like the other side anymore. We can’t even believe those people exist anymore. And maybe this is really what the devil’s been up to.