It’s hard to imagine what kind of president Donald Trump will be. But it’s also hard to imagine a world of politics without those we lost this year. Pardon this bit of melancholy for 2016. I just can’t help but feel wistful over those who left us: a Supreme Court justice, a first lady, presidential hopefuls, members of Congress. Each departure made all of us a little worse off for it.
How could you have a President Trump and not have Justice Antonin Scalia watching over how he interprets the Constitution? Scalia, the larger-than-life pre-eminent conservative intellectual on the current court and its longest-serving justice, died Feb. 13. Little could he have imagined how his death would be made into a political football. The Republicans took a chance in their battle with President Obama over a successor, and it paid off. Whether the tactic was good for the country is another matter.
Speaking of justice, we also lost the head of the Justice Department under President Clinton, former attorney general Janet Reno. She died on Nov. 7. When you think of the controversies of some of Trump’s Cabinet nominees, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for attorney general, you’ll be reminded about what a safe choice Reno was in 1993. She was confirmed unanimously. Of course, Reno will be remembered for controversies of her own: the raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, that resulted in the deaths of at least 80 people; and the decision to return Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba after his mom drowned in the escape attempt.
There were other former Cabinet members who died this year, including Melvin Laird (Nov. 16), President Nixon’s first secretary of Defense who oversaw the beginning of the end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and Drew Lewis (Feb. 10), the Transportation secretary under President Reagan who helped settle the…