Every once in a while politicians like to remind us that they’re just regular folks, that they can crack jokes and allude to popular culture just like any ordinary human being. Sometimes that means proclaiming their fealty to Beyoncé, and sometimes it means dropping a reference to a cult science-fiction novel into your questioning of a potential Supreme Court Justice.
Sure, Ted Cruz could be questioning Neil Gorsuch on his enthusiasm for gutting the Voting Rights Act or the unprecedented Republican obstructionism that is likely to lead to him occupying a seat that should by rights have been held by Merrick Garland, but instead he began by asking him “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything”—a reference to Douglas Adams’ classic novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And Gorsuch, as Cruz knew he would, responded with the correct answer: 42.
That palsy-walsy opening ought to leave a bad taste in the mouth of anyone inclined to believe these hearings are anything but a formality, to say nothing of fans of the late Adams himself. A self-proclaimed “radical atheist” and, later in life, a passionate environmentalist and animal conservationist, Adams would have been appalled to have his work used to certify the down-hominess of a jurist who favors allowing anti–LGBTQ discrimination under the color of “religious liberty,” and who has limited citizens’ ability to sue corporations for environmental infractions. Adams might, however, have enjoyed a rueful laugh at the invocation of this particular shibboleth, knowing its eventual punchline: The ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, which is revealed long after its answer, turns out to be “What do you get if you multiply six by nine?”—which is to say that the universe has never made any goddamn sense at all.
This isn’t the first time Cruz has expressed his love of Hitchhiker’s: All the way back in 1988, he used a passage from the book for his high school yearbook page.
“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable,” reads the quote. “There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”
Something even more bizarre and inexplicable. Maybe Douglas Adams was right.