In light of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, people all over the internet are calling for the 4th of July to be canceled. In their words, America has no freedoms worth respecting; it is run by old white men, and this is enough – in the words of people I’ve personally spoken with – to “burn it all down.” Yikes. Really?
One of the advantages of living outside of the United States is that it offers a perspective with less personal attachment to the social dynamics of present issues. It isn’t that I care less, because in many ways I think I’m tuned in more. It’s just that the need to get emotionally wrapped up in current events, which was already something I didn’t do much of, has almost completely evaporated. I think this lets me consider these issues more slowly and more carefully than the vast majority of the internetsphere does.
On that note, I want to share my take on the meltdown about the recent Supreme Court decision, because as much as I find the anti-abortion Evangelical Right utterly abhorrent in many ways, the reaction from people on the Left on this issue feels truly anti-democracy to me.
The Democrats and everyone else who found Trump distasteful or dangerous were deeply alarmed by Trump’s impulsive actions that seemed to know no Constitutional or practical limits. His encouragement of those who believed the vote had been stolen is the most obvious example, but it’s only one of many. The Left’s reaction to Trump’s blowhard disregard about the rule of law was generally a pearl-clutching “Save our democracy!” that acted as though, if it weren’t for the Democrats, the United States would be hurling towards becoming a conservative theocracy apace with inflation.
But the political Left’s reaction to Roe v. Wade makes it painfully obvious that democracy is not what they’re about. Not even a little bit. When political pundits, politicians, and journalists can skip from “Trump is a threat to Democracy, which we need to protect,” to “The Supreme Court is an illegitimate institution run by old, white male cult members and we need to add more justices/impeach the ones we have/picket their homes/firebomb abortion clinics,” the issue really isn’t democracy. It’s power.
You lost this one, legally speaking. Your side lost. That’s really uncomfortable, unpleasant, and even frightening. The consequences seem dire. Lives seem to be at stake. And yet, if you support abortion, for every single one of you, there is someone else on the opposite side of the political aisle (or even the same side!) who believes with as much sincerity that Roe v. Wade being overturned was either a return to the individual states of their Constitutional right to create their own laws on thorny issues, a significant step towards saving innocent lives, or both.
This is to say nothing of the fact that the vast majority of abortion supporters have very little notion of the actual legal issues at hand here. Details, details! It’s so very frustrating to have to take the time and make the effort to understand why Roe v. Wade could be legitimately overturned in the first place, and yet, if you believe in democracy, you must do so. These legal complications are the very foundation of our democracy. Liberty – individual autonomy, privacy, the question of whether a woman can make decisions about her body – cannot exist without the laws that support them.
So much has been written for and against the right to an abortion. I don’t have anything useful to add to that conversation and for the purposes of this blog post, the arguments don’t matter. What does matter is that, if you support abortion and you believe you support democracy, you must now take the democratic route and either vote to make laws or work to persuade people that you are right.
“What?! I shouldn’t have to persuade people of anything – I’m right! Not only am I right, but I have the moral, ethical high ground – it is obvious that I’m right! Anyone who disagrees with me is clearly a brainwashed old white male, likely a member of a conservative Christian cult, and those people shouldn’t be making laws. Only the people who agree with me could have thought this issue through carefully enough to deserve a vote on the matter.”
I wish I was hyperbolizing that response. Anyone familiar with the current discussion around this issue knows that I’m not. Yet for the people freaking out the most about Roe v. Wade – ironically those most often obsessed with the idea that “facts are facts” – narrative trumps reality. It doesn’t matter that, out of the five justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, one was black, one was female, and only one of the three white men could be considered “old.” It doesn’t matter that women and men oppose abortion in virtually indistinguishable numbers. It doesn’t even seem to matter that, while many states will essentially outlaw abortion, many states have elective abortion laws that are the most liberal in the world. It doesn’t matter that the dreaded Conservative justices frequently side with their liberal peers and are not some mindless Christ-saluting bloc – for example, when Neil Gorsuch agreed that Title VII protects transgender individuals. In other words, it doesn’t matter that the narrative of the United States backsliding into some backwater ancient male-dominated Biblical theocracy is absolutely untrue.
Worse, the people saying that, or some version of it, are completely unaware of the hypocrisy of their democracy-defending. If your response to losing on this issue is to “burn it all down,” you don’t support Democracy. You just support your ideas being in power. If you are not willing to articulate and defend your beliefs about abortion, and listen to someone – not a fanatic, but someone who is sincere, will debate with you in good faith, and who can make the best arguments against abortion – then you don’t really know what you believe and why, and you certainly don’t support democracy.
The United States is a complex and imperfect place. Like everywhere else, it has many areas in which it could be improved. But don’t go packing up your shit and running off to Scandinavia or wherever – having lived in a couple of places, I can tell you that other places have really serious issues, too. (And the idea that college-educated liberals need to run away to another country is laughable. It really is.)
Instead, take the opportunity to enjoy yourself with friends and family and put your phone down so you can pay attention to the immediate world around you, which is not – I promise – burning down. Put the outrageous news headlines aside and appreciate that you have the freedom to express your opinion about abortion without fear of reprisal. Be grateful that the midterms are coming up in many places and you may have the opportunity to vote.
And then, once you’re done drinking beer and eating apple pie and watching cool shit explode in the sky, do the hard work of understanding the legal principles that allow or deny abortion. Don’t be so sure that you want to toss out the Constitution before you’ve even read it. Listen to normal, sane people who passionately disagree with you and test your arguments against theirs. Try actually defending the other side – see if you can learn something. If you can’t clearly and reasonably articulate the anti-abortion argument, you don’t really understand it, and you’ll never stand a chance of changing anti-abortionists minds (and votes! You want their votes, because democracy!). Then, once you’ve developed a sophisticated argument that supports your position, and you generally understand the legal framework that might get your state in that direction, try persuading other people to agree with you instead of just reposting shitty memes on the internet to an echo chamber of friends who think the same way as you do.
Happy Fourth of July. America isn’t perfect, but wow, do I love her. And I love that she is set up in a way that allows this outrageous, angry, passionate debate we’re seeing about abortion. I’ll finish up with two quotes: One by Carl Sagan from a speech he gave to the ACLU (rip) in 1987, and one from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.
Sagan: We are fallible. We’re only human. We make mistakes… The question is how do we make sure that the most serious sorts of errors do not occur?…Despite our best efforts, some things we believe are probably wrong. We certainly are very keen on recognizing the errors of past times and other nations. Why should our nation, why should our time, be different? If there are things that we believe, if there are institutions in our society that are in error, imperfectly conceived or executed, these are potential impediments to our survival. How do we find the errors? How do we correct them? I maintain: with courage, the scientific method, and the Constitution.
Mills: The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generations, those who dissent from the opinion still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth. If wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit: the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.