Category Archives: Personal Autonomy

It Isn’t Hypocrisy–It’s Worse. Much Worse.

In a comment a few days ago, Gerald posted a link to Raw Story, headlined “Why Evangelicals Won’t Care about Jerry Falwell Jr.’s apparent sex scandal.”

Presumably, they also won’t care about the self-dealing, corruption and similar behaviors that were the focus of a preceding expose in Politico. 

What I found fascinating about the Raw Story version wasn’t the detailed enumeration of Falwell’s multiple unChristian behaviors. His full-throated support for Trump had already provided ample evidence that the publicly-espoused values of his brand of Christianity were bogus. What I found interesting–and hopeful–was the publication’s willingness to identify the actual values of that brand.

The article began with evidence of Falwell’s sexual kinkiness and financial improprieties–and a prediction that none of it would matter to his followers.

The pretense that the religious right was motivated by faith and morality was dropped — or should have been — when white evangelicals flocked to vote for Trump in greater numbers than they did for George W. Bush, who if he was convincing about little else, was convincingly a man of faith.

Here’s the thing: The real purpose of the Christian conservative movement is to uphold white supremacy and patriarchy, full stop. As long as Falwell Jr. keeps that up — as his father did before him — his flock will stick with him just as they’ve stuck with Trump, a thrice-married chronic adulterer who has bragged about sexual assault on tape.

The article went on to debunk the evident belief of the whistleblowers who shared the information with Politico that Falwell Senior had been a better, more authentic Christian.

The elder Jerry Falwell was a bigot through and through, and his version of Christianity was primarily, if not solely, about rationalizing a white supremacist, misogynistic and homophobic worldview.

Falwell first rose to fame as a Baptist minister due to his stalwart opposition to civil rights, which he called“a terrible violation of human and private property rights.” He declared that the 1964 Civil Rights Act “should be considered civil wrongs rather than civil rights.” He also once declared, in response to the historic Brown v. Board of Education case, that if the Supreme Court “had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made.”

Falwell Senior made little effort to hide his racism. He criticized Martin Luther King, Jr. for political activism, despite his own equally political activities. The article also reports what scholars have recognized for some time: the attacks on LGBTQ citizens and women’s reproductive rights were intended to divert attention from the racism that was less politically palatable.

Falwell became even more politically involved  when the federal government under Jimmy Carter stripped tax-exempt status from all-white private schools, which Liberty University was at the time. To punish Carter, Falwell helped form the Moral Majority in 1980 to support Republicans and defeat Democrats. He and other organizers shrewdly pivoted away from open support for segregation and opposition to civil rights toward the more politically palatable politics (at the time) of opposition to feminism and LGBT rights. Falwell would try to distance himself from his past by claiming later to oppose segregation, but he kept finding himself on the wrong side of history, such as when he supported South Africa’s apartheid government.

So Jerry Falwell Jr. isn’t straying from his father’s legacy, but expanding it. From the beginning, it’s always been about white supremacy and patriarchal control. The sanctimony was just plastered over these ugly intentions to give all that hate a holy makeover.

So why isn’t this behavior properly called hypocrisy?

Despite the repeated, strenuous efforts of liberals to point out the hypocrisy, Trump’s support on the Christian right never seems to weaken. That’s because it was never, ever — not for one moment, even at the height of the George W. Bush era of big-time Bible-thumping — about sincere religious conviction. It was always about white supremacy and patriarchy. To call this “hypocrisy” misses the point, in a sense, because to be hypocrites Christian conservatives would have had to believe in something larger than their own bigotries to begin with.

Bingo.

Trumpers And The Culture War

I love it when research confirms my suspicions.

A few days ago, I posted a rant about the hollowness of claims that de-funding Planned Parenthood was “pro life.” The assault on Planned Parenthood, which provides needed medical care to poor women, and the increasing efforts to limit access to birth control, struck me as far more “anti woman” than “pro life.”

Then I saw this column in The Guardian, reporting on recent survey results that support my thesis.

According to self-identified “pro-life” advocates, the fundamental divide between those who want to outlaw abortion and those who want to keep it legal comes down to one question: when does life begin? Anti-abortion advocacy pushes the view that life begins at conception; the name of their movement carefully centers the conceit that opposition to abortion rights is simply about wanting to save human lives.

A new poll shows that’s a lie. The “pro-life” movement is fundamentally about misogyny.

A Supermajority/PerryUndem survey released this week divides respondents by their position on abortion, and then tracks their answers to 10 questions on gender equality more generally. On every question, anti-abortion voters were significantly more hostile to gender equity than pro-choice voters.

More than half of the “pro life” survey respondents opined that men make better political leaders than women. More than half didn’t want to see equal numbers of men and women in positions of power. (Eighty percent of pro-choice respondents did want to see power shared equally.) “Pro life” respondents disapproved of the #MeToo movement. They disagreed with the proposition that diminished access to birth control has an impact on gender equality. And they didn’t believe that sexism or the way women are treated is an important issue.

That misogyny fits with what social science has found in the wake of the 2016 election.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, mostly white pundits wondered if Donald Trump’s white male base was motivated by “economic anxiety”. We heard this over and over: Trump voters aren’t the racist deplorables the liberal media (of which those same pundits were a part) makes them out to be. They’re decent people who have been hurt by free trade agreements, increasing Chinese economic dominance, the decimation of unions, a thinning social safety net, and stagnating wages. (Why those same people would then turn around and vote for a party that kills unions, tears up the safety net and blocks minimum wage raises while cutting taxes for CEOs went unexplained.)

Then came the social scientists – and whaddaya know? Trump voters weren’t motivated by economic anxiety as much as fear of “cultural displacement”. White Christian men (and many of their wives) were so used to their cultural, political and economic dominance that they perceived the ascension of other groups as a threat.

To put it in more straightforward terms, they were racist (and sexist), and saw in Trump a kindred spirit who would work for their interests – their primary interest being a symbolic reassertion of their cultural dominance.

The author reminds us that the American anti-abortion movement invented political gaslighting.  (As religious historian Randall Ballmer has documented, Evangelicals hadn’t thought much about abortion until defending their segregated schools became a harder political rallying point.)

Around the same time, women’s social roles were rapidly changing. The birth control pill brought with it an avalanche of opportunities and freedoms, and women, finally fully able to have sex for fun and prevent pregnancy, took full advantage. The ability to delay a pregnancy – and later, the ability to legally end one – meant that women didn’t have to choose between romance and ambition (and it meant women could be choosier about romance, making a more considered decision about who and whether to marry).

The survey confirmed the connection between “pro-life” and “anti-woman”.

More than three-quarters of anti-abortion respondents agreed that women “are too easily offended”. More than 70% of them agreed that women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist. Only 34% of them–as opposed to 82% of pro-choice respondents– said the country would be better off with more women in political office.

It’s hard to disagree with the author’s conclusion:

It’s not about “life.” It’s about the fact that abortion is inexorably tied to women’s freedoms and female power.

It’s about sexism.

The War On Women

Earlier this month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Planned Parenthood request to delay implementation of a new Trump administration rule forbidding Title X recipients from making abortion referrals. The ruling allowed the policy to take effect while lawsuits from states, medical groups and reproductive rights advocates continue.

The following Monday, Planned Parenthood exited Title X, forfeiting millions of dollars in federal grants. Planned Parenthood serves nearly half of the approximately 4 million low-income women covered by Title X, providing free and subsidized birth control, STD  and breast cancer screenings and other health services.

There has rarely been a better illustration of why “pro life” people are anything but pro-life.

Numerous observers have pointed to the disconnect between the movement’s obsessive concern for zygotes and fetuses, on the one hand, and its utter lack of interest in the health and welfare of poor children who are already born on the other. Others have noted that activists’ zealous efforts to ban abortion aren’t accompanied by even tepid efforts to ban assault weapons. But this attack on the health of over two million poor women is an even more compelling example of the movement’s deep hypocrisy.

In order to impose a gag order on medical personnel working at family planning clinics–in order to ensure that they don’t utter the word “abortion” or tell women where they might obtain one–these “pro-lifers” are perfectly willing to deny women access to lifesaving breast cancer screenings, STD treatments and other medical services totally unconnected to abortion.

In addition, it’s hard not to notice that the “pro life” movement has moved beyond its purported emphasis on preventing abortion to an all-out effort to limit access to birth control. (Logic tells us that increased access to birth control reduces the incidence of abortion. If reducing the number of abortions was really the focus of “pro-life” efforts, you would expect these activists to be dispensing birth control pills on street corners.)

To be fair, there are undoubtedly some among these single-issue zealots who genuinely believe that a fertilized egg is equivalent to a human being, and that the rights of that fertilized egg take precedence over the rights of the human woman who carries it. I have trouble with that viewpoint, but some people–for whatever reason–really do hold it, and they are obviously entitled to do so.

However, it has become abundantly clear that a far greater percentage of those who label themselves “pro life” are actually “anti choice.” These are people (mostly men, but some women) who would deny women the personal autonomy that men in our society have always enjoyed. They fear the loss of “traditional values,” by which they mean the continued dominance of White Christian males.  If a few thousand women need to die from an undetected cancer in order to preserve their privileged status, they consider that a perfectly reasonable tradeoff.

I still recall a conversation with a partner in the law firm I joined immediately after graduation from law school. I was the first woman hired by that firm–which had over 50 lawyers at the time. The partner attributed the growing number of female law students to the (then-relatively-new) birth control pill; thanks to that pill, women were no longer hostages to reproduction. They could plan their pregnancies. Consequently, they were better able to enter and thrive in the workforce, and less dependent upon a man to support them and their (often-unplanned) children.

Both he and I thought that was a good thing.

Obviously, there are a lot of people who disagree, and who find a woman’s ability to control her own reproduction existentially threatening. If denying them access to healthcare is the only way to prevent women from exercising autonomy and controlling their own destinies, they’re more than willing to make that trade.

You can call such people many things, but “pro-life” isn’t one of them.

 

 

What Do Those Words Mean?

Given the overheated rhetoric coming from all sides in our current iteration of culture war, it’s tempting to dismiss the introductory paragraphs of a recent column originally published by Open Democracy as more of the same:

Any schoolchild in the United States knows that the US Declaration of Independence guarantees individuals’ rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Now, imagine what these principles mean for right-wingers and religious fundamentalists: where “life” refers to fetuses; “liberty” includes the prerogative to discriminate against LGBTIQ people; and “the pursuit of happiness” is reserved for straight, white patriarchs.

Dismissal, however, would be a mistake.

The concerns addressed by the column were triggered by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement of a new government body: The Commission on Unalienable Rights.

According to its statement of intent, the Commission is needed as human rights “discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights”.

 In case you’re wondering how to distinguish “natural” rights, they’re the ones bestowed by God (at least according to Pompeo’s commissioners). One of them, Peter Berkowitz, argues that Christianity is the source of all human rights. Another, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, sees marriage equality for LGBTIQ people as a sign of the “End Times”

Pompeo has raised eyebrows at the State Department and among America’s (increasingly concerned) allies by his efforts to conjoin America’s foreign policy and his religious fundamentalism.

An article in The New York Times noted Pompeo’s willingness to connect foreign policy to his religious beliefs.

No secretary of state in recent decades has been as open and fervent as Mr. Pompeo about discussing Christianityand foreign policy in the same breath. That has increasingly raised questions about the extent to which evangelical beliefs are influencing American diplomacy.

The Times listed Pompeo initiatives prompted by his religious beliefs, including the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and the expansion of Trump Administration anti-abortion policies–effected by terminating financial support for international organizations that support reproductive rights.

In speeches, Pompeo has expressed his belief that mankind is in a “never-ending struggle until the Rapture.” He told a reporter for The New York Times Magazine that the Bible informs everything he does.

His interpretation of Biblical mandates, needless to say, is not universally held even among Christians. But the fact that other people hold beliefs that differ from his hasn’t dissuaded him from his obvious belief that his is the Truth that must be imposed on everyone else.

As Open Democracy reports,

In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal, the Secretary of State attacks “politicians and bureaucrats [who have created] new rights”, and thus “blur the distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments”. He also asserts that “rights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups”.

Women, non-Christians and gay people are thus categorized as “interest groups.”

The new commission’s initial assault is against abortion and the rights of LGBTQ people, but as the article points out, that’s only the opening salvo.

Unless you are part of the narrow demographic of rich, white men deemed to have rights in 1776, they’re coming for you too. In fact, their ideology threatens the vast majority of people – which is one reason it must be justified as “natural” and God-given.

I can think of few things more terrifying than people in positions of power who are convinced that their God has told them how He (and believe me, for these “Christians” God is always a “He”) wants them to interpret “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”

This Administration cannot leave soon enough.

Alabama, Georgia And The War On Women

For the past few days, my Facebook feed has been dominated by posts about Alabama and Georgia and other draconian efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Here in Indiana, former statehouse reporter and current columnist for The Statehouse File, Mary Beth Schneider, has dubbed these efforts by fundamentalist Republicans “The GOP’s ‘Mourdock moment,”a reference to Indiana’s then-Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s  statement to the effect that pregnancies caused by rape are something God intended, so the rapist’s baby shouldn’t be aborted.

Mourdock–like Todd Akin in Missouri (who claimed that women’s bodies could “shut the whole thing down” in cases of “legitimate” rape)– lost that election. In deep-red Indiana.

I can only hope these desperate attempts to put women back in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, do turn out to be “Mourdock moments.”

I have written before that reversing Roe would be a gift to the Democratic Party–that the single-issue voters the GOP have relied upon for decades would become less politically active, while the rage of the rest of us would benefit Democratic prochoice candidates. Whatever the political fallout, however, it’s important to call these efforts what they are:  frantic efforts by white “Christian” men to preserve their dominance–a dominance that is threatened by women, as well as by black and brown people.

These attacks on reproductive autonomy–including, increasingly, efforts to deny women access to birth control–demonstrably have nothing to do with reverence for life. As many others–including genuinely “pro life” people– have pointed out, once those babies are born, any concern for their welfare disappears. In Alabama, 26.5% of children live below the poverty line. Over 30 percent of kids under five are impoverished; 22.5 percent face food insecurity; and 250,000 children in the state are destitute.

Alabama is ranked:

– 46th in health care
– 50th in education
– 45th in economy
– 45th in opportunity
– 45th in crime and corrections
– 49th overall

The Alabama legislature appears untroubled by these statistics. They are hysterical, however, about the prospect of allowing women to control their own reproduction.

I used to disagree with prochoice advocates who claimed that efforts to curtail abortion were part of a larger war on women. I was–and I still am–willing to believe that there are some people who genuinely believe that those early clumps of fertilized cells represent potential humanity, and deserve protection–although it is still hard for me to understand why they want that protection to trump the health and well-being of the already-alive woman who is carrying them.

But as time has gone on, it has become very clear that the people to whom I was extending the benefit of the doubt are few and far between. Most “pro-life” activists are only pro-birth, and they have made it quite obvious that their motivations have very little to do with protecting life. (If they were really pro-life, they’d feed hungry kids and pass reasonable gun control laws, for starters.)

No, I think these draconian laws are triggered by deep-seated misogyny and resentment of “uppity” women.

Once medical science developed reliable birth control, women became free to enter the workforce. We were able to plan our adult lives. We were no longer prisoners of our biology. Birth control has allowed women to compete with men in business and in the political arena– and to become yet another perceived threat to white male dominance.

As any dispassionate observer will confirm, successful, self-confident men aren’t threatened by strong, confident women, or by women determining their own futures and living in accordance with their own values. Frightened, insecure men (and women)–people who are disoriented and intimidated by modernity and social change–are threatened.

Bigly.

Some social changes, however, aren’t going to be reversed, and women’s equality is one of them. Women aren’t submissively going back to the kitchen.

We also aren’t returning to back-alley abortionists. As many people have pointed out, laws like this don’t prevent abortions; they never have. They just prevent medically safe abortions. They guarantee that many women will needlessly die–thus making another mockery of proponents’ “pro life” protestations.

Rational people understand what this is really about. That’s why I think Mary Beth is right: this is the GOP’s “Mourdock moment.”