The Everyman Election

Another vote that stunned pollsters and pundits.

‘Can you hear me now?’ should be the headline.

Establishment, inside, elite politicians and media have heard and are still stunned. They don’t quite know yet what to make of the results of Election 2016 in America because as of the moment this is being written, the results aren’t yet fully in. But from what we do know, they’re realizing that they didn’t see it coming. At all. And some of them fear these strange, almost foreign people in this country who went to the polls Tuesday. People they have dismissed for so long, they never took the time to listen to them and their concerns in this major election year, or longer.

This NYT opinion piece, published ahead of the long night of election returns, had a pretty good idea that something was happening that would require a reckoning.

Whatever the result of the United States election, politics has been “changed, changed utterly,” to use the words of the poet W.B. Yeats on Ireland after the 1916 Easter Rising. And not just in America. Across the Western world, there is a rising anger at “the system.”

That nails it. It’s spreading across the world, including the United States, but was hardly noticed and certainly not for what it was given elite media coverage of the election cycle and the Trump v. Clinton race for the presidency. “The center is struggling to hold” the Times op-ed piece continues. Why? Because the battles, political and cultural, have been between the left and right, sometime the further flung of the two. Bernie Sanders was left of Clinton, who is left of Obama. On Election Day in America, it turns out that many Sanders voters, feeling disenfranchised by establishment politics, voted for Trump, exit polling showed.

What happened?

Establishment politicians, economists and policy makers know something is happening, but…they don’t know what it is…The source of much of the anger is the very social system that they have created these last 40 years – globalized, neoliberal and destructive of the social contract between governments and peoples on which the political center rests.

The piece keeps referring to “the angry”, which is a stronger way of saying ‘the fed up and determined’, or better yet, ‘the fully engaged’. We are, after all, a Representative Republic, and the time has come to stand up, speak out, and collectively activate to make a difference that’s been long promised by politicians but never delivered. Things have only grown worse for the left out and left behind, the jobless and over-regulated and over-taxed, the everyday American trying to serve and survive and meanwhile, earning less and being strapped with higher prices for fewer choices for healthcare, if they’re working at all. Paying more property taxes and sales taxes and other costs companies have had to add to pay for the over-regulation, themselves.

And all this time, the meritocracy has had a lot of disdain for the everyday people.

The Times op-ed continues:

The striving middle class is pushed into the ranks of the poor as well-paying jobs, and the social mobility they bring, disappear, sometimes overseas, sometimes as a result of trade deals the establishment parties insisted were in the popular interest. Communities have been devastated, as the civic ecology on which a politics of the common good depends for most folk has been shattered: stable work on which to build a home and a family, pride in identity and place, and a network of supportive institutions and relationships cultivated across generations.

This U.S. election has been compared so much with the Brexit Referendum, British experts have been brought in for analysis on what’s happening in America. In recent months, I’ve commented on radio, along with guests, how similar the two are in the divisive atmosphere that grew around them, to the point where husbands and wives turned on each other for their fervent political differences, neighbor against neighbor, and friendships even ended over these splits in political views, so deeply have they run.

It’s been a year of global judgment on such people, too, which caused further resentment, cast in a string of pejoratives, and lumped together in a “basket of deplorables” by candidate Hillary Clinton at one point, which struck deeply into the base of Donald Trump supporters.

U.S. media and reporters, writers, bloggers and commentators here and abroad have spent months talking about Trump with a disclaimer that to say anything even remotely open about him didn’t mean they actually accepted this bombastic, repulsive, disgusting creature, but ‘hey, let’s give him a break because he’s come so far for a reason, and maybe has something to say’. Everything was thrown at the man, including the ‘creepy, crawly’ imagery of the atmosphere and mindset in which he dwelt. But it was he who said he wants to drain the swamp that was so much of the inside establishment of government and enablers in media.

So some voters who wanted a pro-life, pro-family, religious freedom defender who at least promised good laws and good Supreme Court Justices, who may not have even voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton but hoped somehow, better government would prevail, went into election night waiting with dramatic tension to see what the pundits never could predict.

And they all got it wrong, in that even as Tuesday turned into Wednesday, Donald Trump was actually close to the threshold of securing the electoral votes to become the next U.S. President. Against that prevailing wisdom that was just demolished.

As I write this, the deal just got sealed. Mr. Trump was just declared to have won the presidency. This is historic. Now, a lot of healing has got to follow.

Fuller election coverage will follow as it comes out in the next day or so. But for now, I think of a few different things. One, I saw remarkably few (maybe historically few) yard signs or bumper stickers for any candidate, and if there was one here or there, it was for a local county or state office. Not the presidential race. That is unprecedented in my lifetime.

Another is the recall I had on Election Day of President Gerald Ford’s first line of his hastily arranged inauguration address, succeeding Richard Nixon, saying “My Fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” As I approached my polling place, I wondered if that would be true on this day. But then wondered, what would be over, and what would be about to begin?

We’ll soon find out, but it is a pivotal moment in our history. And just as the people have spoken in the only poll that mattered, the people will need to work together to heal a wounded, divided nation. That is up to each and every one of us.

On the eve of the election

Talk is bubbling up about potential legal challenges over results.

This sort of thing came to mind when I heard Donald Trump’s response to Fox News moderator Chris Wallace in the final debate with Hillary Clinton, when asked if he would accept the outcome of the election. Given what happened in both of George W. Bush’s elections (recalled in the article), and the many and assorted charges of ballot mishandling and reports of glitches in all the elections of modern times, this one in particular seems destined for extra scrutiny.

Yet Trump’s response about a ‘wait and see’ attitude became the one headline of a 90 minute debate about so much else. Media made it scandalous (in quite a season of scandal). The New York Times called it “a remarkable statement that seemed to cast doubt on American democracy”. The Washington Post noted that Clinton called his response “horrifying” and added that he was “talking down our democracy”.

Now NRO has this simply factual piece suggesting that a close finish would likely trigger legal challenges, of the sort we’ve seen before.

We almost went into a Bush v. Gore–like election overtime in 2004 because of provisional ballots. Voters in every state must be given a provisional, or conditional, ballot if for any reason they are unable to cast a regular ballot (if, for instance their name is not on the voter rolls or they lack voter ID, or if an election official brings a challenge). The provisional ballot is then cross-checked with public records to see if it’s valid.

How times have changed even on these basic requirements. My sister in Ohio cast an early-voting ballot and was not asked for any identification. Which should astound those of us who have, rightly, gone to the polls and after being found on the roster of registered voters, been asked for some ID to prove who we are as the correct voter assigned that ballot.

However, John Fund states in the NRO piece,

This year, the election could be close enough in one or more states to bring one or both sides into court. “The risk of that happening is higher than it used to be — and higher than most of us realize,” Edward B. Foley, the director of an election law center at Ohio State, and Charles Stewart III wrote in the Washington Post today. They note that votes counted after Election Day can easily determine the outcome of a close election.

So why the shock and horror over Trump’s ‘wait and see’ response about the election outcome?

Especially since…

In addition to the issue of provisional ballots, our local election systems use a patchwork of inconsistent rules, operate often antiquated machines, and can turn a blind eye to voter fraud. There are also jurisdictions that harbor incompetent bureaucrats. During the infamous recounts of the 2004 governor’s race in Washington State, Seattle’s King County mysteriously managed to “find” uncounted ballots on 18 separate occasions. America’s voting system is “a bit like trying to measure bacteria with a yardstick,” and we often can’t figure out who really won ultra-close races, mathematician John Allen Paulos mournfully noted after assessing the 2000 presidential results in Florida.

So, Fund concludes,

It’s said that the fervent wish of every election official is “Lord, please don’t make the election super close.” But if several of Tuesday’s races are tight, we could enter a quagmire of recounts, lawsuits, and protests outside government offices. If you thought the election campaign was ugly, just wait in case there is a post-election legal contest.

All of which is why I don’t put stock (especially this year) in political pundits, pollsters and political analysts. They really don’t know what will happen on Tuesday, but have to fill time with commentary. It could be a landslide one way or the other. It could be very close and then followed by the drama of the above scenarios of legal challenges.

We have to stay calm and clear minded about this election. After the June Brexit referendum, my friend and radio show guest Austen Ivereigh shared how contentious and divisive that campaign had been, hot it even pitted neighbor against neighbor, husband against wife, families unable to talk with each other anymore.

And meanwhile, none of the polls and predictions really got it right.

Something similar has happened here in the U.S. during this long, trying election season. It will play out as it will, come Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, or whenever it comes to a conclusion. But in the remaining hours, we have the time to be level headed about what’s at stake, and what we’re about to do to determine America’s future, and how we define ourselves.

Election 2016, one week out

How to summarize?

This unprecedented election cycle stretches back as far as the Clinton Administration era, ran throughout the Obama Administration era, continues the thread that Hillary Clinton wove through both, and got entangled with the new threads of an outside the Beltway, outside politics, unlikely wild card that Donald Trump proved to be, and it all has defied the odds and conventional wisdom to land us in this strange situation of facing an election for president between two very flawed and distasteful, disrespectful, unethical and unlikable candidates.

We, the people, could have done much better. And we’re to blame for arriving at this point with these two candidates at the top of their tickets. ‘Politics are downstream of culture’ we hear often, and it’s true. We make the culture, or buy into it willingly and without giving it proper thought. So those who do the social engineering of marketing ideas and working ideologies into entertainment media and news media and politics gain ground when citizens come to accept the ‘mission creep’ of ideas spread in attractive packaging and sold through socially appealing marketing, and all sorts of changes have happened to our nation and its institutions and laws. So now the landscape is scary to a lot of people and hostile to others, or some of both to most people.

The next week has utmost importance for America and the world. I’ve been watching and covering on radio what’s most helpful for voters, and the watching world beyond, and hope to bring light to that in these days leading up to the day of decision. It’s not just the US presidency at stake, though that’s most important. The Senate and House seats in Congress are pivotal in the decisions that will continue on into the years ahead, some with ramifications for generations.

Meanwhile, an interview I did Monday on my book, for a television news webcast program, recalled the timelessness of first principles and the truths the founding documents of this nation established. Which are more or less summarized here.

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” – George Washington…

“Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.” – Abraham Lincoln…

We have such a rich heritage both in the Church and in our nation’s founding documents, among other historic and timeless teachings. But people, generations, will forget if they are not taught or reminded, and truths will be eradicated from our collective memory if we don’t hand down our narrative of inheritance. George Washington is widely beloved, as is Abraham Lincoln. But ask people why and they may be hard pressed to cite what these early presidents represented in their personal beliefs, lived in their personal character, and stood for in their political battles to carry out their understanding of natural law and moral order. To “get” Washington or Lincoln, you have to get them right, and in full….

People need heroes. The world needs the bright lights of those who spared nothing and braved anything to stand in the gap for their brothers and sisters anywhere who were marginalized, oppressed, mistreated, abused, and dehumanized. William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and…Fr. Richard John Neuhaus are standouts among many others inspired by them who worked tirelessly and unceasingly for human rights for every single human being who exists, and those who will in future generations. History books and museums and legendary narratives record the great heroes of history who made a difference in civilization, thankfully. We owe a debt of honor and gratitude to them all — but also the duty to carry the mantle they handed down to those who come after and are inspired by the cause of protecting, defending, and advancing human dignity and rights. Many of the benefits recognized by law that we inherit and enjoy today are the result of their life’s work.

It’s what’s at stake now. We are up to the task of making clear the truths of human dignity and human rights to our neighbors, communities, larger public and sphere of influence. We just need to call upon our courage.

Trump, Clinton after Catholics

He pledged reform. Her campaign planned revolt.

For half of this election year, ‘the Catholic vote’ got virtually no mention or attention in media coverage of the campaigns, while the Evangelical vote got plenty. Just before the summer conventions, Hillary Clinton named Tim Kaine as her running mate for VP, and the press featured his Catholicism in a usually laudatory light, even casting him as a ‘Pope Francis’ Catholic without understanding what that even means, and how wrong that portrayal is considering his willingness to support abortion, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment protections against taxpayer funding of abortion, and same sex marriage law which he celebrated. He said he believed his church would change its teaching on that, in time.

And then there’s his life changing mission trip to Honduras, and involvement in liberation theology there,

an explicitly Marxist political ideology cloaked in Catholic teaching that was planted in South America for the purpose of stirring up the poor to violence against their government.

At the time, this was a theology radically at odds with the Church and condemned by the Vatican, Pope John Paul II, and political leaders in the United States. The Marxist elements of the theology are still condemned by the Church today, including Pope Francis.

So the new prominence Catholicism gained in the elections by late summer was colored by Tim Kaine’s practices and stated beliefs. And ‘the Catholic vote’ suddenly became a focus for media and campaigns.

Recently, Donald Trump sent Catholic Vote president Brian Burch a letter promising to protect religious freedom, conscience protection and the rights of Catholics. Within two days, Catholic Vote issued a statement after a 2005 video was released with what Burch called “disgusting and simply indefensible” comments. He said what needed to be said at that moment.

Then came another. The first of the Wikileaks revelations of emails exchanged within the Clinton campaign at the highest levels revealing a deep disrespect for Catholics and the teachings of the Catholic Church, and ideas to back dissident Catholic groups that would agitate for a change in Church teachings. Those emails revealed insulting language and therefore, attitudes, about Catholics, as well as Latinos, showing a deep disregard for the people and their faith, and instead reflecting a strategy of seeing them as identity groups to be dealt with in politics.

HotAir.com pointed out the ‘silliness’ of calling the Church’s teaching a ‘middle-ages dictatorship’ and the call for a ‘Catholic Spring’ highly insulting. Crux noted that those emails were seen as hostile and mocking.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found a teaching moment in this unprecedented assault on Catholics from within the political hierarchy to issue a statement.

And scholars like Princeton Professor Robert George published opinion pieces like this, casting this moment in our political culture and history in a clarifying light.

…I can’t say I’m surprised by the noxious anti-Catholic bigotry contained in emails exchanged between leading progressives, Democrats and Hillary Clinton operatives. These WikiLeaks-published emails confirm what has been evident for years. Many elites, having embraced secular progressivism as not merely a political view but a religion, loathe traditional faiths that refuse to yield to its dogmas.

The election is just weeks away, and people of faith – already caught in a quagmire for so many months over the choices for president – are deliberating deeply over this extremely pivotal moment in our history. They are anxious and worried and wondering who to trust and what to do.

Somewhere in all these years, we largely have lost the ability to trust ourselves, our understanding of truth and justice, honor and virtue, and leadership. It won’t be a ‘top down’ answer that will save the Republic in some magical turn of events. It’s time to find the courage within our own ability to shape the future, within our families, our communities, our most local networks of influence.

People in alleged ‘power’ do not define us and cannot subvert what we stand for or believe, what ‘hill we would be ready to die on’ as some put it, to fire the imagination. We will decide ourselves.

Clinton or Trump for president: What that says about America

Fracture.

There are as many ways to say what this means for America as there are Americans, though most people are baffled and couldn’t answer the question of how the primary season of Election 2016 began and ended as it did.

To recall (it seems so long ago now), that long season started out with a wide field of Republican candidates of different strengths and weaknesses entering primary season many months ago, and wound up with perhaps the least likely one of all as the party nominee. And the Democratic Party’s two candidates were longtime Washington insiders in an anti-establishment climate, though Sen. Bernie Sanders convincingly represented himself as the oustsiders’ candidate.

On the final primary day of 2016, Hillary Clinton prevailed to become the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump had already arrived as the Republican candidate weeks ago. This is about as unlikely as it gets.

Of all the commentaries and analyses out there to date, one of the most incisive and clarifying accounts comes from Yuval Levin and his new book The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism.

Some highlights from his book, and the conversation I had with him on radio this week…

One of his main themes and central points is that American party politics is stuck in nostalgia for an earlier time when each party believed things were good, or as they should be, and should be again now. For the Democrats, he says, it’s 1965, for Republicans, it’s 1981.

“There’s a sense that everything is breaking down, that America doesn’t work like it used to,” he told me. “The defining theme is that America is not what it used to be. The middle of the 20th Century is the time most people in politics are most nostalgic for now.”

I asked him about his book’s reversal of the perception that we’re in the start of a new phase of American politics, whereas he contends we’re experiencing the end of the last one. “It is the last gasp of an exhausted and nostalgic baby-boomer politics”, he claims.

“So now we have this political situation with two 70 year old candidates yelling at each other over the best way to go backward,” he told me. “And it’s very hard to imagine that as the beginning of the next phase of American politics. In this election we’re seeing the crashing of the baby-boomer centered approach to political life. The question is really what comes next.”

Well put.

Levin continues: “Our problems are distinct to this moment. We would do much better to empower problem solvers throughout the country instead of looking to one leader or a handful. Power has been flowing upward toward Washington. But we have a better chance of addressing problems if we allowed power to flow through communities and institutions. Family, community, church, school, civic institutions.”

Refreshing ideas, and proven to be true from the past, ironically. “The more public policy can be decentralized, the better the hope that it’s going to be more effective, more in line with our Constitution, more in line with what’s going to work better,” he continued. “Most people are persuaded that the way our government works now is not working.The way politics have been handled results in absurdities like the president of the United States deciding who should use which bathrooms in schools.”

Solving problems at the most local level is known, in social teaching, as subsidiarity, and Levin points to that as the ideal. “One thing we do now is embody this idea that the solutions are going to come from our communities,” he said. “Take care of our own problems directly, not wait for someone else. Take, embody and populate institutions that take on problems directly. There’s a great passage in Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville that says ‘When there are problems to be solved, Americans don’t fold their arms and wait for an official to show up, they take it upon themselves’. That’s the spirit we need to have in this election.

Levin says the struggle for religious liberty is central for subsidiarity in this society. “There’s such resistance from the government to allow institutions that embody the moral impulse to take care of things in this country” he said. “This must be fought at the local level.”

However, a convincing pragmatism helps. “It’s important that we who think we have solutions need to make them attractive to political leaders and our fellow voters,” Levin added. “In order to make them politically powerful, you first have to make them attractive to your neighbors. And then your political leaders.”

Start now, if you haven’t already. There may be months left, but they’re going fast. And the year has proven that anything can happen. Even, and especially, the unforeseen.

Trump and provocation; Christians and prudence

He claims to have a mandate. So do they.

As the New York Times reports it, GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump claims he has ‘a “mandate” from his supporters to run as a fiery populist outsider’ instead of embracing “a traditional, mellower and more inclusive approach” that some party leaders advocate. He got this far being provocative, and he’s not changing course now, he says, according to the Times.

Such behavior, rhetoric, and the determination to keep doing more of the same now that he has virtually wrapped up the nomination, has left many conservatives wondering and asking ‘What to do?‘ Kathryn Lopez notes the angst, and offers sobering considerations.

What ails us is a disordered view of what politics is about. We seem to have a bipartisan problem of looking for a savior in a president — it’s the stuff both of Barack Obama’s “We are the ones we have been waiting for” campaign and of Republicans (and now even some Democrats) idolizing the memory of Ronald Reagan. So take a deep breath, everyone — whomever you do or don’t support this presidential-election season. The presidency is vitally important, of course. But not in the ways we’ve been tending to think. Donald Trump didn’t start the fire, and there was never going to be a perfect presidential candidate who could put it out. That’s our work — the work of good citizenship.

Which is exactly the point Stephen White makes in his new book Red, White, Blue and Catholic.

It’s a perennial question: Can Christians be good citizens? The author of the second century “Letter to Diognetus” addressed this question. Three centuries later, St. Augustine wrote City of God largely in response to the same question. In American history, the question has been asked more specifically of Catholics, for a variety of reasons. At its heart, the question is about the nature and scope of the political good: Is the good of the political community compatible with Christian claims about the nature and destiny of the human person? Catholics should relish the chance to address that question because it gets to the very heart of the faith.

Which is living what’s known as ‘the social gospel’, the respect for human dignity, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity. All of which can be helped or hindered by social policy made through the political process.

White continues:

I think one danger which arises from our politics of permanent crisis is the temptation to think that if we could just get people to vote the right way, and therefore have the right people in government, everything would take care of itself. Needless to say, having the “right people” winning elections is hardly a sufficient condition for a flourishing republic. The health of the republic depends upon our being a people possessed of certain virtues. The cultivation of those virtues — those habits which enable us to live our freedom well — is primarily the work of civil society. Government can help a little, and hinder a lot. But most of the work of forming citizens falls to families, schools, churches, businesses, and so on.

Which gets to what has become a struggle for people trying to get on with living out the  mandate of forming and serving a just and virtuous society. And that’s where the politics of passion gets mixed up with anger, and prudence becomes more necessary. In

This divorce between principle and prudence has made false political idealism seem attractive. It has also made prudence one of the most difficult virtues to understand and to defend in our current political climate. But if we want a just society, we must begin by recovering the right understanding of prudence. There is perhaps no better way to begin such a recovery than by studying the patron saint of statesmen, Thomas More.

The article notes that in More’s work Utopia, he explores “with great subtlety and wit the dangerous dynamics of anger and political idealism.” It’s a good study for our particular season. Having a character suggest that ‘politics is impervious to truth’, More makes his central point:

Don’t give up the ship in a storm because you cannot hold back the winds . . . Instead, by an indirect approach, you must strive and struggle as best you can to handle everything tactfully—and thus what you cannot turn to good, you may at least make as little bad as possible. For it is impossible to make everything good unless all men are good, and that I don’t quite expect to see for quite a few years yet.

How well this lesson transcends the times, and how apt it has become yet again.

Donald Trump prevails

Against all conventional wisdom, he has become the GOP’s presumptive nominee for president.

But the only consistency in this wild political season has been its unpredictability, in both parties. This has been an election cycle far out of the bounds of political models and establishment control and certainly, conventional wisdom. Very different winds have been blowing in America since the early GOP campaigns launched last year and over a dozen candidates joined the crowded field by early 2016. Who would have thought back then that it would wind up like this.

That unforeseen force of nature has caught up American Democrats since Hillary Clinton began what was supposed to be an easy stride to the convention podium this summer to accept the Democratic nomination for president, only to be outshone in popularity by longtime Democratic Socialist Senate veteran Bernie Sanders. She may well be the inevitable candidate, but it’s May and she’s not there yet. That’s remarkable.

It has been a bruising, belligerent, demeaning, undignified and uninspiring battle to date. Conventional wisdom had Ohio and/or Florida as always pivotal in putting candidates over the top. This time, all the states played a key role, but it was Indiana that handed Donald Trump the decisive win that, suddenly, turned him into the inevitable GOP candidate for presidency. It also knocked Sen. Ted Cruz out of the race all of a sudden.

Here’s the New York Times early analysis, one of the few outlets swift to offer anything more than a placeholder paragraph or two until they could process what just happened. Essentially, it shows a matchup of two unpopular candidates, another remarkable reality in this year’s election. Donald Trump packed stadiums and arenas and picked up momentum on ‘the Trump Train’ as time went on, but for all those primary victories, he continually polled behind Clinton in a general election matchup. Until the night of the Indiana primary.

The Times story doesn’t report this, but one of the latest polls showed Trump about even in that faceoff. The bigger story is that polls and predictions haven’t meant much this year, as people at the grassroots defied them again and again. The Times article had to fill the analysis with something, so it resorted to conventional wisdom. Which makes no sense. People reacted. We have become a reactionary nation, visceral and impulsive and driven by emotion. How voting polls show one thing in people registering to vote for the first time or first time in a long time, longer lines at many polling places, reflecting engaged citizens, while popularity polls show the ‘unlikeability’ factor rather high for the now presumptive GOP and Democratic candidate, is beyond reason and virtually beyond precedent.

I recently heard former Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry on a news show, asked for his opinion on Trump. He said: “We have never had anyone on the political stage who is as talented at selling a brand as Donald Trump. Now selling a brand is different from managing a country, so we’ll see.”

We’ll see whether and how the tone, tenor, content and character change in this new stage of Election 2016. And we’ll be watching, and listening, closely.

 

Trump managed to upset everyone on abortion

But it put some important questions into the arena of public debate.

No matter how to whatever degree Donald Trump’s campaign has tried or managed to change the wording and intent of his response to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about punishing women who have abortion if it were to become illegal, the correction will not catch up with the original statement. Matthews set up a ‘gotcha’ trap and Trump walked right into it. The news cycles ever since have fed on the resulting sound bites, and will continue to for months now that the hot button candidate has stumbled on the hot button issue.

So let’s clarify, and set the record straight, apart from whatever Donald Trump or any other political candidate, politician, or activist might say.

This came up as an abortion activist ploy in 2007, which I wrote about in a now defunct publication, as soon as it came out that pro-lifers were being ambushed with a variation on Matthews’ question. It was a new tactic to silence them, and at first, it seemed to work (and history has seemingly repeated itself in this political moment).

Here’s what I wrote then:

The question is simple and blunt: “If abortion is criminalized, what should the penalty be for a woman who has one?” It’s amazing the abortion movement has taken more than three decades to come up with it, but even more dumbfounding that they see it as the “eureka!” moment, the great trump card that will, they believe, stop pro-lifers in their tracks.

This is their new strategy?

“Gotcha!”

(Nine years ago, I could never have imagined the pun in that line “the great trump card” the abortion movement was playing.)

Continuing:

Now, they have begun to ambush pro-life people outside abortion clinics with a camera, drop the big question about making women criminals, and post the video online.

Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen hardly contained her enthusiasm over this new strategy in her piece titled “How Much Jail Time for Women Who Have Abortions?” (Newsweek, August 6, 2007). It starts with the description of a YouTube “mini-documentary shot in front of an abortion clinic” in Illinois. “The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless. You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It’s as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations”.

Quindlen relishes this story. Especially reporting these responses by pro-lifers: “I’ve never really thought about it”. “I don’t have an answer for that”. “I don’t know”. “Just pray for them”.

End of Newsweek snip, at which point I say:

This is unacceptable. Her cynicism? [No.] That’s the level of discourse we get in the media these days. The ambush tactic? [No.] That’s the type of attack we can expect in the abortion battle at this point. But Quindlen’s report on the inability of committed pro-lifers to answer the big questions that still confuse this culture is totally beyond the pale. Because the debate has shifted dramatically in recent years, especially since South Dakota [passed an abortion ban], the pro-life movement owns the argument. There is not one question they should fear, and not one answer the abortion movement can honestly claim as validation for what they do.

But this isn’t about honesty. It’s about talking points and spin control. Now they’re spinning this myth that pro-lifers want to criminalize abortion, and make women criminals for getting one illegally.

Quindlen declared it triumphantly: “A new public-policy group called the National Institute for Reproductive Health wants to take this contradiction and make it the centerpiece of a national conversation, along with a slogan that stops people in their tracks: how much time should she do?” They are celebrating their cleverness.

But consider the big picture…

This much Quindlen gets right: “If the Supreme Court decides abortion is not protected by a constitutional guarantee of privacy, the issue will revert to the states. If it goes to the states, some, perhaps many, will ban abortion”.

But she draws a false conclusion: “If abortion is made a crime, then surely the woman who has one is a criminal”. Wrong. Not one state has written or planned language in abortion ban legislation that would consider — or allow anyone to consider — the woman a criminal for having an abortion. The party guilty of a crime would be the abortionist. Quindlen and her abortion-backing colleagues came up with this false dichotomy. They propose that, by their logic, the woman is a criminal. And they’re pinning that tortured logic on pro-life people.

At least on the ambush video and in print articles like Quindlen’s. That is, until she inadvertently stumbles on the truth: “Lawmakers in a number of states have already passed or are considering statutes designed to outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned”, Quindlen writes. “But almost none hold the woman, the person who set the so-called crime in motion, accountable”.

Exactly.

Get it straight, pro-life people, pro-abortion people, media who write about the issues and ask candidates about them, politicians who are asked those question, and voters confused by the breathless news cycles.

Here’s the truth:

Pro-life legal experts, legislators and advocates know that women are already victims in abortions. Whether the abortionist is a doctor or a back-alley hack, they would be held accountable for breaking the law wherever abortion is banned. This is information all pro-life people need to understand thoroughly.

The South Dakota abortion ban, House Bill 1215, states in Section 4:

“Nothing in this Act may be construed to subject the pregnant mother upon whom any abortion is performed or attempted to any criminal conviction and penalty.

“The South Dakota legislators who drafted it had already crafted legislation to protect women in the earlier informed consent law, HB 1166. Here is one of its provisions:

“Require that the State create a written disclosure form that requires the abortion doctor to provide the mother, in person, with all of the risks of abortion to the mother and her unborn child. Require that this disclosure take place before the woman pays for the abortion and before she is taken to the procedure room. Require that the mother must also be provided sufficient time for personal review and discernment.”

In other words, a standard informed consent that any medical procedure requires. Planned Parenthood immediately took the law to court and blocked its enforcement. Their argument before the district judge and then the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals was that the abortionists’ freedom of speech (i.e., not to tell women about all the risks) trumped the women’s right to know.

Which got virtually no coverage outside the pro-life world and social media.

Quindlen’s article in Newsweek wraps up with this: “The great thing about video is that you can see the mental wheels turning as these people realize that they somehow have overlooked something central while they were slinging certainties.”

Actually, abortion activists have been slinging their own certainties for decades. It’s only a matter of time before a video turns up that captures their wheels turning, while the most committed abortion supporters confront a few questions and see whether there are any true epiphanies.

(That was eight years before the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees answering questions about obtaining and making available for sale baby body parts after abortions.)

In 2007 through present times, one could and can ask…

Questions like: “If the abortion movement is really all about ‘choice’, why are you so opposed to actually giving women one, by following the standard medical procedure requirement of obtaining ‘informed consent’?” “When informed consent laws in different states actually make it close to passage, why do you fight them so vigorously?” “If you really are ‘pro-choice’, what do you have against giving women a two- or three-day consideration period … or even 24 hours … after allowing her to know all her options?”

(These aren’t actually answered, or even confronted.)

The Newsweek column concludes that “there are only two logical choices: hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. If you can’t countenance the first, you have to accept the second. You can’t have it both ways.” But that is wrongheaded and illogical. This is the abortion movement contriving an untenable calculation.

Americans United for Life Senior Counsel Clarke Forsythe published this clarification in April 2010 about states not prosecuting women even before Roe v. Wade. It’s very thorough and should be read now.

The political claim—that women were or will be prosecuted or jailed under abortion laws—has been made so frequently by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and NOW over the past 40 years that it has become an urban legend. It shows the astonishing power of contemporary media to make a complete falsehood into a truism.

For 30 years, abortion advocates have claimed—without any evidence and contrary to the well-documented practice of ALL 50 states—that women were jailed before Roe and would be jailed if Roe falls (or if state abortion prohibitions are reinstated).

This claim rests on not one but two falsehoods:

First, the almost uniform state policy before Roe was that abortion laws targeted abortionists, not women…

Second, the myth that women will be jailed relies, however, on the myth that “overturning” Roe will result in the immediate re-criminalization of abortion. If Roe was overturned today, abortion would be legal in at least 42-43 states tomorrow, and likely all 50 states, for the simple reason that nearly all of the state abortion prohibitions have been either repealed or are blocked by state versions of Roe adopted by state courts. The issue is entirely academic. The legislatures of the states would have to enact new abortion laws—and these would almost certainly continue the uniform state policy before Roe that abortion laws targeted abortionists and treated women as the second victim of abortion. There will be no prosecutions of abortionists unless the states pass new laws after Roe is overturned.

This political claim is not an abstract question that is left to speculation—there is a long record of states treating women as the second victim of abortion in the law that can be found and read. (emphasis added)

So media have the task, embedded in their profession, to find and read it.

Meanwhile, more from my article in 2007.

The week the Quindlen column came out in Newsweek, two post-abortive women, Georgette Forney and Janet Morana, co-directors of the ‘Silent No More Awareness Campaign’, reacted to the continuing deceit of the abortion movement in public statements. “To Anna Quindlen and anyone else I would say that women are already serving time for abortion right now in our own prisons”, Forney said. “No condescending dismissal of women’s torment by abortion ideologues can diminish the daily punishment of guilt, shame, and remorse post-abortive women experience.”

Morana made it clear what the overwhelming majority of pro-life people believe: women who have abortions are frequently victims as well because of the way abortion businesses sell abortions to them with misinformation….”The abortion profiteers and their shills in the press have been telling society for years that whatever it is that abortion terminates, it’s not a baby,” she said.

“This propaganda onslaught has taken its toll on women who believed that lie and who emphatically state today that had they known that their child was not just a “clump of tissue,” as abortionists told them, they would have never aborted,’ Morana added.”

This is going to remain a big issue in Election 2016. Good.

Abortion activists want to put the big questions out there. Let them be prepared to answer them, to carry the argument through to its logical conclusion. Why does an abortionist have more of a right to remain silent about abortion risks than the woman patient does to receive it, when her health is at stake?

(Re: informed consent law claims by Planned Parenthood and NARAL)

Why did NY Salon’s abortion forum, titled ‘What’s So Bad About Abortion?’ refuse any participation to the women from ‘Silent No More’, who could actually answer that question? Why does NY Salon’s website claim the group “believes passionately in free speech and discussing ideas robustly” but they would not allow Forney to discuss the idea that abortion is bad for women? After all, they already stacked the forum with four abortion advocates, from NARAL, the National Abortion Federation and a British abortion business. But the forum did not include any women who have had abortions and regret that decision. So, did they really want to know what’s so bad about abortion, after all?

Furthermore.…Why has the abortion movement turned its back for so long on Norma McCorvey after she was useful as “Jane Roe”, after she turned pro-life and Catholic and began to work so hard to inform the public about the impact of abortion? Do abortion activists realize that “reproductive rights” is a euphemism to fool the public into blanket acceptance of all contraception and abortion, or are they deluded as well? Although, if they’re deluded, they can’t answer that.

There’s a principle in law and logic that applies here. Never ask a question you can’t answer.

Rubio’s last stand?

If it is, he goes out with noble dignity.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio is young and could have a great future ahead of him in leadership, whether at the state or federal level. His candidacy for president took a precipitous turn recently and never recovered from the slide. He came out acknowledging his mistakes in judgment, a rare act of humility for a public servant and a candidate for the presidency, singular among a field who mostly don’t see themselves at all as a public servant, and some of whom seem to betray a sense of entitlement and aspiration to a high and mighty position of power.

When he was on the slide in recent weeks and even the past several days, pundits and analysts said he should get out of the race to save face from losing his home state of Florida, which would set back or negate his chances to run for governor of that state in the future, with a wide open road to future runs for higher office. Even his supporters started expressing that wish, so he wouldn’t stand to lose his own state. But Rubio  learned from listening to others than to his own heart and conscience.

With a couple of poor debate performances causing his slide in the polls, he took the bad advice to counter the verbal assault with low blows and to ‘punch back’, which he almost immediately regretted. As low as it got in an exchange with Donald Trump (a regular and a veteran in the arena of disgraceful assaults), Rubio knew he should never have gone there, and he publicly apologized. He exposed his regret at having humiliated himself, his family, his supporters, American voters and everyone involved in the process. It has been a rare public accounting for one’s errors of personal judgment, an examination of conscience that allowed him to express remorse and the will to serve as a public witness to higher goals.

It’s rare in a public official, a leader, especially one who seeks to be the top leader in the land. And before he exists the race, if he does after Tuesday’s elections, he deserves recognition and appreciation for this honesty and noble dignity.

On the eve of the Florida primary, a reflective Marco Rubio looked out at a roaring crowd of diverse supporters and, once again, expressed regret.

“The fact that I’m here now in front of those cameras comes with responsibility, and I’ll confess, I’ve learned that myself,” the Florida senator said…

He ran through the list of people he embarrassed with his bawdy rumble with Donald Trump — his children, his wife, his young supporters.

“I felt terrible about it,” Rubio said. “I realized that win or lose, there are people out there that see what I’m doing and follow it as a role model.”

After days of unflinching optimism on the campaign trail, the gravity of Tuesday’s Florida primary appeared to bear down at one of Rubio’s last stops of the day. And potentially, one of the last stops of his presidential campaign…

“Leadership is not about going to angry and frustrated people and saying, ‘You should be even angrier and more frustrated, and you should be angry and frustrated at each other,'” Rubio said. “That is not leadership. You know what that is? That’s called demagoguery, and it is dangerous.”

He lamented Trump’s over-the-top style, from his use of profanity — “we have never had a presidential candidate that has to be bleeped out” — to his apparent willingness to pay the legal fees for a supporter who sucker punched a protester.

“I know there are people that like this stuff because he says what they want to be able to say,” Rubio said. “Presidents can’t say whatever they want to say. You have to be honest, you have to be correct and you have to be truthful. But you can’t say whatever you want to say.”

There’s a significant lesson in that. A great sign of maturity as a citizen, and a candidate for high office.

Later Monday, Rubio’s bus pulled up to a crowd of hundreds gathered on a brightly lit, outdoor basketball court in West Miami, where Rubio would hold his potentially last rally as a presidential candidate. He hopped up on the bed of a pick-up truck and used a bullhorn to address the enthusiastic crowd, as a giant American flag hung on a building behind him.

It was a homecoming of sorts, given that Rubio said he used to play basketball in this park and it’s an area where he campaigned to run for city commissioner two decades ago.

“And this is the park I wanted to be in tonight, on the eve of the most important election in a generation, in the state that always makes the difference…

Speaking more in Spanish than in English, Rubio thanked the community for their support over the years. He had fun joking around with the crowd — especially in Spanish — and appeared more relaxed and at ease than he has in days.

“No matter where I’ll go or where I’ll be, I will always be a son of this community,” he told them. “I will always carry with me the hopes and dreams of generations who made possible the hopes of mine.”

A while back, in the thick of the debate season and beginning of the caucuses and earliest primaries, someone asked him what his reaction would be to losing. Without a pause, he instinctively responded that God’s will would be done, and that’s all that mattered. On this eve of what may be the ultimate Super Tuesday of this election year, Rubio seemed more at peace than he has in many months.

Looking for a ‘genuinely reformist candidate’

Not Donald Trump.

There are too many initiatives, publications and organized efforts around those three words to get into here. But it’s growing, this counter-appeal to voters to direct their energies around a tried and true reform candidate that appeal to their passions more than their anger.

This one by two top Catholic scholars, signed onto by nearly three dozen other top names in academia and scholarship and leadership, is short, succinct and sobering. I saw it within minutes after it posted, know both writers as well as many of the signatories to the appeal, and realized what a new moment it represented.

Though National Review Online devoted a whole symposium and special edition ‘Against Trump‘, with top commentators and writers contributing provocative essays on the theme, and CatholicVote.org broke from tradition and went so far as to issue the public statement ‘Not. Trump.‘, and individual writers of exceptional depth and experience have issued their own strong statements, this was something different. It is extraordinary.

Here’s the essence:

In recent decades, the Republican party has been a vehicle — imperfect, like all human institutions, but serviceable — for promoting causes at the center of Catholic social concern in the United States: (1) providing legal protection for unborn children, the physically disabled and cognitively handicapped, the frail elderly, and other victims of what Saint John Paul II branded “the culture of death”; (2) defending religious freedom in the face of unprecedented assaults by officials at every level of government who have made themselves the enemies of conscience; (3) rebuilding our marriage culture, based on a sound understanding of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and (4) re-establishing constitutional and limited government, according to the core Catholic social-ethical principle of subsidiarity. There have been frustrations along the way, to be sure; no political party perfectly embodies Catholic social doctrine. But there have also been successes, and at the beginning of the current presidential electoral cycle, it seemed possible that further progress in defending and advancing these noble causes was possible through the instrument of the Republican party. That possibility is now in grave danger. And so are those causes.

Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to be president of the United States. His campaign has already driven our politics down to new levels of vulgarity. His appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice are offensive to any genuinely Catholic sensibility. He promised to order U.S. military personnel to torture terrorist suspects and to kill terrorists’ families — actions condemned by the Church and policies that would bring shame upon our country. And there is nothing in his campaign or his previous record that gives us grounds for confidence that he genuinely shares our commitments…

The two highly esteemed writers acknowledge Trump supporters’ concerns, with due respect.

We understand that many good people, including Catholics, have been attracted to the Trump campaign because the candidate speaks to issues of legitimate and genuine concern: wage stagnation, grossly incompetent governance, profligate governmental spending, the breakdown of immigration law, inept foreign policy, stifling “political correctness” — for starters. There are indeed many reasons to be concerned about the future of our country, and to be angry at political leaders and other elites.

However, they contend, there are other candidates more worthy of support who address these concerns without the ‘vulgarity’ and ‘demagoguery’.

And they conclude with this appeal:

Mr. Trump’s record and his campaign show us no promise of greatness; they promise only the further degradation of our politics and our culture. We urge our fellow Catholics and all our fellow citizens to reject his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination by supporting a genuinely reformist candidate.

Signed, Princeton Professor Robert P. George, and Ethics and Public Policy Center Distinguished Senior Fellow George Weigel. And nearly three dozen signers after them.

That is a snapshot that at least offers clues to where we are in American politics in this most unusual, defiant season. This appeal to voters is at least one piece of a puzzle as yet so incomplete, it remains incoherent. And with a hold that remains, so far, only tenuous.