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 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.