In a recent social media thread about a GOP politician who has decided not to run for reelection, I came across two conflicting statements about morality. The first came up in terms of No. 45 and the Capital Insurrection. What was said was, “His conduct was disgraceful but not illegal.” The second comment addressed the moral code that the rightwing believes it is fighting to preserve. It seemed to me a good idea to explore these two ideas.
The first comment is a defense one hears many times on social media, and it’s important to put it in its proper context. No. 45 began signaling his stolen election defense as soon as his poll numbers dropped below those of candidate Biden. Then, No. 45 lost by 7 million votes in an election with record breaking turnout, which No. 45’s own administration declared the most transparent in history. To this day, even after 60 failed law suits, No. 45 insists the election was stolen from him.
The fall out of No. 45’s stolen election defense has been that state level Republicans are insisting that the 2020 election be investigated to the nth-degree in the swing states where No. 45 lost. Using conspiracy theories and rhetoric, Republicans are looking for anything they can find that they can claim is evidence that the 2020 election was stolen. The danger is, when they don’t find what they want, they’ll lie to prove their point. Wanting to save-face is a very human thing to do, and has justified any number of ill conceived, illegal actions in the past. At the very least, we can be sure that the GOP is making sure to replace election officials who stood in the way of manipulating the count, using claims of election fraud to commit election fraud.
As far as legality is concerned, everything that has happened as a result of No. 45’s stolen election defense has been legal. That is to say nobody has gone to jail yet except a few of the most fanatical who were foolish enough to participate in the Captial Insurrection. On the other hand, everything No. 45 said and did related to the 2020 election, and everything the GOP has done related to elections at the state level, has been an attack on the democratic traditions that have kept the United States safe for 240 years.
The worst example is occurring in Michigan. The current Michigan Constitution was passed in 1963, and includes a way for citizen groups to introduce legislation directly to the state legislature. 1963 was a much simpler time than today, and it is easy to imagine some citizen group in arms about an issue the legislature is ignoring, so they bring it up themselves. According to the Michigan Constitution all that is needed is a petition that has 300,000 signatures. Pertinent to today’s discussion is that Michigan also has a democrat as governor who is unlikely to sign any of the election “reforms” that Republicans have pushed through in other states into law. Michigan is also a presidential election swing state.
The details of the procedure are this. Whatever citizen proposed legislation arrives in the legislature can be passed into law with a simple majority vote, which Republican have, and cannot be vetoed by the Governor. So, all Michigan Republicans have to do is scare up enough “citizen’s groups” to propose the legislation they want, and finance the work to get enough people to sign the petitions. Then they can rubber stamp the proposals in the Legislature and the Governor Whitmer is taken out of the equation completely.
The tragedy for democracy of this legal end run around government is that there is so much dark money in politics that they’ll be able to do this quite easily and we’ll never know the truth of who is behind the apparently grassroots citizen’s group who appeared at just the right moment to propose legislation that is advantageous to Republicans. This Republican win-at-all-costs strategy has found a way to short circuit democratic representation and the legislative process in the name of winning elections. It’s legal, but it’s highly immoral and against all the premises that keep a democratic society democratic. So, legality wins out over morality in an obsessive drive to flip Congress in 2022, and the White House in 2024.
The second comment I read was this, “Over the past years – liberals have legalized homosexual marriage forcing [a] Christian adoption organization to place children with unmarried couples, etc., etc. — The Right does have morals – morals that the [L]eft does not believe in.”
The meaning here is plain and easy to see. It’s a reference to those moral issues that every society must face, gay marriage, abortion, civil rights, etc. These are all important questions that must be talked about openly and honestly, and can never be considered permanently solves because people’s attitudes change over time. What many fail to realize is that there are no perfect solutions to these questions because there are so many points of view, so the best solution is one what allows as many people as possible to get what they want while maintaining the peace. For that seemingly impossible goal to be achieved, people have to tolerate each other and their difference points of view. When tolerance of difference is abandoned the politics of democracy morphs into the politics of power; that is using politics to suppress that which you disagree with and impose that which you believe.
The recent anti-abortion law, SB 8, passed in Texas is an example of imposing beliefs. First, let us remember that Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land and therefore is expected to be legally available. SB 8 proudly announces that it is an extension of all the previous anti-abortion laws that were never repealed when Roe v. Wade took effect. Then it prohibits abortion after the fetal heartbeat begins, approximately 6 weeks into the pregnancy. The problem here is that most women don’t know their pregnant until long after this point for a variety of reasons. For example, there are many women who appear to still have their periods after pregnancy begins. The blood flow is not regular menstrual blood, but excess blood caused by the pregnancy itself. I’m not a doctor, or a lawyer, but as I read SB 8 the only way a woman can avoid running afoul of it is an actual medical pregnancy test after each intercourse.
The rest of SB 8 builds a defensive wall to prevent it from being made ineffective. For example, SB 8 precludes women bringing law suits against SB 8 claiming that it causes undue burdens on women in general. SB 8 law suits will be decided strictly on the merits of each individual case, and will have no implications of other women. When you are trying to enforce the laws that people object to a libertarian point of view can be very helpful, and this anti-group point of view is written into the Libertarian Party platform. Furthermore, if someone brings a law suit against SB 8, and wins, awards will not be given unless they make access to abortion more difficult. If you have the evidence and the circumstance to win a case against SB 8, the law itself will prevent you from changing anything.
The state of Texas will not lift a finger to enforce SB 8. Enforcement is left up to the people of Texas who may bring law suits as they wish. If they win, the court is supposed to give them awards that will prevent the defendant from ever conducting abortions again, damages of no less than $10,000 per infraction, and costs and attorney’s fees.
This is not governance. This is libertarian-inspired, vigilante justice. This is a divide and conquer strategy that pits the people of Texas against themselves with a financial incentive for those on the right side of things. At the risk of being crass, the state of Texas setting its citizens against each other might also be a good way of distracting them from the fact that the state failed them utterly and completely during worst winter storm in recent memory by not doing anything to be prepared for it, and not doing anything to prevent covid from spreading. SB 8 is an open declaration the Republicans in Texas have abandoned democracy in favor of the naked exercise of power.
To be fair to those I quoted, they were two different people talking about two different ideas with different people. What I have written is not meant as a criticism of them. What I hoped to achieve is to show some of the inconsistencies I find in the rightwing’s position. It is fundamentally dangerous to a democracy to simply let legality be your guide. In 6000 years of human existence, no civilization has managed a legal code that could not be subverted or distorted to the advantage of a few. When Franklin made his comment about keeping the US Republic, he was not referring to simply following the written word of the Constitution as too many assume. All nations, and all human societies are more than their foundational documents. They are the sum of the qualities of their members. Enshrined in the Constitution is an attitude of tolerance and institutional forbearance that will keep any society democratic in nature and peaceful at heart. If you want proof of this, look at all the topics that are NOT in the Constitution. The founders left those up to us to decide based on morality and legality.
Once you take the fundamentalist’s point of view that your moral code is the only one that is right, you commit yourself to conflict. By all means, accept any moral code you wish in your personal live. It will not bring you peace because sooner or later you will be confronted by someone whose moral code is different. You can each be hard-headed people of principle and reject the other for not meeting your expectations, or you can be more flexible. You can keep your code as your own, and allow the Other to live by theirs, and use politics to maintain the peace when conflicts arise.
Bernad Crick, in his book, In Defense of Politics, writes,
“Conciliation is better than violence – but it is not always possible; diversity is better than unity – but it does not always exist. But both are always desirable. Perhaps it all comes down to the fact that there are two great enemies of politics: indifference to human suffering and the passionate quest of certainty in matters which are essentially political. Indifference to human suffering discredits free regimes which are unable, or which fear, to extend the habits and possibilities of freedom from the few to the many. The quest for certainty scorns the political virtues – of prudence, of conciliation, of compromise, of variety, of adaptability, of liveliness – in favor of some pseudo-science of government, some absolute-sounding ethic, or some world-picture in terms of either race or economics. Perhaps it is curious, or simply unnatural, that [people] who live with dignity and honor in the face of such endemic uncertainties as death, [who are] always so close in the normal possibilities of accident, and disease; [who survive] love, its precariousness and its fading, [who are constantly dependent] on the will and whims of others, [can yet] go mad for certainty of government – a certainty which is the death of politics and freedom. A free government is one which makes decisions politically, not ideologically.”
Newt Gingrich said politics should be warfare. He was wrong.