Why banning abortion is antisemitic and means 'lights out' for 'freedom of religion and freedom from it'

We ought to revive that old-time, pre-Roe, religion according to which an embryo is an embryo, not a person. That’s what I said last week.

Before 1973, the year the US Supreme Court decided Roe, the most opposed to abortion were Catholic dioceses. Other religions were indifferent or in favor of women’s ultimate authority over their bodies.

Indeed, to argue that an embryo is an embryo, not a person – or that a fetus is a fetus, not a person – was to push forward the cause of freedom of religion and freedom from it. Choice covered both.

Analysis by the Southern Baptist Convention found that Roe was consistent with this double-sided liberty. W. Barry Garrett, in 1973 a correspondent of The Baptist Press, said that the ruling was not just tolerable. It advanced “religious liberty, human equality and justice.”

“Does the decision on abortion intrude on the religious life of the people? Answer: No. Religious bodies and religious persons can continue to teach their own particular views to their constituents with all the vigor they desire. People whose conscience forbids abortion are not compelled by law to have abortions.”

He continued:

The reverse is also now true. … Those whose conscience or religious convictions are not violated by abortion may not now be forbidden by a religious law to obtain an abortion if they so choose.

The decision to obtain an abortion or to bring pregnancy to full term can now be a matter of conscience and deliberate choice rather than one compelled by law. Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.

That’s one pro-Roe religious angle. There’s another.

By coincidence, it was given fresh circulation Wednesday by a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing about the Supreme Court’s imminent decision on Roe.

Here’s Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who, like the entire House Republican Conference, favors stripping abortion rights:

When I was young, before I learned how babies came about, I thought when they said, 'my main my body, my choice,' they were talking about whatever was inside of the woman was part of her body.
The baby is not the body of the woman that it's inside of.
It's another life. It's not the body of the woman.

To the casual political observer, this seems ordinary. After all, the power of the anti-abortion movement rests of the idea that the “baby” is a life unto itself, completely separate from the life of the mother. Abortion, we are told, is murder on account of a “life” being taken.

Pert near everything about the half-century-long “pro-life” movement presumes, and indeed depends on, two lives being in question. Anti-abortionists believe the law should privilege the “baby’s” life. This sincere religious faith drives the movement for “fetal personhood.”

But what if they are not separate? What if there’s only one life?

What if that, too, were a matter of sincere religious faith?

Well, there’s no if.

According to Rabbi Karen Kriger Bogard, abortion is not only a matter of a women’s personal autonomy. Access to it is required by Jewish law.

“In the Torah, there's a story about two men fighting,” she told me. “One accidentally pushes a pregnant woman. There’s no other damage. She has a miscarriage. Exodus says the one responsible shall be fined.

“The very next verse talks about a life for a life, an eye for an eye. Clearly there is a distinction between what life is and what life isn't.”

Put another way, if the “baby” were a life, the life of the man who caused the miscarriage would be forfeit. After all, justice calls for “a life for a life, an eye for an eye.” However, “the baby” isn’t a life, according to the Book of Exodus. Therefore, a fine is all that’s required by law.

This is not a fringe Jewish view, Rabbi Bogard told me. Indeed, according to a prominent rabbi commenting in the Torah – or “the law” – “a fetus is considered a part of the pregnant person's body,” Rabbi Bogard said, “which is equivalent to their thigh” (my italics).

There’s more.

“Jewish law distinguishes between when a person is pregnant and when a person is giving birth,” she said. “It says in the Talmud when a person is having trouble giving birth, they should abort the fetus and ‘take it out limb by limb.’ In Jewish law, existing life comes before potential life.

You’re required to put the living before the not-yet living.

“However, if most of the child is born, we don't touch it. We don't trade one life for another. It's explicit in our text about when life starts.”

Again, this isn’t fringe.

This is the consensus across reform, conservative and orthodox Jewry. A truly marginal view comes from “pro-life” ultra-orthodox Jews aligned with the larger white evangelical Protestant community.

Today, in a letter to the editor of the New Haven Register, Cecily Routman, president of the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation, said the Jewish consensus is upside down. “Abortion is prohibited in Judaism,” she said. “It is judged to be the unwarranted taking of a life within a life.”

I don’t think Thomas Massie, the Kentucky congressman, intended to express a tenet of his sincere religious faith. (Maybe he did.) But it’s pretty clear, when taken with Cecily Routman’s claim, that believing that the body of the “baby” and the body of the woman are two separate things is an expression of a tenet of sincere religious faith.

It’s also pretty clear, to my way of thinking anyway, that the “pro-life” program depends on getting the rest of us – from atheists to Jews to Unitarians to Hindus – to think the same way. By cementing that view in the public mind, the path toward “fetal personhood” is made clear.

If this court upholds a state law based on a tenet of a sincere religious faith like the idea that a fetus is a person, it’s not only lights out for abortion. (“Personhood” would mean abortion is murder.) It’s lights out for that double-sided liberty: freedom of religion and freedom from it.

So repeat after me with as much (religious) feeling as you can.

A fetus is a fetus.

It’s part of its mother.

They are one.

Why Joe Biden's response to the Buffalo massacre was politically perceptive and morally mandatory

The White House is correct, I think, to avoid joining the pissing match between the Democrats and the Republicans over whether Fox host Tucker Carlson is to blame for inciting Payton Gendron to travel more than 200 hundred miles to shoot to pieces 10 Black people in Buffalo.

To be sure, that chimp-faced afreet, who never met a lie he didn’t like, might be responsible for mainstreaming “the great replacement” – that paranoid sepsis of blood and sinew according to which “them” are coming to replace “us,” a perversion of God’s natural order of things.

In fact, last night Carlson sold more paste to the paste-eaters: "The Democratic Party has decided that rather than convince you, people who are born here, that their policies are helping you and making the country better and stronger, they will change the electorate."

Carlson is confessing even as he’s projecting. That’s his wont. The Democrats don’t hope to “change the electorate,” though they pine away for an electorate soon-to-be changed by demographics. The entire program of rightwing politics seeks to “change the electorate.”

By force.

When they talk about immigration, they mean stopping “those people” from coming. When they talk about gun rights, they mean terrorizing “those people” already here. When they talk about abortion, they mean stopping and terrorizing “those people” to buy enough time for white women (who can’t get abortions thanks to the Supreme Court) to birth enough white babies that a “constitutional republic” can be “restored.”

We can say Carlson is responsible for making clear that sadism is the point in rightwing politics, but let’s not be naive. His is the top show on Fox because millions in this country already believe democracy is in crisis on account of “them” coming to “replace true democracy.”

The president was being generous – which is a good thing, politically – when he alleged that “the media” and “the internet” are radicalizing “lost and isolated individuals” like Payton Gendron. He was being generous, because come on. Be serious. An 18-year-old kid does not decide on his own that it’s time for a bunch of Black people to die.

Whatever the context he grew up in, it almost certainly included plenty of white-power rhetoric about undeserving Black people (“them”) taking something away from deserving white people (“us”), and that someone ought to take care of it, if only he had the guts.

Carlson didn’t mainstream it, but he did rationalize it. That’s why Biden’s remarks yesterday in Buffalo were so significant. To my way of thinking, they suggested a break from the past. He began creating conditions so rationalizing white supremacy is politically dangerous.

I don’t recall another sitting president using the word “terrorism” to describe a shooting massacre. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) Barack Obama didn’t after Sandy Hook and Charleston. Of course, the former president didn’t after Pittsburgh and El Paso. (He incited them, gladly.)

Yet Joe Biden had no qualms.

“What happened here is simple and straightforward – terrorism, terrorism, domestic terrorism,” the president said. “Violence inflicted in the service of hate and a vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people being inherently inferior to any other group.”

“I call on all Americans to reject the lie. And I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain and for profit,” he said. “Because that’s what it is. We have now seen too many times the deadly and destructive violence this ideology unleashes” (the italics are mine).

I read about the speech in USA Today this morning. The report noted that the president “only briefly mentioned gun control in his remarks, renewing his call for Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban.”


That’s amazing. For Obama, the solution to mass violence was policy. He dared not engage politically. He feared that it would backfire.

Things are different for Biden, for obvious reasons.

Policy, to him, is secondary to politics. The old assault weapons ban was so irrelevant to his goal in Buffalo that the president “only briefly mentioned” it. His overall purpose was drawing a line in the sand.

You’re with us (democracy) or with them (white supremacy).

You can’t have both.

“We need to say as clearly and forcefully as we can that the ideology of white supremacy has no place in America. None. And, look, failure for us is to not say that — failure, in saying that, is going to be complicity. Silence is complicity. It’s complicity. We cannot remain silent.”

Failure is silence.

Silence is complicity.

Complicity is terrorism.

The Republicans benefit from the Buffalo massacre. A scared population is a controllable population – at least for long enough for white women to birth more white babies, restoring “true democracy.”

They do not benefit when most people most of the time associate the party with white political violence, or domestic terrorism. The more the public sees that, the more the Republicans must duck and cover.

The president has been doing this a long time. He knows which way the winds are blowing. Something is telling him that the right moral thing to do is now in alignment with the right political thing to do.

Biden is meeting the politics of murder with the politics of democracy, not neutral-sounding policy. “You can’t prevent people from being radicalized to violence,” Biden said, “but we can address the relentless exploitation of the internet to recruit and mobilize terrorism."

“We just need to have the courage to do that – to stand up.”

It feels like 'no one really cares' that Black Americans are terrified of being murdered by white supremacists

Last weekend, my neighborhood in New Haven hosted a small arts festival. Friday was for adults. There was beer. There was loud music. There was a fashion show. All but one model was Black or of color. The audience was a third white, a third Black and a third everyone else.

I was reminded of why I love the Elm City.

It was a feeling white-power terrorists dream of killing.

No one like Payton Gendron showed up, thank God. But the fact that I’m thinking about it, after the 18-year-old massacred on Saturday 11 Black people in Buffalo, illustrates the reach of political violence.

It doesn’t stop with victims.

It doesn’t stop with victims’ families.

It reaches across time and space to colonize our minds.

“I am terrified to be a Black woman walking around in America,” tweeted Anna Gifty, an economist and writer. “We are literally afraid to live our lives because some random person feels entitled to taking it. I map out exits before I enter stores. I have nightmares about dying."

“And no one cares,” she added. “No one really cares about us.”

The public might care were members of the Washington press corps to take white political violence as seriously as they do Al Qaeda’s or the Islamic State’s. As it is, reporters like the Post’s Matt Viser evidently see white political violence as if it were just a part of the politics game.

Joe “Biden ran for president pledging to ‘restore the soul of America,’” Viser wrote this morning. “A racist massacre raises questions about that promise, and his visit Tuesday will signal how he will respond.”

Put another way, Biden: They’re out to kill us.

Right-wingers: We’re out to kill you.

The press corps: How will Biden’s response impact the midterms?

The public: Maybe the right-wingers have a point.

One can only imagine what reporting might look like had Viser (and his colleagues) covered the Buffalo massacre as a deadly outcome of right-wing politics rather than an abstract problem for the president to solve. If more Americans understood violence is an end to itself in right-wing politics, more Americans might put the blame where it belongs.

The problem is more complex than that, though.

The Buffalo massacre would not have been possible without the many editors, reporters and opinion writers who legitimized a white-power backlash against political gains made in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white cop. Those gains amassed into a voting coalition larger than any in US history that put Joe Biden in the White House.

After Biden’s election, after which the threat of fascism seemed to fade, these editors, reporters and opinion writers began chipping away at the anti-racism that animated the president’s winning coalition.

They produced reams of news stories and opinion pieces about “wokeism,” “cancel culture” and “critical race theory,” terms that were defined in bad faith by the enemies of anti-racism but taken as good faith by editors, reporters and opinion writers of elite publications.

Cancel culture (no quotes) is a status quo by which the powerful stomp the weak, usually without consequence. George Floyd’s murder was the exception. As the exception, it promised to upend the status quo.

But after Biden’s election, the way was clear for the right-wing to “flip the script,” as they say. The wielders of power were cast as the victims of power. The victims of power were cast as the wielders of power. These editors, reporters and opinion writers chose to believe it.

As a result, just weeks after Inauguration Day, anti-racist and anti-sexist attempts to hold the powerful to account, as George Floyd’s murderer was, were met with loud bipartisan outrage. The press corps ignored the coming right-wing danger. After all, how dangerous can something be when editors, reporters and opinion writers say it’s not?

No matter how much right-wingers threatened to resort to violence in order to protect kids from “critical race theory,” these editors, reporters and opinion writers managed to convey to the public that right-wingers vowing to resort to violence might have a point.

The press corps could have tried understanding anti-racism (from which true critical race theory comes). It could have decided against believing people who don’t mean anything they say. Instead, the press corps chose to play along, though “critical race theory” is “replacement theory” in right-wing politics – though Payton Gendron said “critical race theory” is a Jewish plot that justifies murdering Jews wholesale.

In truth, “wokeism,” “cancel culture” and “critical race theory” are empty terms reflecting fear and anxiety felt by (mostly) white men situated at the centers of power. They include the very obscenely rich owners of the world’s most lucrative media properties. These editors, reporters and opinion writers of elite publications ultimately answer to them.

Elite fear and anxiety of being “replaced” matched well with Payton Gendron’s fear and anxiety of being “replaced." Elite interest aligned with white-power interest, creating ideal conditions for a third of Americans to believe the Democrats are trying to “replace” them – creating ideal conditions for Payton Gendron’s mass murder.

There’s a debate currently going on about what inspired Payton Gendron to kill in cold blood. Was it Tucker Carlson, the Fox host who’s been mainstreaming “replacement theory.” Or was it 4chan, the digital leech bed from which arose sewage like the QAnon conspiracy?

The debate will never be resolved.

Its participants – members of a Washington press corps that helped legitimize and make respectable a white-power backlash against anti-racist political gains made in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white cop – are not looking for answers where they should be.

They should look at themselves. They won’t.

Meanwhile, Americans fear being killed.

No one cares.

Three things happened this weekend -- and they are connected

Three things happened this weekend.

They are connected.

They are the GOP’s three-legged stool.

First, several high-profile Republicans, including the No. 3 House leader, accused the president of giving preferential treatment to undocumented Americans at the expense of “native” white Americans.

The administration provides baby formula to mothers detained at the US-Mexican border while they see through the deportation process. (Baby formula is scarce due to issues relating to trade, monopoly and the covid pandemic. The national shortage is reaching crisis levels.)

New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, chair of the GOP conference, alleged on Twitter that “Joe Biden continues to put America last by shipping pallets of baby formula to the southern border as American families face empty shelves. This is unacceptable. American mothers and their babies shouldn’t suffer because of the #BidenBorderCrisis.”

In September, the representative ran a series of ads on Facebook accusing “radical Democrats” of “planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION. Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”

The second thing that happened this weekend was tens of thousands of women, mostly white, demonstrating in Washington and other major American cities to protest the Supreme Court’s imminent ruling that will almost certainly strike down Roe. Organizers say the marches preview a “summer of rage” happening before the midterm elections.

Third was a trio of mass shootings in California, Dallas and Buffalo.

Buffalo’s is getting the most attention.

The shooter is an 18-year-old white supremacist from rural New York. His semi-automatic rifle was emblazoned with the n-word as well as the names of notorious white terrorists: Anders Breivik (Norway, 2011), Dylann Roof (Charleston, 2015), Robert Bowers (Pittsburgh, 2018), Brenton Tarrant (New Zealand, 2019) and John Earnest (El Paso, 2019).

Payton Gendron went to an eastside Tops, a grocery store not far from where I lived in the 1990s. Of the 13 people he killed and injured, 11 were Black. He’s in custody. He was arraigned Saturday on a charge of first-degree murder. Hate-crime felony charges are likely forthcoming.

Two days beforehand, Gendron posted online what appears to be a manifesto. According to Ben Collins, who covers right-wing extremism for NBC News, it “laid out specific plans to attack Black people and repeatedly cited the ‘great replacement’ theory, the false idea that a cabal is attempting to replace white Americans with nonwhite people through immigration, interracial marriage and, eventually, violence.”

Collins wrote that, “the manifesto includes dozens of pages of antisemitic and racist memes, repeatedly citing the racist ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory frequently pushed by white supremacists, which falsely claims white people are being ‘replaced’ in America as part of an elaborate Jewish conspiracy theory. Other memes use tropes and discredited data to denigrate the intelligence of nonwhite people.”

Three things happened this weekend. They are connected.

The “great replacement theory” is the link.

More precisely, democracy is.

Democracy in the 21st century isn’t yielding the results the right-wingers want. It produced the first Black president. It produced his reelection.

The rightwingers cannot trust democracy until they are certain that “demographic change,” which the Democrats love to talk about, has been stopped. They can’t trust democracy until there are enough white people around to make sure white people are still in charge.




These are the three-legged stool of the Republican Party.

The stool animates the rightwing imagination. It animates the Republican incumbents running for reelection. It animates a third of Americans who believe “an effort is underway” by the Democratic Party “to replace U.S.-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains,” according to a recent AP poll. It animated Payton Gendron.

On immigration – stop it.

Stop all of it, even legal immigration. The more nonwhite people, Muslims and Jews in America, the more risk there is to white power.

On guns – more of them in more white hands.

Rightwingers can’t get rid of Black people and Latinos who were born here or immigrated years ago, but they can terrorize or (legally) lynch them. More guns in more white hands overlap with police officers who already serve an unspoken mandate to control nonwhite people.

On abortion – more white babies.

Most of the women who get abortions are white. By forcing them to give birth, the rightwing attempts to “repopulate” the country so that, over the years, there are more white people who can vote. Only at that point can the right-wingers' return to trusting American democracy.

Gendron’s manifesto spells it out: “If there’s one thing I want you to get from these writings, it’s that White birth rates must change. Everyday the White population is fewer in number. To maintain a population, the people must achieve a birth rate that replacement fertility levels.”

It also says “critical race theory” a rightwing talking point that has come to “encompass teaching about race in school, is part of a Jewish plot, and a reason to justify mass killings of Jews,” Collins wrote.

When Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin said “CRT, CRT, CRT,” his voters didn’t hear anything about education or even children. What they heard was that the Democrats are trying to replace them. What they heard was a plan for “PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION.”

This weekend, the three-legged stool was in full view.

Few Americans believed it beforehand.

A “white supremist killed my mother and other family members,” the Rev. Sharon Risher said Saturday. “Again, we deal with death because of hate and a gun. Thoughts and prayers won’t cut it. Something must be done! Can I count on you to help change this narrative?”

When democracy betrays you, where do you turn?

To hate and a gun.

Will more Americans believe it now?

What does 1 million dead Americans tell us?

We can’t let the week go without mentioning the 1 million Americans killed by the covid since 2020. That’s 1 million moms, dads, brothers and sisters. That’s 1 million Memorial Day picnics missing a loved one. That’s 1 million broken strands in the interdependent web of life.

What can we say about this beyond loss and grief? I think it’s to reassess how we understand the role of public health in a republic.

The thinking that animates public health is far more than the health and welfare of the citizens who constitute a society. It’s far more than stemming the spread of deadly infectious disease. The thinking that animates public health is by necessity rooted in political thought.

Think of it this way. In a country like, say, Syria, the health of the polity is of little or no consequence to the ruling class. If people are sick, if people die, well, that has nothing to do with maintaining the elite’s grip on power. If anything, sickness and death help them hold it more tightly. The sick and dying can’t and therefore don’t mount resistance.

Syria is not a democracy, though it pretends to be. The Syrian people are not the ultimate sovereigns. Bashar al-Assad is. He will commit genocide to prove it. The United States, however, is a democracy.

Parts of it, anyway.

The health and well-being of the people is important, or should be, to those whom the people have chosen to govern, because those who govern are accountable to the people, the ultimate political sovereign.

A healthy people is strong enough for self-rule. Conversely, a people sick and dying cannot and therefore do not rule themselves. If those who govern fail to stem the spread of deadly infectious disease, they have failed politically. In effect, they have undermined the republic.

As a result, those who govern are closer to a ruling elite indifferent to the people’s suffering on account of the people, as long as they suffer, cannot and therefore do not mount resistance to the ruling elite.

What does 1 million dead Americans tell us?

It tells us the United States is not one country.

Here in Connecticut, where democracy is habitual and the common good cultural, those who govern successfully slowed the spread of the covid, though that meant shutting down the economy. Governor Ned Lamont, who’s hardly a saint, behaved as if accountable to the people.

In Florida, by contrast, those who govern behaved less consensually and more imperiously – similar to the ruling elites in countries like Syria. Apparently, from the view of Governor Ron DeSantis and Republican legislators who run the state, the sick and dying were too weak to consent and therefore too weak to resist control by ruling elites.

As soon as the vaccines were made available, Lamont mandated shots for everyone. Since 2021, deaths by the covid dropped and stayed down. DeSantis and GOP governors in southern states refused mandates. Deaths by the covid rose and fell, rose and fell, in proportion to the strength and weakness of the coronavirus.

That the United States is not one country tells us that “democracy” as a description of our form of government is doing a helluva lot of work.

Democracy kinda.

A democracy in that the people of Florida do cast votes, but the power of their vote is mitigated by the relative strength of the whole electorate, which is to say, the health and well-being of a people previously undermined, or even sabotaged, by the state’s ruling elite.

That “democracy” as a description of our country isn’t quite right tells us the language of international relations might be more appropriate.

You have probably heard of “failed states” – that’s a political entity, like Syria, that’s been so weakened by corruption and power that the government can no longer meet its responsibilities to its people.

Florida is probably best characterized as a “fragile state.” According to the World Bank, “fragile statehood exists in situations where there is low level of government performance, where state institutions are weak or on the verge of collapse and where the state either fails to perform core roles or performs them wholly inadequately.”

That Florida is probably best described as a “fragile state” tells us that the word “democracy” as a description of America is covering up for the fact that Florida is probably best described as a “fragile state.”

The people of Florida think they live in a democracy, because their state is one of the United States, which everyone says is a democracy. But a democracy leaving its people alone to face death by the covid is a democracy straining very the meaning of the word. Indeed, it’s fragile.

As fragile as the health and well-being of the people.

When those who govern care for the people, they care for democracy.

When they don’t, they don’t.

If we were one country, the people might be strong enough to resist.

As it is, 1 million Americans are dead.

Conservatives are now insisting that peaceful protesters are the real extremists

So much depends on the opinions of respectable white people. As long as they tolerate fascism while ambivalent toward liberal democracy, the Republicans will always have the advantage above and beyond the structural advantages they already enjoy. What is it going to take?

What is it going to take for respectable white people to understand that the Republicans, their paramilitaries and their justices on the Supreme Court are ensnaring whole classes of people in expanding rings of social control? It began with immigrants. It’s going to end with – I don’t know. But when states enact laws regulating marital sex, respectable white people will ask: “How the f*ck did this happen?”

I’m thinking specifically of their reaction to a handful of protests staged over the weekend outside the homes of Republican justices of the Supreme Court. Last week, a draft opinion leaked showing a court standing ready to strike down Roe, thus voiding the constitutional right to privacy, equal social standing, individual liberty and abortion.

So some Americans did what Americans do in such times.

They raised hell.

A quiet, lawful and very white hell.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh lives in a suburb of Washington, where the well-scrubbed children of the capital’s white upper-middle class romp and play – and where the unwritten social code is civility. The most dangerous thing you can expect from these people, who are the most insulated from the consequences of partisan politics, is discourtesy.

But unmannerliness was too much for some. On Monday, an unsigned editorial in the Post titled “Leave the justices alone at home” said:

"The right to assemble and speak freely is essential to democracy." Erasing any distinction between the public square and private life is essential to totalitarianism. It is crucial, therefore, to protect robust demonstrations of political dissent while preventing them from turning into harassment or intimidation (italics mine).

Allow me to rephrase.

A member of the Post’s editorial board, a singular voice in American public affairs, looked at these protests by mostly upper-middle class white people, for whom the consequences of partisan politics are almost never felt, and who were demonstrating peacefully in public spaces with permission and police escort, and said this sure looks like the erasure of any distinction between the public square and private life.

The thinking seems to be that without a firm line separating public and private, without a singular voice in public affairs defending that line, totalitarianism looms. So this weekend’s protests, featuring tens of dozens of polite white people, are akin to harassment and intimidation.

Got that?

I’m used to America’s respectable white people, who vacillate cynically between the parties, seeing left-liberal agitators for freedom and justice as extreme. That’s what the rightwing alleges. Respectable white people typically give the rightwing the benefit of the doubt.

I get that. They’re wrong. But I get that.

What I don’t get is this.

Isn’t the Post’s editorial writer extreme for accusing peaceful and lawful protesters of intimidation? Isn’t US Senator Susan Collins of Maine extreme for describing a pro-Roe message written in chalk on a sidewalk near her home as the “defacement of public property”?

Isn’t it extreme for the Senate to hurry up and pass, according to NBC News’ Frank Thorp, a bill extending protections from the Supreme Court Police to the immediate family members of Supreme Court justices,” as if these middle-aged protesters were a present peril?

Isn’t it extreme when a hack impersonating a journalist, who’s paid by the Heritage Foundation, video records a Sunday protest outside Kavanaugh’s house, then tweets it with commentary suggesting it “has turned markedly negative,” which is then picked up and amplified by the rightwing media apparatus, triggering yet another moral panic?

The answer is yes. It’s extreme.

The extremism terrorizes respectable white people.

John Harwood of CNN said, “it is wrong to even hint at physically threatening a public official,” commenting on a video of protesters who were not in any way physically threatening anyone. Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist commenting on the same video, said: “Voting is the path to change; threatening Kavanaugh is counterproductive.”

Even the president got scared. The White House press secretary said Monday that he “believes in the Constitutional right to protest. But that should never include violence, threats or vandalism. Judges perform an incredibly important function in our society, and they must be able to do their jobs without concern for their personal safety.”

Again: no one’s personal safety was in jeopardy.

I’ll leave it to others to explain the constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech and free assembly. I’ll leave it to others to explain why these protests are the only thing so far holding accountable five unaccountable justices. I’ll leave it to others to explain that the Democrats should be encouraging protest, not discouraging it.

My point is that so much depends on the opinions of respectable white people, as they will determine the future direction of the country. My point is that the opinions of respectable white people are directly proportional the rightwing’s ability to terrorize them into going along.

The moment respectable white people stop going along is the moment they stop giving the rightwing the benefit of the doubt. The best part? It’s easy. All they have to do is watch the videos, as I did, and see the facts for themselves. Once the rightwing isn’t credible with a majority of respectable white people, its curse on America might finally ebb.

For decades, the rightwing has told respectable white people who are receptive to the rhetoric of stigma that the forces of liberty and justice for all – democracy and liberalism – are dangerous. They are radical.

It worked!

Status quo saved!

But now the rightwing is trying to scare respectable white people into believing that other respectable white people, in protesting a ruling that will affect millions of other respectable white people, are extreme.

We’ll see how that goes.

NOW WATCH: Christian Evangelical Child Abuse is on the Rise

Christian Evangelical Child Abuse is on the Rise www.youtube.com

Right-wingers are going to reap what they sow

Turns out there was more than one leak of the draft opinion promising to strike down Roe. Three, according to SCOTUSBlog. The last two were in Politico. The first appeared in a Wall Street Journal editorial.

“While not formally presented as relying on a leak, the editorial transparently does,” wrote Tom Goldstein. “The most obvious example is that it predicts that Alito is drafting a majority opinion to overrule Roe, but gives no explanation for that prediction and none is apparent.”

The rest of his piece is speculation, which is understandable given so few facts are known. But Goldstein asserts that only the liberal position benefits from the leak. That’s kinda sorta contradicted by the fact that the substance of the opinion was first leaked to the Journal.

Here are more thoughts at the end of this exhausting week.

The leak

The Chief Justice has charged the marshal of the court to find out who the leaker is. If identified, that person’s career in law will surely end. But there doesn’t seem to be anything illegal about it. Moreover, leaks have occurred before. Time magazine scooped the original Roe.

Thing is, leaks are probably a symptom, not a cause. They reflect the problem of a high court depending on secrecy to function. I’m not quite sure why secrecy is required. Other courts operate out in the open. It seems the court needs secrecy more than the public does.

Yeah, sure. The idea is that secrecy insulates justices from politics. If you believed that before the leak, you should not afterward. The leak revealed the court’s breathtaking degree of partisan hackery. Again, the leak didn’t comprise its neutrality. It revealed the absence of it.

John Roberts

The leak revealed something about the court that the Republican justices – and the Republican Party – do not want revealed, namely that the veneer of rhetoric encasing the court about deference to court precedent and honoring the rule of law is, well, bullshit.

We know because the five GOP justices on the cusp of overturning Roe harnessed the power of that rhetoric during their confirmation hearings. We know, because we know they didn’t believe a word of it.

The Republicans

The Supreme Court’s power is directly proportional to the public’s faith in it. Undermining that faith is underning its power. That’s bad for the constitutional order, to be sure, but it's worse for the GOP.

Remember, the Republicans are not working under the assumption that democracy is going to yield desired results. They accepted that it won’t years ago, not long after democracy yielded a Black president.

They need the court, the force of the law, to get what they want. This is partly why GOP leader Mitch McConnell is now acting like the leak compromised the sanctity of the court, even though no one is more responsible for compromising the court’s sanctity than McConnell.

If the public loses faith, the Republicans will be in trouble. Partially for this reason, Roberts is in damage-control mode, insisting against evidence that the GOP justices are “dedicated … to the rule of law.”

Criminal attitude

The leak illustrated something else – that democracy and the rule of law are for the Republicans jim-dandy as long as they affirm and maintain the natural order of things, with white Christian men on top.

When democracy and the rule of law threaten to undermine those hierarchies of power, as Roe does more than anything else, then democracy and the rule of law are no longer desirable, no longer tolerable. What do you do when law and order turn against you?

You turn against law and order.

You take on a criminal attitude.

That’s what five Republican justices have already done. You lie to get power. Then you use that power to upend law and order.

As Jamie Raskin put it, in a different but related context:

“We’ve got a class of people who think they’re above and beyond the rule of law. It’s a really dangerous thing for a democracy to have a class of people that feels so entitled by their power, their wealth and their connections that they can just defy the rule of law like this.”

The Republicans, by necessity, are now the pro-crime party.

Pandora’s box

The remedy to criminality is passing a law to stop it. In this case, turning Roe into statute. To do that, however, it’s going to take more Democrats in the Senate. The House already passed the Women’s Health Protection Act. Unless Joe Manchin and others have a change of heart about reforming the filibuster, Roe isn’t going to be law soon.

But even when it is, and I think it will be in the near term, striking down Roe is like pulling a thread from a sweater. Eventually, the whole sweater of privacy rights is unraveled. In quick fashion, state and local legislatures will enact various and sundry laws peeping and poking into our private lives. Even your online data will no longer be off-limits.

So when Roe goes down, the Congress will be in a race with the states. If you want the Congress to win, you have to put more Democrats in it.


That’s a heavy lift but it might be made more managable by the fact that rightwing anti-abortionists are already losing their minds.

This is Susan DeLemus, a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. In this video, she shows us something important.

As long as Roe was law, rightwingers could work quietly outside the penetrating gaze of a majority of Americans who, in fact, favor women having rights and privileges on par with men. (That’s what Roe does.)

Now that Roe is in jeopardy, rightwingers must face the penetrating gaze of the majority that’s no longer putting up their bullshit.

This is the result.

Rightwingers like DeLemus can’t tolerate disagreement. It literally hurts them. It causes pain. Disagreement raises the possibility of being wrong, and they can’t be wrong, because if they were, their enemies would be right, and that’s impossible. Rightwingers are always right.

Under the penetrating gaze of a majority of Americans who favor women having equal social status as men, the rightwinger’s black and white thinking is complicated in ways literally painful. They crack up.

Democrats are getting madder

Finally, I want to draw your attention to this. I thought about transcribing it, but I think the way Kirsten Gillibrand is speaking captures the feeling and rawness of experiencing Roe’s fall.

Every sentence here is a campaign slogan for the Democrats.

Chuck Schumer's Supreme Court rage should give us hope

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation was, to me, the end of an era. From that point, the Democrats could no longer trust the US Supreme Court to back their efforts to protect and advance individual liberties.

It used to be different.

Despite, since the election of the first Black president, the gothic transmogrification of the GOP, the Democrats could still take comfort in knowing the law and precedent were going to protect civil rights.

The court was a bulwark.

As long as there was balance.

That ended with Kavanaugh.

Of all the terrible people that the former president could have chosen to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, Kavanaugh was the worst of the worst of them. The Republicans could have ditched him for someone better, as another former GOP president once ditched Robert Bork. But they stuck with him knowing he represented a tipping point. The confirmation two years later of Amy Coney Barrett was just gravy.

The court’s equilibrium?


At the time, I wrote a series of articles strongly urging the Democrats to attack the court’s legitimacy. I said anyone who’s the beneficiary of a lying, cheating, philandering sadist who makes common cause with America’s enemies is illegitimate. Ditto for their judicial opinions.

I was wrong, though.

In retrospect, I realize the Democrats were still gripped by the idea – by the myth! – of the court bending the arc of the universe toward justice. They were still enthralled by the achievements of the Warren and Burger courts, the former deciding Brown, the latter deciding Roe.

That’s not all.

Though they feared the worst, the Democrats, I suspect, might not have believed the worst would happen. After all, the Republicans say a lot of things they don’t mean. Indeed, everything they say is in bad faith. So it’s understandable that it took a leaked draft opinion to snap them out of their torpor. Same goes for normal Democratic voters.

In Texas, the day after the leak, people spontaneously filled the streets of that state’s big cities to protest a pending ruling that will cut in half the social standing of 150 million Americans. This is Texas, mind you.

Abortion is already vegetative thanks for the US Supreme Court.

Behold the power of The Leak!

The Democratic leadership is feeling it. I mean, really feeling it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen US Senator Chuck Schumer get mad. Just the opposite. The Senate majority leader can be trusted to stop short of expressing Democrats’ full anger over Republican transgressions.

But Tuesday, the day after the leak broke, he was smoldering.

Schumer accused three justices confirmed under Trump of lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee. They had said Roe was settled, “the law of the land.” Schumer accused them of lying on the floor of the Senate!

He laid blame at the feet of “every Republican senator” who supported the plan in 2016 to steal a justice from Barack Obama, and who later voted for Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett. Schumer said GOP senators “will now have to explain themselves to the American people.”

Several of these conservative justices who are in no way accountable to the American people have lied to the US Senate, ripped up the Constitution and defiled both precedent and the Supreme Court's reputation, all at the expense of tens of millions of women who could soon be stripped of their bodily autonomy and the constitutional rights they've relied on for over half a century.

Schumer wasn’t alone.

The Democrats found themselves singing in unison. They raised the allegation of lying to such a height that even NPR, the milquetoastiest of milquetoast news media, ran a long story on “what conservative justices said — and didn't say — about Roe at their confirmations.”

This is what happens when Democrats speak as one.

The Republicans are playing defense in a few ways.

First, they don’t want to comment on whether the justices lied. That would risk adding to the court’s growing public image of illegitimacy. They need Americans to believe the court is legit. If they don’t, a GOP future depending on the court is in trouble. To protect its reputation, the Republicans are pretending that the leak tarnished its reputation.

But the leak has put the court’s legitimacy out of its reach.

Though Schumer pulled his punches in saying three GOP justices have “defiled … the Supreme Court’s reputation,” others inside and outside the Democratic Party are coming out hard using the Big I-Word.

US Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts: “We got a sneak preview of what a stolen, illegitimate, far-right Supreme Court majority appears poised to do: Dismantle abortion rights in the United States.”

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough on Tuesday: “Obviously, the perception for 70 percent of Americans waking up this morning is going to be, most likely, that this is an illegitimate decision by an illegitimate court.”

The Times’ editorial writer Jesse Wegman: “I’ll tell you what has led me to feel that this is an illegitimate court is what Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell have done over the last six years to stack this court explicitly for the purpose of overturning Roe v. Wade.”

The court is in a pickle.

If it strikes Roe, as everyone expects, it will confirm, deepen and expand the current allegations against it. If it reverses course, and does not strike down Roe, it will arouse the fury of Republicans whose expectations of the court are now sky-high thanks to the leak. It will appear to Republicans that the court is caving to their enemies.

I was wrong about why the court should be seen as illegitimate. People don’t care about Russia’s sabotage. They care about the revocation of civil rights and civil liberties taken for granted after half a century.

Perhaps that’s because Russian sabotage is still “an abstract exercise” as Schumer might have said. Protecting Roe? That’s as “real as it gets.”

When abortion was an exercise in religious faith

Let’s assume for now that the Supreme Court’s draft opinion, leaked Monday to Politico, won’t change between now and June. Let’s assume the court strikes down Roe. If that’s the case – I don’t see why it would not be – people will wonder what a post-Roe America will look like.

History can help.

A particular history.

Gillian Frank is a historian of American sexuality and religion. He’s a visiting research fellow at the University of Virginia. His forthcoming book tells the story of religious leaders helping women get abortions.

Come again?


Contrary to conservative belief, religious people were not opposed to abortion before 1973. Opinions were mixed. Catholics were against it. Nothing unusual there. Evangelical Protestants were indifferent. That might be surprising. More surprising, though, is the decades-long religious movement advocating for the repeal of state abortion laws.


Because “these ministers, these rabbis, these priests, these nuns” were on the frontlines of slow-moving medical carnage in which desperate women did desperate things, resulting in mutilation or death.

“They witnessed the mass loss of life, the mutilation, the sterilizations that were inadvertent results of botched abortions – they could see the stress of women and the fear of women who were sent away because they had unwanted pregnancies,” Professor Frank said.

This religious movement was part of the social context from which arose the Supreme Court ruling that privacy is a constitutional right, therefore, access to abortion services is a constitutional right, too.

A religious movement helped birth Roe.

“They would say abortion – this is Methodist speaking – is ‘a tragic conflict of life with life.’ A woman needs to come to this responsibly and carefully. But she must be the moral arbiter of her own body.”

This history might be surprising given the narrative around abortion is so often dominated by the anti-abortion view. Those who oppose abortion stand with God. Those who stand with abortion oppose God.

This framing falls apart once it’s clear that religious people – those who stand with God – advocated for the repeal of abortion laws for religious reasons. Indeed, they asked themselves, “What morality does law have if it’s encouraging lawbreaking and disrespect for the law?”

I can’t see into the future any more than you can. But if Roe goes down, the demand for abortion services will likely outpace supply in short order. Desperate women will do desperate things. These are the conditions, historically speaking, for a new religious movement.

I'm hoping you can explain to normal people what was going on before Roe among religious people and what might happen post-Roe.

In the decades after World War II, the 1940s and 1950s, abortion restrictions tightened. Before World War II, though it was illegal, hospitals and independent abortion providers were local resources.

People could access abortions.

Those numbers dropped dramatically as states crusaded against abortion services. Demand didn’t decrease. Supply did.

Filling in this gap were predatory providers, “Backstreet butchers.” People would seek them out and end up injured, mutilated or dead. People trying to get abortions through the front door of hospitals often, or often enough, ended up coming in through the ER.

This was the situation clergy were witnessing.

Clery were witnessing people in their congregations come to them, desperate for abortions. They would see their own loved ones become unwillingly pregnant. They would seek out abortions for them.

I'm talking about Catholic priests, rabbis and mainline ministers.

Demand never went away.

Many people in those decades still attended services. They were still active in their congregations. They saw priests, ministers and rabbis as sources of counseling and support. They could turn to them for help.

These ministers, these rabbis, these priests, these nuns – they were on the frontlines witnessing an unfolding medical tragedy that was completely unnecessary. They witnessed the mass loss of life, the mutilation, the sterilizations that were inadvertent results of botched abortions – they could see the stress of women and the fear of women who were sent away because they had unwanted pregnancies.

This was the tapestry of American reproductive life.

These were not just young, unmarried, precocious people.

These were married mothers of multiple children who just couldn't have a 10th child or a fourth child or even a second child.

In the wake of what became apparent – that hundreds of thousands of people were seeking illegal abortions each year – clergy, along with other professionals, physicians and lawyers, started to issue statements calling for a reevaluation of state abortion laws.

Early ones started in 1959. They grew over time. The usual suspects were reformed Jews and Unitarians, but you would find this thinking in the leadership of just about every denomination, except for Catholics.

Even Southern Baptists supported abortion reform before Roe.

There was a widespread consensus that abortion restrictions were creating medical conditions for killing people. Whenever laws were proposed to reform or repeal abortion – whether in California or New York or Kansas or Iowa – dozens of states floated this legislation.

Some passed. Many did not.

What you would see, however, was not just religious voices, usually from the Catholic Church and their leaders, saying no to abortion.

You would see an inter- and intra-religious debate.

Every time you saw a bishop or priest adhering to the party line, saying abortion is murder, you would see rabbis and ministers saying reproductive choice is important. It is vital. Our faith supports it.

We want repeal or reform.

We want abortion to be a matter of private conscience.

But you would also have – and this is important to the story – Catholic priests and Catholic nuns quietly supporting abortion seekers. You would have lay Catholics seeking abortions in huge numbers.

So there was a disjunct between church leadership and church laity. It’s important to emphasize. It was an inter- and intra-religious debate.

When you looked around on the eve of Roe (1973), the landscape of religion and abortion was an overwhelming consensus that the law as it stood restricting abortion was immoral. It was unconscionable.

It was criminalizing private and intimate behaviors that should be a choice between a pregnant person and their physician.

That was the consensus.

That was the norm.

How did they think about abortion theologically? You mentioned “private conscience.” Can you explain that?

It varied from denomination to denomination.

Jews would have a very different theology than, say, Protestants. Rabbis, particularly from reform congregations, argued that the life of the mother takes precedence over the life of the fetus – that a fetus is not considered an ensouled human being until after it’s born.

They also understood health broadly, not only trying to preserve the physical life, but the overall social, economic and emotional life as well. They said that needs to take priority. Jewish theology was clear about the social and medical need for abortion. Abortion was not murder.

But you also had groups like the National Council of Churches. You had organs like the Christian Century. You had various groups coming to a similar conclusion – that we do not know precisely when life begins but we know there is, up to a point, a potential life, not an actual life.

They would say abortion – this is Methodist speaking – is “a tragic conflict of life with life.” A woman needs to come to this responsibly and carefully. But she must be the moral arbiter of her own body.

A theology emerged that said personal responsibility over one's reproduction was what we might call a sacrament. That's not quite the right word, but it was a moral and ethical choice and responsibility that shouldn't be legislated by the state vis-a-vis Catholic ideas.

It should be seated with individuals and their families.

The concurrence was that the fetus was a potential life but not an ensouled human. That was Catholic theology at work. But a fetus was not a child. It’s a fetus. The priority needed to be the already born.

They had a phrase arising from religious spheres around Planned Parenthood: “Each child should be wanted. Each child should be loved.”

The idea was that it’s immoral to bring unwanted children into the world. The moral and responsible choice was a wanted and loved child.

They looked around and saw an epidemic of child abuse, of poverty, of neglect and they asked themselves: “What kind of life are we bringing people into if we are forcing people to give birth against their will?”

Did they believe abortion laws were forcing people to give birth?


They framed these laws as sexist, patriarchal, as punitive of women, as compulsory, as originating from archaic and bad theology.

They saw them as interfering with personal freedom, as violating religious freedom. These were all arguments they made.

To what degree was this broad consensus anti-Catholic?

I don't think it was anti-Catholic, per se.

The question was: “What is the separation of church and state, and the relation of theological belief and civil law?” The answer: “We do not want a single church to impose their doctrine upon our congregants.”

That's not anti-Catholic.

That’s creating freedom of religion as freedom from religion.

How would this consensus see the current elevation of the fetus to the point where it's above even the interests of the mother?

They had terminology for that. They diagnosed that as a “sacralization of the fetus” – that it was a way of turning women effectively into containers and rendering them into second-class citizens. They were aware of this dynamic at the time. And they wanted to push back on this idea that women's needs needed to be subordinate to fetal life.

They argued the opposite. The argument among these religious leaders was that in deeming the fetus to be a child – and calling abortion murder – they were criminalizing women's behavior.

Did they see abortion laws themselves as irresponsible?


They saw them as creating a medical health crisis.

And they asked themselves, “What morality does law have if it’s encouraging lawbreaking and disrespect for the law?

Explosive Supreme Court draft exposes the criminal attitude of the conservative movement

The Supreme Court is ready to strike down Roe, according to a draft opinion leaked to Politico late last night. Regarding the 1973 decision making privacy, and therefore access to abortion, a constitutional right, Justice Samuel Alito, speaking for the majority, said: “The inescapable conclusion is that a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history or traditions. On the contrary, an unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment persisted from the earliest days of the common law until 1973.”

My initial thoughts.


Alito is making up history. Mia Brett has written extensively for the Editorial Board about the history of abortion in America. Contrary to Alito’s assertion, the common law made allowance for abortion on account of the common law recognizing that a person was not a person until the moment of “quickening” – when the baby kicks.


Rights are whatever the people say they are, not what a court says they are. Therefore, the Constitution is not and can never be stuck in time, treated as if it were the inerrant word of God. Abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution because it was not a big deal at the time of its drafting. And it wasn’t a big deal on account of the common law recognizing that a person isn’t a person until it kicks its mom. It became a big deal when conservatives fearing the rise of minority populations, especially newly freed slaves after the Civil War, decided white women had to birth more babies. It was at that point, under the shadow of prohibition, that democratic citizens declared it a right.

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The leak

I can’t recall another time when a draft opinion from the Supreme Court was leaked to the press. It might not have ever happened before. For this reason, you’re going to hear a lot about the sacred tradition of secrecy during the time of deliberation among justices. You’re going to hear about the shame of seeing a respected institution’s reputation among the people sullied by politics due to the leak. No, nope, nuh-uh.

If the justices are shocked and struggling with issues of trust among each other, well, all I have to say is welcome to the party. Since Mitch McConnell hijacked a court seat, and certainly since Brett Kavanaugh rampaged his way to confirmation, there’s more reason to distrust the Supreme Court than one leak. That Alito is making up history is only one more reason to see the court as a political body. Sullied my ass.

Susan Collins

Yes, the US senator from Maine said she believed Roe would be secure after voting to confirm Kavanaugh. Yes, we should raise hell. But if you’re stuck on her hypocrisy, you’re not seeing the bigger picture. Neither Collins, nor the rest of her party, care if they are seen as hypocrites. Go ahead and see it that way! They got their justices. They got their ruling. What do liberals want Collins to say now? “My bad”? Focus instead on pressuring her and other movable Senate Republicans to pass the Women's Health Protection Act, which puts Roe in statutory law. The House already passed it.


I agree that it’s distasteful for some Democrats to fundraise off news of the court’s imminent turnover of Roe (and Casey). But the fact of the matter is they must – if they hope to codify Roe into law. The Democrats do not have enough Democrats in the Senate. That reality is what’s held up all the other good stuff the president would like to offer us. Joe Manchin and a couple of others oppose abortion. If the Senate stays in the same after the midterms or God forbid flips, you can forget about anyone doing anything about abortion or the court.

RELATED: Alito cites judge who executed women for witchcraft and legalized spousal rape in Supreme Court draft ruling


One of the Very Serious People who, with others, constitutes the Washington press corps said last night that court-packing is now back on the agenda. Yeah, maybe. Before we start thinking about which way the backlash is going to break, we first need to see the backlash. Fact is, states like Texas are already living in a post-Roe world. I haven’t seen any backlash yet. Let’s not presume there will be one.

That said, Americans tend to vote with the past in mind, not the present or future in mind. Though you and me and everyone we know has been saying this bad thing is coming get ready, it’s typically hard for American believe it’s true until it happens. Point here is that this is reason to think a backlash will indeed materialize, as the fall of Roe has been to most people a figment of the paranoid liberal’s imagination.


Now that the Republicans will win their war against abortion, it’s natural to think their movement has run out of gas. That’s the price of success, after all. While some people will stop caring about abortion, many others still continue caring about other things, namely sex. The sanctity of life is only one part of the abortion issue. The other part is that people keep having sex in all the wrong ways, or more recently, they are changing their minds about which sex they want to be. Legally defining what a man is and what a woman is, and providing tiers of punishment for deviating from those legal definitions – this and much more we can expect from states enforcing the hierarchy of power.

John Roberts

The chief justice made it known he doesn’t want to overturn Roe, but he’s nevertheless willing to uphold state laws restricting it. Put another way, Roberts prefers death by a thousand cuts. He cares about the appearance of the court’s legitimacy. Well: first, it’s not in his hands anymore. The majority is ready to poleax Roe. Second, the court’s legitimacy has been up for debate since the Russians aided and abetted Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, or, depending on your view, since the court reached into another branch of federal government to determine the fate of the country in Bush v. Gore.

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Criminal attitude

When democracy is going their way, the Republicans are all for it. When democracy is not going their way, as when a Black man won the presidency, the Republicans reserve the right to adopt a criminal attitude toward politics and policy. This attitude is writ large and small – from the wholesale dismissal of the very concept of precedent (as is the case with Alito’s opinion of Roe) to literally enfranchising vigilantes to terrorize women into carrying out their pregnancies. The rule of law is very important to the Republicans when it affirms the natural order of things, with white Christian men on top of society. Otherwise, however, the rule of law is tyrannical. It justifies a criminal attitude.


For a long time, the Democrats sought to protect individual rights and liberties using the power of the federal government. That strategy, however, required the backing of the Supreme Court. Now that the Supreme Court is beyond their reach (assuming they lack the courage to reform it outright), the Democrats must pivot back to the states, particularly state legislatures where they are the tiniest of minorities. Laws restricting abortion or banning it are going to be state laws. If the Democrats are smart, they will run a pro-privacy candidate in every race up and down the ballot for at least the next decade.

How to define someone's place in the Trump tribe

“In time, he talked about the play more expansively. It’s not just about fascism, but also about moments when people are swayed by mobthink into doing and believing absurd things, and how the person tethered to reality feels crazy. They’re basically being gaslit by the world.”

Thank God the covid is spreading more slowly. At least for now. On February 1, daily deaths soared to more than 3,500, according to the Times. As of this writing, those are down to 305. Very welcome news.

But like I said, at least for now.

We’ve been in these troughs before. With enough time, death rates can jump back up. And anyway, 305 dead Americans is still 305 dead Americans. Fifty-four thousand four hundred and forty-seven cases of infection are still 54,447 cases of infection. The virus circulates still. Indeed, the Post reported that nearly 60 percent of us have caught it.

I understand why people don’t want to wear masks anymore. I don’t want to wear one anymore either. But given what we know about the covid’s behavior, and given what we don’t know about its long-term health effects, it seems prudent to keep wearing one, at least indoors.

Even so, prudence is one thing.

Doing what everyone else is doing is another.

If you’re in a community already hostile to mask-wearing, on account of it becoming a visible symbol of political opposition to Tribe Trump, you’re probably not seeing many people, if any people, wearing a mask.

You’re probably feeling a shit-ton of pressure to take yours off.

That’s what Debra Caplan was feeling.

Caplan is a historian of the theater at Baruch College. She recently wrote a Twitter thread about her experience walking around New York City and seeing one person after another not wearing a mask.

Sure, she wrote, the pandemic is easing. But you can still catch the covid. It can still harm you. It can still kill you. No mask equals crazy.

Yet here she was, feeling like she’s the crazy one.

The experience reminded her of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, a play in which the main character is told over and over that he would feel less crazy if he did what everyone else is doing – turn into a rhinoceros.

Caplan said Ionesco’s protagonist faces the same moral conundrum many Americans are now facing amid the ongoing pandemic. It’s crazy to turn into a rhinoceros. His protagonist feels crazy when he doesn’t. It’s crazy to take your mask off. Yet you feel crazy when you don’t.

Caplain said the play is about the power of groupthink – or, she says, “mobthink.” In Ionesco’s time, how you reacted to fascism reflected who you were. In our time, your reaction to the covid is who you are.

That’s just absurd.

“Unfortunately, our political ecosystem is full of identity,” she said. “People choose their tribes. They feel strongly affiliated with them. This is an environment rife with mobthink. People look to members of their mob to understand what they should do, who they should be. If a mask symbolizes opposition to your tribe, you’ll refuse to wear one.

In the time of the covid, “that’s just absurd.”

Tell us why Rhinoceros came to mind. Before you do, though, give us a preview of what Rhinoceros is. It's not a well-known play.

Rhinoceros is a play categorized typically as theater of the absurd. It's by the playwright Eugene Ionesco, a Romanian playwright.

It has a very simple premise.

In a small provincial French town, somebody spots a rhinoceros. There's a big debate as to whether it really was a rhinoceros. The two main characters have a debate as to whether there are two horns or three horns on the rhinoceros, which obviously isn't the issue.

The rhinoceros is trampling around town. All of a sudden people start turning into rhinoceroses, almost like a contagion or a disease.

At first, people are scared and try not to turn into rhinoceroses. But as more people catch the rhinoceritis, it becomes the thing to do.

It becomes harder and harder for people to see things the way they used to. This sort of groupthink, mobthink starts to take hold.

Eventually, the protagonist is the only person left.

Everyone has become a rhinoceros. At the end, even he is looking in the mirror thinking, “Maybe I am ugly. Maybe I should have a horn.”

Even he is questioning his own reality.

What about current events reminded you of Ionesco’s play?

A real shift has happened in the past couple of weeks. I live in an area where mask-wearing has been the norm for quite some time.

Not so much anymore.

The prevailing attitude seems to be that it's over. It's done.

I started thinking about groupthink and peer pressure. There's mounting pressure to drop mitigation measures and say it’s over.

I would love to do that.

Like I really, really, really, really would.

But it's not over.

I was walking around New York a couple of days ago, just looking at people, watching their behavior, feeling this sense of contradiction.

“This is absurd,” I thought.

Then Rhinoceros popped into my head, where everyone's trying to talk the protagonist into going along with something that’s crazy.

But everyone thinks he's the crazy one.

I'd like to dive into mass delusion. The term is applicable to our current circumstances with respect to masks but also with respect to American politics generally. What are your thoughts on that?

Rhinoceros has been read most of the time as a political allegory. But early in the play’s history, Ionesco said it was a play about fascism.

When he was a young man in Romania, everyone became fascists.

Romanian interwar fascism was a morbid creepy blend. To be initiated into these clubs, or “nests,” people had to suck each other's blood out of their arms. They would bleed into a cup and pass it around and drink it together. They vowed to do whatever the legion told them to do, including killing people. They would write oaths in their own blood.

Creepy wild stuff.

His father, his friends – this is what they were all doing.

Ionesco was half Jewish, but that was not widely known. The Iron Guard, the group all these people were joining, was virulently antisemitic. Its leader committed extreme antisemitic atrocities.

So here’s this young university student. His friends, his own father, are coming under the sway of this fascist movement that's really insane.

Ionesco talked a lot early on in the play’s history about how Rhinoceros was a response to that. That was clearly the genesis for him.

“In time, he talked about the play more expansively. It’s not just about fascism, but also about moments when people are swayed by mobthink into doing and believing absurd things, and how the person tethered to reality feels crazy. They’re basically being gaslit by the world.”

The plays that last have in common a template-like quality. They're not prescriptive. They give artists the room they need to expand and play.

Rhinoceros is one of those.

You could make Rhinoceros productions about anything. As theater of the absurd often does, you can take a super absurd premise that makes people go, “Wow, this is a weird play,” and then you make those people recognize that something about their own reality is absurd.

The play isn’t crazy.

It’s the world they’re living in that’s crazy.

I’ve been thinking whether “life imitates art” or “art imitates life.” If you think of the news media as a kind of art, or artifice, it doesn't take much for people to imitate the media. If we think of propaganda as a kind of art form, people start playing along. Your thoughts?

We're such social creatures.

We're constantly reading each other's social cues and adapting. It's uncomfortable to be standing out from the crowd. Even when standing out comports with people's morals, we know it's very uncomfortable for people to speak up in a crowd. It’s a basic aspect of psychology.

Ionesco spent his life, especially after what happened in the 1920s and 1930s, in Romania, being extremely wary of groupthink and mob mentality, because he saw what it did to his friends and his father.

In interviews, journalists would say, “Oh, your play means this, right?” He was famous for saying, “No, it means the opposite of that.” Ionesco was trying extremely hard not to be influenced by other people.

The Iron Guard didn't have mass media to spread propaganda. Newspapers aren’t the same as social media. I think Ionesco would have written some really interesting plays about our moment.

He’d have the same fears, because mobthink can spread so fast.

Like a virus.

The more people are going along with something, the harder it is for other people to disagree. That’s what I see happening with covid in places like the Northeast, where people have been pretty careful. Nobody in the grocery store is wearing a mask. I'm one of three.

Maybe I'm the one who's wrong?

But we shouldn’t use that logic to calculate risk and benefit. The logic should be about facts on the ground, not what everybody is doing. Right now it seems to be more about what everybody is doing.

Congressman Raskin reveals what the Jan. 6 committee plans to do in future hearings

US Rep. Jamie Raskin, who led the second trial of Donald Trump, gave a talk last week at Georgetown University. The host was Jim Wallis of Sojourners. The occasion was the Maryland congressman’s book, Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy.

The event made news late last week. Raskin, who sits on the House committee investigating the J6 insurrection, revealed details not yet known. For instance, that Vice President Mike Pence told Secret Service agents, as they fled insurgents storming the US Capitol: “I'm not getting in that car until we count the Electoral College votes.”

I watched the whole talk. What emerged is much more important than a few scattershot details. Raskin tells the story of the insurrection. He created a picture of that day using what he called “circles of sedition.”

The outermost ring was protesters.

The next ring was violent insurgents.

The inner ring – “the scariest ring” – was Mike Pence.

The plan was for Pence to reject the electoral count, sending the election to the House, where the GOP had a majority of state delegates needed to win a “contingent election,” per the 12th Amendment.

Then plan, moreover, called for domestic terrorists like the Proud Boys to clash with “Antifa,” thus giving the impression of left and right going to war over the election, thus justifying Trump in declaring martial law.

Two problems, though.

Pence didn’t play along.

Antifa didn’t show up.

The following is a heavily edited transcript of the part of Raskin’s remarks about what the J6 committee is planning to do in future hearings. I trimmed and condensed it for clarity, length and impact:

The hearings will tell a story that will blow the roof off the House – story of the most heinous and dastardly offense ever organized by a president and his entourage in the history of the United States.

No president has ever come close to doing what happened here in terms of trying to organize an inside coup to overthrow an election and bypass the constitutional order. [No president has] who used a violent insurrection made up of domestic violent extremist groups, white nationalists, racist, fascist groups, in order to support the coup.

Think of what happened on that day in three circles of sedition.

There was a mass protest, called for 'wild purposes,' as the president put it, of tens of thousands of people that turned into a mob riot.

That was the outside ring.

The middle ring was the ring of the insurrection:

Domestic violent extremist groups, like the Proud Boys, who Donald Trump had told to “stand back and stand by” in the first presidential debate; the Oathkeepers, the Three Percenters, who have been charged with seditious conspiracy, which means conspiracy to overthrow the government; the QAnon networks, militia groups, Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations and white Christian nationalist groups.

The scariest ring was the [third] ring of the coup.

The insurrectionists were in charge of attacking officers, smashing our windows, breaking down our doors, interrupting the peaceful transfer of power and shutting down the counting of Electoral College votes.

But the [third] ring of the coup (and I know it's a strange word to use in American political parlance, because we don't have a lot of experience with coups in American history. This was not a coup directed at the president. It was a coup directed by the president against the vice president and against the Congress.

Donald Trump simply did not accept the results of the election. He was preparing his followers not to accept the results. He was going around the country saying the only way I can lose is if the election is stolen.

We know this was false. More than 60 federal and state judges across the land, including eight judges nominated by Donald Trump, rejected every allegation of electoral fraud and corruption advanced by them.

But they proceeded to try five or six different strategies to overthrow Joe Biden's majority in the electoral college.)

Finally, [the third ring of the coup] came down to January 6.

The idea was getting Pence to assert unilateral, extra-constitutional, unlawful powers to reject and repudiate Electoral College votes being sent in by the states, specifically, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.


They would lower Biden's total Electoral College votes] from 306 to below 270 … in order to activate the 12th Amendment, which says if nobody has a majority in the Electoral College, the contest shifts immediately to the House of Representatives for a so-called contingent election, where the House decides who will be president.

They understood under the 12th Amendment that it’s not voting one member, one vote. It’s one state, one vote. There were 27 state delegations for the GOP. There are 22 for the Democrats.

Even had they suffered the defection of [Liz Cheney], they would have had 26 votes in the bag to get the majority to seize the presidency.

[Because there would have been mass protests had the states decided who won], Trump likely would have invoked the Insurrection Act, as Trump's disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was urging him to do. Donald Trump would have declared martial law.

There would have been mass protests, but also the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers were running around saying, “Antifa, where are you?”

They clearly were looking for somebody to fight to create visual images of this being some kind of showdown between left and right.

It would have been Donald Trump's opportunity to come in and be the hero. It would have been his Reichstag moment: 'I'm going to save you from the insurrectionary chaos I unleashed against you.' …

That's what they were prepared to do. Donald Trump would return as the conquering hero, just ignoring the seven and a half million vote margin that Joe Biden had in his victory in the Electoral College.

[These three circles of sedition were linked] and we will be offering evidence to that fact. But they were coordinated most tightly by Trump and his inner circle, the inner entourage around him.

That’s the place we've had the most difficulty.

I mean, we've had more than 800 witnesses come forward to tell us what they saw, what they heard, what was going on with them.

These are witnesses on all sides.

These are officers and these are rioters. These are extremist insurrectionists. These are White House employees.

But the closer you get to Trump, the more they refuse to testify – and why isn't that enough alone to create a scandal in the country?

We have a guy like Mark Meadows who was the chief of staff to the president of the United States who now refuses to testify.

We also have a guy like Steve Bannon, who wasn't even an employee of the White House, but he's trying to assert executive privilege.

We've got a class of people who think they're above and beyond the rule of law. It's a really dangerous thing for a democracy to have a class of people that feels so entitled by their power, their wealth and their connections that they can just defy the rule of law like this.

The way to understand the [center ring] was to get Pence to play along. … I heard them chanting: 'Hang Mike Pence, hang Mike Pence.'

They meant it.

They had set up a scaffold and noose outside.

When his Secret Service agents were chased out by these neo-fascists, they ran down to some still undisclosed mysterious place in the Capitol. He uttered what I think are the six most chilling words:

'I'm not getting in that car.'

Pence’s Secret Service agents, presumably reporting to Trump's agents, were trying to spirit him off of the campus. And he said:

'I'm not getting in that car until we count the Electoral College votes.'

He knew exactly what this inside coup was going to do.

[The J6 committee has evidence that these three rings of sedition] were intertwined. They were most intertwined in the mind of Donald Trump, who was pulling the strings of essentially all of them.

He was playing to his crowds and turning them into a mob with the social media and with his speeches, where he said, 'You know, when there's cheating involved, all the rules are off. You can play by very different rules, and you got to fight and you got to fight like hell or you're not going to a country anymore,' and so on.

(We had robust bipartisan, bicameral majorities find [during Trump’s second impeachment trial in the Senate], as a matter of legislative fact, that he had engaged in incitement to violent insurrection.

He beat the constitutional odds for a conviction. But that was the most sweeping bipartisan vote in a presidential impeachment in history.

There have only been four. Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, Trump 1 and Trump 2. It was a 57 to 43 vote, yet he feels somehow vindicated that only 57 of 100 senators found he was the first president in the history of the United States to try to overthrow his own government).

The insurrection was used as a way to delay and prolong the proceedings, along with the [court] challenges to particular state Electoral College votes, to intensify the pressure on Mike Pence.

They thought that at a certain point he would break.

Once he broke … they could swing it through the 12th Amendment. …

At that point, it's anybody's guess what could have happened.

Martial law, civil war.

The beginning of authoritarianism.

Vladimir Putin's corrupt 'incompetence' has led to humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is now more than a month old. At first, the Russian army seemed poised to blitz the nation’s capital. But then its convoy stalled out, for long stretches of time, enough time for the rest of the world to realize that Moscow’s war machine is terrible at war.

It was funny at first.

Not anymore.

Russia’s incompetence has meant its military had to take positions from which its artillery could flatten whole cities. When one of the world’s largest armies can’t defeat a band of roughneck holdouts, there’s only thing it can do to save face back home: murder civilians.

To get us up to speed on a war restructuring the liberal international order, I reconnected with Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, a PhD student and presidential fellow in the Department of History at Penn. She’s now the go-to authority for US media trying to understand this war.

“You harm civilians to make yourself look strong,” she told me. “At the same time, you're creating a population that's going to hate you even more. In Ukraine, it's hard to get people to hate Russians even more.

“That's what the invasion has done. It's unified Ukraine.”

Do you think NATO's position on a no-fly zone is right?

I think it's the right position for NATO and the United States. It doesn't bind their hands to maintain a no-fly zone, which would mean active NATO engagement with Russian airplanes. But also I think establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would lend credence to the argument that this war is about NATO expansion – when we all know that it isn't.

Do you agree with those who say that if the US and NATO established a no-fly zone, it would be a sign of direct conflict with Russia?

I don't think it would be a sign of direct conflict with Russia, but I think it puts us in a position in which we have to be willing to have direct engagement. If a Russian plane is shot down, that’s direct engagement. What will NATO be willing to do? What will the US be willing to do?

I also think about how Russia would react.

You have to understand that before you have a no-fly zone.

What kind of reaction would there be?

This is the question, right?

Putin is not crazy. He's not an irrational actor. Avoiding direct conflict with NATO is key to understanding how Russia does what it does in Ukraine, but also how Russia has engaged with Ukraine since 2014.

Putin does not want direct engagement with NATO, because Russia cannot win. Putin understands that. If there were direct engagement, I think Russia would find an off-ramp relatively quickly. Russia cannot defeat NATO. Its military doesn't have the training and skill needed.

We can think broadly about the saber-rattling, the threats to Finland and Sweden after joining NATO. But what would the consequences be?

Putin’s not willing to say what they would be.

No. The idea that Putin is mystical – “We'll never understand him – that's a narrative beneficial to Putin, not western intelligence.

Going back to the saber-rattling, they tested an intercontinental ballistic missile yesterday. That seems to be a pretty good and sizable saber to rattle. What do you read into that? Why did he do that?

I'm trying to figure out the most diplomatic way of putting this.

Please don't.

You're testing an ICBM. OK. But that doesn't distract us from the fact that the Moskva is at the bottom of the Black Sea. It doesn't distract us from the fact that high-ranking Russian military generals have been captured or that Russia has had to scale back its total invasion.

This is a way for Putin to adjust the narrative, so we're not talking about all the ways in which the Russian military has underperformed. It's the second or third largest military in the world, yet look at how it's performed against Ukraine's little military.

It was a successful test, but who exactly is he threatening?

It's a demonstration of strength for people back home.


Foreign Affairs had never been my purview until Russia's involvement in American politics and its invasion of a struggling democracy. I don’t know anything about anything military. Even so, it seems to me Russia’s awful. It’s so bad it’s just shelling cities.

There's been an interesting conversation happening since about 2017 about the functioning of the Russian military. Russia’s strength is not in the military. It's in the security services, Putin's henchmen.

The military is kept weak on purpose. If the military is weak, underpaid and underserved, it can't engage in a coup against Putin.

Most of the Russian military is recruits. They are very young. Most come from poor places. They can't pay to get out of service. These are kids who don't know what they're doing. They're not battle-tested.

So you have a very young military, a very poor military and you have a military that has been permanently weakened over 20 years.

This is what happens when you have cronyism that uses military spending. It’s getting siphoned off to support the security services and the oligarchs. The performance of the military isn't shocking, though.

Now that they brought in General Aleksandr Dvornikov, the Butcher of Aleppo, I think that’s a signal of the kind of tempo and atrocities against civilians that we have to expect in the Battle of Donbass.

When you start attacking civilians, what does that mean?

It means you're not being effective militarily, as you expected. So you harm civilians to make yourself look strong. At the same time, you're creating a population that's going to hate you even more. In Ukraine, it's very hard to get people to hate Russians even more."

That's what the invasion has done. It's unified Ukraine. The war unified Ukraine in ways that we could not have imagined in January 2022.

I wanted to move on to the question of sanctions. Some believe applying them is a way of punishing Russia for the invasion. It seems to me Putin is weathering them pretty well. Others say sanctions are a deterrent used to keep countries like China, especially China, from doing what Russia is doing. If Putin can weather sanctions well enough, anyone can. So what are we doing with sanctions?

With sanctions, it was too-little-too-late. Putin has squirreled away over $600 billion for the past 10 years in preparation for any sanctions that would prevent the Russian economy from trudging along.

But it's also laughable to talk about how sanctions are hurting Russia when Europe has still been spending $235 million a day on Russian oil and gas. How effective can sanctions be? Europe has to deal with this.

But this isn't new. This should have been expected. People warned that dependence on Russian oil and gas means in a situation where Russia is being belligerent – ie, now or in Syria – you can't respond fully because now your domestic politics are tied into international politics.

That's exactly what we're seeing right now.

I did a piece a while back about United States tax law. It's very friendly to criminal oligarchs to hide their money in real estate and other assets. I see talk of cutting off Russian oil here in the United States, but nobody's talking about changing the US tax code.

Russia is hyper-capitalist. When capitalism was introduced in 1991, it learned quickly the benefits of capitalism. That's where the oligarchs come from. The oligarchs have taken advantage of every tax loophole.

Now their money is embedded in so many of our government functions – economic growth – we can't sanction too many things because it's going to do harm, too. The war is showing us just how perverse capitalism is right now. It's the only way I can describe it.

The rot is deep. It's so deep as to be invisible to normal people. What do we do? What has been done in history to take care of corruption?

Every time people try changing the tax code, people act like defending billionaires is somehow going to help normal people – the middle class or lower-middle class – like it helps you financially in some way.

We have a perverse understanding of economic exploitation.

When you look at the American tax code, but also Britain’s, you see the ways in which oligarchs have used loopholes to hide their money in real estate. If you close those loopholes, it's not just going to hurt Russian oligarchs. It's going to hurt American oligarchs and British oligarchs.

People think of oligarchs as a post-Soviet phenomenon.

They're not.

I’ve heard reports, unverified reports, of the kidnapping of Ukrainian children and bringing them to Russia. What are the facts?

The Russian state media has talked about Ukrainian kids who “don't know their native language,” meaning Russian, or “don't know Russian well enough.” It’s Putin’s logic: Ukrainians are Russians who don't know they're Russian or who have denied they’re Russian. So I believe it.

There are reports of American fundamentalist groups going to Ukraine and adopting Ukrainian children. This sheds light on the greater problem of human trafficking, but also child endangerment in war.

I totally believe those reports, because even the Russian state media is talking about it. “Oh, these poor Ukrainian orphans, they're Russian, they just don't know. Look at what Ukraine has done, how perverse.”

When people talk about negotiating an end to this war, what does that mean for these children? I think that's really terrifying. Whole cities in Ukraine have been flattened. Official records are gone. There might not be any way of tracking these children or accounting for them.

'Scary': how the American South is punishing 'crimes of thought' and restricting 'freedom of movement'

The US isn’t one country. The more we believe it is, the less sense our politics makes. By insisting on “the truth” when the truth is diametric from “the truth,” we end up doing a helluva lot more work. We end up doing all kinds of mental acrobatics to make sure “the truth” is true.

Once we drop the idea of America being one country, things make more sense. We do less work, too, because on seeing the US isn’t one country, the source of our problems – our national problems – becomes clearer. That source is the politics of the American south.

Quarantine self isolation. Pandemic anxiety. Social distancing. Textured art portrait of bored unhappy annoyed trapped woman in black touching plastic bubble wrap wall in darkness.

There we find the reason the US isn’t one country. The states making up that region don’t want it to be. They have instead committed themselves to a wholly imagined confederacy of the mind and spirit, a fictional subnation inside a factual nation in which “real Americans” fight to restore God’s country to its rightful “constitutional” origins.

While the rest of America is animated by the principles of democracy and union, the south (and its interested and ideological allies spread around 50 states) is animated by the goals of division and control. If the south can’t control the machinery of the federal government, as it has since the beginning, the south declares itself a victim of tyranny.

I think the central tension of our history has been between Americans willing to sacrifice for the greater good and Americans eager to kill themselves to prevent sacrificing anything to anyone who’s “against them.” Democracy isn’t what we think it is. It’s not a tool of a sovereign people to effectuate self-rule. It’s a tool of the few to rule the many.

The south is the source of national division for another reason. Its loyalty to the United States as a union of states is conditional. It depends on the south maintaining its grip on the machinery of the federal government. If and when challenged, the south reserves the right to mutiny. Its social contract includes a “treason option.”

Secession before the Civil War is an obvious example. Less well known are negotiations between the Confederate States of America and foreign leaders who dithered long enough for the choice to be clear. Less understood, too, is the relationship, direct and indirect, between Russia and the Republican Party, the American south’s dominant party.

That relationship ranges in degree from passively allowing Russian operatives to sabotage a Democratic candidate for president to coordinating to spread the Big Lie (thus seeding the ground for a failed coup d’etat) to cheering in unison its invasion of democratic Ukraine.

There does exist a Trump-Putin axis in the Republican Party, as Jamie Raskin said. But obscuring that reality for most Americans, I think, is their belief in America being one country. Treason can’t be optional for some Americans. It just can’t be. That would mean “the truth” isn’t true.

The last reason the American south is why we can’t have nice things is this: the states in that region are acting like they are sovereign nations, as if reifying a wholly imagined confederacy of the mind and spirit, as if finally putting into practice the dream of restoring America’s origins.

Tennessee, Missouri and others have nullified federal gun laws. Mississippi, Florida and others have nearly totally outlawed access to abortion. Texas is now doing its own border security and immigration enforcement. Next is regulating the free movement of citizens.

Missouri and Texas are debating bills to restrict out-of-state travel of pregnant people seeking abortions in states where access is legal.

Stopping nonwhite people from crossing the border and taking up residence, terrorizing nonwhite people already here at gunpoint, forcing white women to repopulate their states and preventing white women from traveling “abroad” – altogether these are the things nations do as they’re slouching toward a totalitarian future.

Only we’re not talking about nations.

We’re talking about states within a region within a nation that are acting like nations, thus belying the belief in America as one.

That states are now attempting to put limits on the right to free movement is only the latest in a series of violations of individual liberty. The trend will no doubt continue, as a GOP supermajority of the US Supreme Court decides increasingly that the rights of states to behave like sovereign nations overrules the rights of their people.

To learn more, I talked to professor of political science and contributor to the Editorial Board Elizabeth F. Cohen. She’s the author of Illegal: How America's Lawless Immigration Regime Threatens Us All. “If you can keep women you suspect are seeking abortions from crossing state lines,” she told me, “you can probably keep them from doing other things in public and interfere with their rights as citizens.”

Is freedom of movement as fundamental as freedom of speech?


First, look at freedom of movement within a country. Seen that way, we find a lot of attention paid to the protection of freedom of movement. We also find that exceptions to the right to move freely are associated with other forms of political oppression.

For example, restrictions on the free movement of Black Americans was integral to Jim Crow. Sundown towns were towns in which Black people risked their lives being in public after sundown. Sharecroppers were not permitted to leave their land until debts were paid off.

In the former Soviet Union, internal restrictions on free movement were associated with attempts to centrally control the ethnic makeup of different republics making up the USSR. Needing permission to move around is a sign one has limited liberties of other sorts as well.

Also ask: Why do people move?

We’d find reasons to call the right fundamental.

They move to escape repression, to reunite with families, to exercise other rights and to sustain their and their loved one’s well-being.

It’s hard to say freedom of movement is not fundamental, even though that right is often overridden by claims of national sovereignty.

A legislator in Missouri has proposed a law forbidding pregnant people from leaving the state to get abortions. Can a state override a fundamental individual right in the interest of enforcing its laws?

At any other point in the previous, oh, say, 50 years or so, I would have said that attempts by a state government to restrict the freedom of movement rights of women who seek to engage in activities that are perfectly legal in another state would be instantly shot down.

After all, no one was blocking flights to Las Vegas to keep people from going there to gamble when gambling was largely illegal elsewhere.

We know teenagers under the legal drinking age in the US go abroad and drink alcohol. No one prevents them from leaving on this basis.

But I’m making no prediction of what any court will do in 2022.

Some say the proposed law in Missouri would encroach on the sovereignty of other states. But as you said, it's hard to predict.

The rights of free movement are not generally contested except in cases of restrictions placed on people that are associated with criminal convictions. People on parole or probation and minors are exceptions.

The Missouri bill isn't only to enforce bans on abortion. It's a ban on a thought crime, an attempt to punish "criminals" for crimes that haven’t yet been committed. It seems to me an articulation of what "conservatives" really want: a society unchanging and stuck in time.

Restricting the free movement rights of women is the first of other restrictions. If you can keep women you suspect are seeking abortions from crossing state lines, you can probably keep them from doing other things in public and interfere with their rights as citizens.

Expand on that, please.

If abortifacients [such as mifepristone or “the abortion pill”] can be mailed, can states interfere with women's mail? If a woman might seek Plan B, can she be placed under a curfew? If pregnant persons seek medical care, will their privacy be invaded? I could go on.

Does our discourse emphasize freedom of movement enough?

In general, I think Americans born in the US to US-born parents have no idea how unusual relative to the world the right of free movement is. But that is largely a statement about visa-free travel abroad.

In the US, I think people of color, particularly Black Americans who are the target of civilian and law enforcement violence, and nonwhite immigrants (especially people in mixed-status families or without authorization to be in the US), understand how important the right of free movement is. They cannot travel freely without worry.

That brings me to immigrants. Restricting immigrants' freedom of movement has long been considered legit. Is there a link between what we do to foreigners and what state lawmakers want to do?

This was the subject of my first book.

Many people who never have to encounter threats to their rights view the idea of citizenship as binary – either one is or is not a citizen.

But because the state can in some circumstances deny people some though not all rights associated with full membership in a society, there exist in fact semi-citizens in every liberal democracy.

If grounds exist for restricting the rights of one group of people, semi-citizens exist, full stop. That some people think, "Oh, that can't happen to me. I’m not like those people” means little in practice.

We know immigration enforcement targets citizens. They always have. Calling it unlawful doesn't change the fact it happens.

What happens to the most vulnerable members of society can happen to other members of that society. We see that in moves to denaturalize citizens when irregularities are found on their citizenship applications.

Right-wing politics began with Black people. Then brown-skinned immigrants. Now it’s women seeking abortions. It's like the politics of the border is colonizing the interior and expanding rapidly.

I don't think there is a progression from one to the other.

There have been different kinds of success for the right recently. But the political movements were there all along, working away.

I think the success the right has seen recently is absolutely progress for the right. While the movement itself is shifting focus, I think the sexism, the nativism and the racism - all of it was there all along.

Is this debate over the right to free movement more fundamentally about the difference between being a citizen and being a subject?

I would argue yes.

Everyone in the crosshairs of the right has to fight for full citizenship in the US. The right is trying to claw many of those rights back. It’s the distinction between full citizenship and partial citizenship – a full set of fundamental rights compared to a partial set of partial rights.

What do normal people need to understand about the right to the freedom of movement that they are not now understanding?

Exit is one of our last resorts when governments fail us.

If we imperil the right of exit, we lose the bulwark against oppression.

If someone doesn't find that scary, they probably are assuming this does not apply to them. But repression doesn't work that way.

It starts small and ramps up incrementally.

What might look distant and impossible right now is actually much more proximate and plausible than many people wish to realize.

'We can't lose if we stand up against hate': an interview with Michigan's Mallory McMorrow

I told you yesterday about Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow. She took to the floor Tuesday morning to dress down a Republican colleague who had named her in a fundraising email as someone who grooms young children “in an attempt to marginalize me for standing up against her marginalizing the LGBTQ community,” she said.

There’s much to admire about McMorrow’s speech, not the least of which is its modeling for Democrats of how to react to a GOP that now sees everything that’s against them as being the worst thing ever.

For me, though, the salient feature was her vision of Christianity. It strives to elevate love and community over sin and punishment. Those who do the difficult work of serving others, in whatever fashion they may choose, are from the former camp. Those who write “Christian” in their Twitter bios, as McMorrow said, are from the latter.

One tries to achieve good.

The other tries to avoid punishment.

This vision of Christianity places at the center of human affairs the ancient demand of “The Sermon on the Mount” to honor the Golden Rule — “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

Usually forgotten, however, is how Jesus updates the rule. He exhorts followers to treat every human being equally, yes, but he also privileges people with little or none. After all, the blessed are the poor, grieving, meek, hungry and persecuted. Those with privilege? He tells us:

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.

“Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

That’s why I think McMorrow’s speech was a sermon, one that empowers us to show righteous – and liberal – fury against the Republicans who are punching down on the most vulnerable among us, in this case, young kids and teens struggling with their identities, for the purpose of defeating right-wingers and getting elected.

They serve mammon in the name of God.

I got in touch with the Michigan senator. We talked about faith, contempt and why the Democrats nationally must find a way to “shut down hate” while addressing real problems everyone really shares.

“I represent a swing district,” McMorrow told me. “I beat a Republican incumbent. I was the only first-time candidate who beat a sitting incumbent in that cycle. I represent probably one of the most purple districts in the state. I was saying we have to be forceful against hate as well as point out Republicans who are lying to their supporters.”

Can you tell me more about the role of your religion in pushing back against Republican smears? It seemed central to your speech.

I decided to go that route because we've seen a rise in the GOP and rightwing groups politically weaponizing Christianity as a means to hate and target and marginalize. That is not what faith means.

I was raised Catholic. I was active in my church. I went to the University of Notre Dame. I met people who believed that as long as they showed up at services every weekend and followed all the rules, they were better Catholics or better Christians than other people.

I learned from my mom very early on that religion and faith were about service. When she was criticized by our priest for not attending Sunday services all the time, we became less active in the church.

I don't know that that meant we were any less active with the teachings and with what faith means – that you are a part of a community and you're supposed to care for the sick and the poor and those who have less than and try to right the wrong in the world.

That is something that attracted me to attending Notre Dame, the idea that everything we worked on was mission-driven – that we were always trying to leave the place a little bit better than we found it.

It's so disgusting to see people openly, brazenly weaponize Christianity as a shield to do hateful, horrible things. So I decided to stand up yesterday and say that it’s not okay. Faith isn’t what this is. This is just hate and you can't cover it up by saying what it's about faith.

You said: “I want every child in this state to feel seen, heard and supported, not marginalized and targeted because they are not straight, white and Christian.” I noticed that word “Christian” – you seemed to say it with contempt and a lot of it. I’ve been writing about the absence of contempt. I wonder what your thoughts are on that.


We have to be unafraid to be angry – and show it.

I feel like Democrats – and probably a lot of people in this world – are so afraid to talk about their faith sometimes. Or afraid that it means different things to many different people or afraid that even people who don't necessarily ascribe to a particular religion might believe in a higher power or that we are all a part of a community.

These are all valid.

Senator Theis in particular has made this brand for herself as a faithful Christian wife who’s protecting kids but at the same time who’s making kids lives miserable if they happen to be gay, or trans or Black.

After I found out about the fundraising email about me, I called my mom and told her what it said. My mom was devastated that somebody would say this about her daughter. However hard that was for my family, it’s much harder for a gay kid or a trans kid who hears every day they are wrong by somebody claiming to be a Christian.

After I posted a transcript of your speech yesterday, I got a great reaction, especially from liberals and Democrats dissatisfied with the rhetoric coming out of the national Democratic Party.

I have been on both sides. I have sympathy for Democrats in swing districts trying to appeal to voters already leaning Republican. But I'm also with those saying we need a more robust reaction to the GOP’s smears and hateful things. Where do you stand on that?

I represent a swing district. I beat a Republican incumbent. I was the only first-time candidate who beat a sitting incumbent in that cycle. I represent probably one of the most purple districts in the state.

In my speech, I was saying that we have to be forceful against hate as well as point out Republicans who are lying to their supporters.

They are trying to redirect anger and fear and hatred toward a marginalized group – which is easy to do, because by definition, there are fewer of them – rather than address problems constituents face.

Instead of working to address issues like water quality and the cost of healthcare and how difficult it is to find a mental healthcare provider – what they are doing doesn't solve any of those things.

It just makes you angry and hateful towards somebody else.

We can't lose if we stand up against hate. There has to be a way to talk to constituents about issues as well as not be afraid to shut down hate.

Your speech shows Democrats in Washington you can sit on the Sermon of the Mount. Just sit there and say, “Actually, we should privilege the sick, the poor and the powerless, just like Jesus did.

One of the commentaries said about my speech yesterday that I redefined myself as a “Jesus Christian,” not a “Republican Christian.”

I think that's powerful.

Whether somebody is faithful or religious or not, it's his job and all of our roles in the world are supposed to be of service to others. And that's not what is happening right now in the Republican Party.

To what extent are you seeing among your constituents connections made between Republicans nationally and Russia? There is a fifth column growing, but how clear is that to everybody else.

In my district, I work with a fairly significant Ukrainian population. I haven't seen a connection directly between Republicans and Russia. In Michigan, there's been pretty strong alignment on both sides of the aisle in that everyone stands with Ukraine and that Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian and that what his country is doing to Ukraine is awful.

I think the split is how we respond.

Republicans are trying to take advantage of that to push for increasing domestic oil production instead of attaining real energy independence. How we respond to Russia is where I think I've seen the difference.

But I don't know that it's been as clear-cut as, “Republicans stand with Russia and Democrats stand with Ukraine.” That's not the case.