I haven’t been able to write about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, perhaps because it hit so hard. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t even want to try to predict what’s going to happen. But I do know this: this is why white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. It was explicitly and openly about the Supreme Court.
It’s absurd that we live in a country that is effectively governed by a body of nine unelected judges who are appointed for life; no other country does this. This may be stating it a bit too strongly, of course—if Congress actually functioned, they could take action when the Supreme Court makes a decision the people largely disagree with. There’s even a process for amending the U.S. Constitution that, in theory, offers the ability to overturn even the strongest decisions of the Supreme Court.
Still, though, our current system of government is both so frozen and so hopelessly gerrymandered (I’m including the Senate in there) that structures that ought to serve as a check on the Supreme Court’s power aren’t functioning. The result is that we throw an increasingly large amount of problems to the Supreme Court, and let them decide, rather than working them out ourselves. (For example, unless I’m completely misinformed on this, Congress could simply throw out qualified immunity, wholesale, prompting widespread police reform; instead, many people assume the courts need to weigh in on that.)
But I digress.
This is the moment conservatives have been waiting for for decades. This is the reason white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016. I grew up in a conservative evangelical home in the 1990s and early 2000s, and this was the fabled moment we spoke of: when we would gain control of the Supreme Court and overturn Roe v. Wade.
White evangelicals have been playing a double-fronted game for decades.
First, there’s the unbreakable marriage between white evangelicals and big business. Things have been this way in the U.S. since at least the 1920s. It should not be lost on anyone that the term “fundamentalist” comes from a set of tracts published in the 1910s that was funded by wealthy oil businessmen. Just about everything white evangelicals have said and done for the past hundred years (think: anticommunism, opposition to welfare) can be explained by their entanglement with business.
American evangelicals are not guided primarily by the Bible. Instead, they are primarily guided by their love affair with big business and unfettered capitalism. (I know that’s a hefty claim, but I 100% stand by it.)
Now, while rank-and-file evangelicals are absolutely onboard with the anticommunism, and more than willing to embrace the racism of the anti-welfare movement, those things have only so much salience in the end. Fortunately for big business, right-wing strategizes found another glue to hold this all together: abortion.
You can convince someone to do or say almost anything by convincing them that hundreds of thousands of innocent children are being murdered. QAnon’s claim that hundreds of thousands of innocent children are being kidnapped and ritually murdered has made the cult balloon in size almost overnight. “Save the Children,” they say, and it works.
In 2016, white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump because they are convinced that millions of children are being brutally murdered in abortion clinics across the country. Sure, some white evangelicals were wholly onboard with Trump’s racism and xenophobia and everything else—but many weren’t. Many were concerned about voting for a man who boasted about grabbing women “by the pussy.” It was their belief that hundreds of thousands of babies are murdered in the U.S. every year—and that if conservatives can capture the Supreme Court, this will stop—that motivated them.
There are so, so many problems with this, of course. For example, the best way to reduce the number of abortions performed each year is to make birth control freely available to all women (including expensive but effective long-term contraceptives). But of course, this is something conservatives oppose. Other things that would also decrease the abortion rate are also opposed by conservatives, such as a $15 minimum wage, paid maternity leave, and government-subsidized childcare.
(As an aside, can you guess why white evangelicals oppose minimum wage increases, paid maternity leave, and government-subsidized childcare? I’ll give you a hint: it has something to do with their enmeshment with big business. Sure, these things would decrease the abortion rate—but the point is not abortion! It never was! Abortion was only ever a tool strategists used to keep white evangelicals voting for conservative candidates that favor their “capitalist” agenda.)
The problem is this: rhetorically, nothing Trump ever does can possibly be worse than hundreds of thousands of murdered babies. Migrant children separated from their families and locked in cages? Meh. Two-hundred-thousand COVID-19 deaths? Yawn. Hundreds of thousands of murdered infants is worse than anything else you can point to, and will always be.
You can use the claim that innocent infants are being horrifically murdered to justify literally anything. And people have. The claim that Jewish people ritually murdered gentile infants and drank their blood was used to justify horrific violent campaigns against Jewish communities for centuries. It’s not like this is really a new tactic.
And so we are here. At the endgame.
If conservatives gain control of the Supreme Court, however, they will decide on far more than Roe v. Wade: they will also decide on cases like employment discrimination. And because conservatism and big business itself is hopelessly enmeshed, the Court will make decisions that favor business at the expense of ordinary people. Everything the Bible says about caring for the poor or protecting the vulnerable goes completely out of the window. Remember: the Bible has not been white evangelicals’ primary guidebook for generations. No. Their guide has been the prophets of “free enterprise”—a term invented, by the way, to make capitalism salient against claims that it advantaged the rich and disadvantaged the poor. Imagine that.
If my own experience is any guide, the Supreme Court is actually not the reason white evangelicals will vote for Donald Trump in 2020. In the intervening four years, white evangelicals have become entranced with Trump’s anti-immigrant sentiment, his racism, his “Law and Order” rhetoric and his claims that white suburbanites are being oppressed at the hands of antifa activists and housing rights groups. This election, far fewer evangelicals will feel the need to hold the nose when pulling the lever for Trump. They’re all in. It turns out fascism can be appealing.
I wish I had something more uplifting to say. I don’t. These are dark days for our country. What with increased right-wing dominance of our media landscape and their ability to ever more skillfully control and shape people’s perception of reality—combined with rampant voter suppression—I don’t really see a way out. When I worked, as an evangelical teen and college student, to ban abortion, I didn’t realize, then, that the end goal would be ushering in fascism. And yet: here we are.
I wish I believed that the arc of history actually bends toward justice.
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