These cursed United States

‘It’s time to be brave. Fear is not a plan.’

These cursed United States

Edited by Sam Thielman

It is really hard to know what to say in wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson last Friday. I’ve been struggling to write something this week. I could tell you that the rollback of abortion access is a red flag that a democracy is declining. I could highlight the many stories already being told of women and girls now caught in perilous, if not plainly dangerous, situations. Maybe I’d point out the horrifying efforts to enforce abortion bans being debated at the state level. Perhaps I could write about the very valid fears that big tech data could be used to snoop on those seeking abortions, or the moderation policies that social media platforms like Facebook have enacted to help right-wing lawmakers prevent the sale of abortifacient drugs and how misguided I think they are.

I mean, just look at this:

On Monday, an AP reporter tested how the company would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.”

The post was removed within one minute.

The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.”

Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched. A post with the same exact offer to mail “weed” was also left up and not considered a violation.

I published an article at DFRLab last weekend about the disingenuous fear campaign conservatives waged in opposition to the righteous anger most of America feels right now. Using the playbook from their 2020 crusade to discredit all racial justice protests, conservatives drummed up fears within their base that a “night of rage” from pro-choice protesters was not only imminent, but a pressing physical danger to churches and “crisis pregnancy” centers. By plucking out an obscure radical pro-choice group that has claimed responsibility for a string of vandalisms of anti-abortion organization buildings—including instances being investigated as potential arsons, but no physical violence—GOP leaders and far-right voices warned in unison that a wave of mass violence was certain against those who support forced birth.

Not only didn’t that happen, instead, we saw police brutalizations, car ramming attacks, and far-right mobilization. The fears of violence were nothing more than rage-bait: an effort to manufacture permission for whatever the far-right and police would do in response to abortion protests. To the target audience, a “night of rage” might as well have happened, instead of a few minor incidents of vandalism. The media personalities who have a death-grip on that audience’s attention will never jeopardize that power by telling the truth.

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Trying to write about a country in rapid decline is difficult. At some point you run out of things to say; you can try to condense this sprawling sense of decay into little bon mots and aphorisms, but those feel trite against the tidal wave of despair.

The good guys are losing this battle, not because of a single defeat but a series of small concessions over decades. Every instance of Democrats capitulating to the Right because it was an election year, or because they were worried about being accused of being radical, has culminated in the weakening of the Party’s practical power and its institutional courage. And because it is the only party that even nominally supports the very institutions of government, those institutions, too, have weakened. Despair and cynicism pervade popular Left movements, which prevents coalition-building and makes the possibility of a mass mobilization—which could potentially turn this awful tide—seem especially distant.

In particular, our government waited far too long to recognize the threat to its sovereignty on its own soil, and many in authority still seem to be in a baffling state of denial. As politicians and pundits have argued about what terminology to use and how to talk to moderate voters, the Right has kept on rolling through checkpoint after checkpoint. Since it was never going to get policy concessions through popular support, the Right gamed the judicial system to tremendous success. The crushing victory Senate Republicans and Trump won by cramming right-wing ideologues into lifetime judgeships, including on the Supreme Court, should not be understated. We are paying the price for that now, and will for many years to come.

The rollback of abortion rights is an especially precious jewel mined in a decades-long project to shape the US into a nation where a particular kind of evangelical Christianity is compulsory. Beyond Dobbs, other rulings show us where this is all going: nerfing the Environmental Protection Agency, further eroding the separation of church and state, and opening up gun laws to enable more people to carry firearms in public. Next session, the Court will hear a case that could devastate election integrity in every state where Republicans control the legislature.

Our future is at stake, and our leaders lack imagination and resourcefulness. It is easy to feel doomed. We are well past time to demand that the few duly elected leaders we still have take drastic measures. Telling people to get out the vote and donate $15 to a campaign is not an adequate response.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are among the few elected Democrats who have proposed coherent plans to answer the modern predicament. Whether or not their ideas are ideal or even workable, they’re genuinely proposing them. They’re trying to lead. Below are some Twitter threads I’d encourage you to read:

Ocasio-Cortez posted something on Twitter that I think strikes exactly the right tone. It was written in the context of what elected officials could be doing right now, but I also think it can apply more broadly.

“Doing nothing is catastrophic. It is not a neutral choice. It’s the destructive choice,” she wrote. “It’s time to be brave. Fear is not a plan.”

It may not be clear what remains for the average person to do. But it’s becoming important to do something. Our leaders have left so much undone that there’s enough obvious and necessary work for everyone. The only political gambles that pay lasting dividends are those made by facing hard truths with conviction, bravery, and the will to understand them. We’re betting against the house, but at this point it’s the best chance we’ve got.

I recently paid a visit to the “Even More News” podcast with Cody Johnston and Katy Stoll. It was a lot of fun and offered a nice bit of needed catharsis. I hope you’ll give it a listen! Toward the end you can hear me do a brief Jordan Peterson impression while discussing the need for owners of anime body pillows to return to God.

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