I’ve heard the following argument ad nauseum from reluctant Trump supporters:
Voting for Hillary is like putting a fully-loaded gun to your head and pulling the trigger: You KNOW what’s going to happen. Voting for Trump is like playing Russian roulette with a single bullet in the chamber: the odds are everything is going to be OK.
Personally, I believe this is delusionally wishful thinking. Here’s a better analogy:
You’re forming a band and looking for a good lead guitarist. You know a friend who has been playing guitar for decades but—well, to put it bluntly—she sucks. You have another friend interested who’s never even picked up a guitar before but you’re hoping there’s a chance he’s an undiscovered latent virtuoso.
The first analogy treats the office of the president like a magic eight ball: one can be a good president by shaking things up enough. The second analogy views the office as something that requires actual skill and experience relevant to the task.
To the politically desperate, concerned that this next election is the difference between making America great again (whatever that means) or handing whatever swaths of the nation aren’t overrun by ISIS to Democrats hell-bent on turning us into the Soviet Union 2.0, this would be Deal-Maker and Chief has crafted a deal you can’t refuse: you give me the office of the presidency to fuel my insatiable lust for power, and I'll give you the ultimate prize—prolife justices on the Supreme Court! There is, of course, another looming threat less apocalyptic but more likely: the Republican party’s reluctant, begrudging loyalty to Trump may result in there no longer being a viable party running candidates who actually believe in limited government for generations.
So, is it all worth it? Is it worth throwing in limited government and conservative principles and even the pretense of decency and the kitchen sink to risk it all on a braggadocious pervert promising to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, restore national security, and appoint prolife justices? I vote no. But maybe that’s not even the question we should be asking at this point. Maybe the question we should be asking is why should we believe that Trump is capable of actually doing what he’s said he’s going to do? Shouldn’t we ask for some evidence he can keep his promises?
It would seem Trump’s modus operandi is to promise his followers something just short of the moon: We’re going to build a wall on the Mexican border and make them pay for it. We’re going to win so much, we’ll get bored with winning. We’re going to be one beautiful, loving country. This all sounds eerily reminiscent of Obama implying that electing him president would lead to receding oceans and a healing planet.
The average American can’t be expected to be proficiently knowledgeable with how the Federal government operates or the limitations on the president’s power, so when Trump makes such grandiose promises a refresher in high school civics is urgently needed. It would take a considerably lengthy post to untangle the absurdity of all of Mr. Trump’s hilariously ambitious promises. Here we are only concerned with one: the appointment of prolife justices to the Supreme Court. I hope to show that Trump will likely fail at keeping this promise, and that there is grave danger he would do serious harm to the prolife movement.
It’s questionable whether Trump is being honest with us about his prolife views
Many reluctant Trump supporters are content to dwell in an astounding state of denial when they say Trump is a bona fide prolifer. Repeating his talking points about prolife justices or talking about “The List” of eleven potential Supreme Court picks Trump pledged to nominate isn’t so much an argument that Trump is prolife as it is a willingness to choose some facts over others.
Reading over “The List” certainly doesn’t suggest he’d chose prominent justices in the vein of Antonin Scalia, but oddballs who he hasn’t properly vetted. Case in point, Don Willett, one of those “eleven” has tweeted the following:
“Can't wait till Trump rips off his face Mission Impossible-style & reveals a laughing Ruth Bader Ginsburg”
“We'll rebuild the Death Star. It'll be amazing, believe me. And the rebels will pay for it. —Darth Trump”
“Low-energy Trump University has never made it to #MarchMadness. Or even to the #NIT. Sad! ??”
What’s more likely: that this list reflects Trump’s true values and indicates the kind of people he will appoint to the courts or that it was hastily assembled to convince reluctant Republicans that he was on their side?
Trump supporters are quick to point out that his running mate, Mike Pence, is a well-respected prolife conservative and that we could expect more of the same appointments in a Trump administration. This is wishful thinking at best. Trump’s ability to pick a running mate that would give him the best shot at securing the Republican base and win the election and his willingness to continue appointing such people after he’s won are two entirely different things. After all, Pence wasn’t Trump’s first pick and the process by which he settled on Pence shows he was motivated by opportunism more than shared ideology.
Trump was, after all, not only prochoice but, in his own words, “very prochoice.” True, he made that comment years ago and many have rightly observed that people change over time. But as recently as August of last year he boasted that his sister, who ruled in favor of giving constitutional protection to partial-birth abortion, would make a phenomenal Supreme Court justice, illustrating the sort of nepotism and cronyism we could expect from a Trump administration.
I’m not suggesting that people can’t change their views. After all, Trump himself rightly observed that even Ronald Reagan was “once a Democrat.” Fair enough. But Reagan was also nicknamed the Great Communicator because of his uncanny ability to articulate principles of conservatism, limited government, and the need for a strong stance against the Soviet Union. People knew to trust Reagan’s conversion because he could authentically walk us through the process. We never had to guess what he “might do” when he was elected because he was consistent in his speech and actions.
The Reagan that we elected president in the 1980’s had been consistently articulating a conservative, prolife worldview since his famous Rendezvous with Destiny speech in the 1960’s. It’s hardly fair to compare that to the extremely recent conservative “conversion” Trump claims after spending the first six decades of his life as a New York liberal. Most of us change very slowly over time, and even less so as we age. Trump is unusually resistant to admitting mistakes or showing remorse. He isn’t the kind of person I’d expect to see “change” for the better by being surrounded by his betters. He has, after all, declared that he knows more than the generals do about ISIS, had the audacity to say President Bush “didn’t keep us safe on 911”, pits himself against President Bill Clinton, Speaker Newt Gingrich, and economists in general over free trade, and sent at least 170 tweets in which he dubbed numerous national figures various kinds of “losers”. Who exactly does Trump look to for advice? Have you ever heard him say anything about who inspires him or has influenced him? He behaves as a classic narcissist, separating his supporters into “winners” and everyone else into “losers”, taking advice from no one.
Trump seems unable to articulate anything beyond eighth-grader rhetoric: “Make America Great Again”, “Build a wall”, “Lock her up”, etc. When a person shifts from prochoice to prolife something monumental has taken place. I’d imagine a person like that could tell you, in excruciating detail, what led to their changed mindset, possibly bringing them to tears as they spoke. Can we say this of Trump? Does he demonstrate the humility and openness to change or the candor to convince us?
Even if he is being honest, Trump isn’t fundamentally “prolife”
“So, what of it?” You may ask. If Trump isn’t truly prolife does it really make a difference if he’s willing to strike a bargain with the prolife movement and appoint friendly Supreme Court justices? Strike a deal with a chronic back-stabber and you’ll likely get stabbed in the back. But let’s lay that aside for the moment and assume that Trump will keep his promises.
If “prolife” simply means one believes “abortion is wrong” and that we should pass laws that make it difficult for people to have abortions, then Trump could be called prolife. But “prolife” means something much bigger. It means showing a respect for life. Abortion is an important aspect of that, but it’s not the sum-total. Under the first definition, those who bomb abortion clinics are “prolife”. Trump’s own confusion was on full display when he suggested women deserved to be punished for having an abortion, during a three-day period in which he took a whopping FIVE different positions on the issue!
Now, if being prolife means one has a respect for life, it should also be noted that there’s an inverse relationship between defending life and how vulnerable that life may be. Just as we can understand how sexually assaulting a child is a greater crime than if the victim were an adult, a person who is prolife is ever-more concerned with the treatment of the weak, elderly, and unborn. That is, those with the ability to do so protect those who lack the ability to protect themselves.
What do Trump’s words and actions tell us about how he views those who are weaker than himself? How has he consistently spoke of vulnerable immigrants or refugees? How has he treated the illegal immigrants he employed? Does he view women with respect or as sexual objects for his personal gratification? Has he ever said demeaning things about women he doesn’t like? How faithful has he been to his marriage(s)? How has he spoken of war veterans or the parents of fallen soldiers who happen to disagree with him? Has he ever mocked the disabled? Has he ever suggested murdering relatives of suspected terrorists? Has he ever spoke cavalierly of bombing foreign countries? Has he ever threatened people of significantly lesser financial means with libel lawsuits? Has he ever spoken favorably of foreign dictators? Has he ever suggested bodily harm be done to people who disrupt his rallies?
These are, of course, painfully rhetorical questions. Recently, Trump has been perpetrating the myth that the election is “rigged” to prepare for what will likely be his defeat. This is an irresponsibly dangerous thing to say, much like shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater. When people begin to believe the system is rigged they take matters into their own hands. In other words, Trump is saying something that could lead to the loss of life because he can’t allow for the possibility that he lost an election simply because he was a “loser”.
And herein lies the problem: to someone who is prolife, the sanctity of life is central to their understanding of politics and culture and religion and civil behavior. To someone like Trump, “prolife” is a means to an end; specifically, the means by which he can obtain power. There is a real danger the Republican party, led by such a man, will approach abortion in this entirely different way. And that could effectively end the prolife movement as we know it for a generation where politicians pay lip-service to the idea to succor votes from unwitting supporters. Once politicians use an issue to gain votes, they have no incentive for resolving the issue.
“But surely,” you may protest, “the movement wouldn’t be in danger of changing just because the perceived leader has questionable motives!” Indeed, it is possible. In fact, it has already happened to the Republican party. When Trump shouts “I alone can fix” America to thunderous applause at the RNC, we’re witnessing legions of Republicans supporting authoritarianism because dear leader calls for it. It’s far more difficult to root out bad ideas that come from within the party than those that come from without.
There is another perception problem we’d face if Trump were elected: opposition to the prochoice movement will be led by a braggadocious pervert who continuously says things hostile to women. This is hardly a recipe for winning the hearts and minds of those who are not currently prolife but could be persuaded to the cause. And, in a democratic society, winning the hearts and minds of the people is the only long-term solution for change.
The LGBTQ movement (and why it matters)
Let me demonstrate that last point with a recent example: Strange as it may seem, the prolife movement could learn a lot from the LGBTQ movement. The LGBTQ movement has made breathtakingly significant strides in recent years. We’ve gone from only 27% of the population supporting legalized same-sex marriages to an astounding 61% of the population supporting it in less than twenty years! We’ve gone from same-sex marriage being legal in only Massachusetts to it being legal everywhere in less than 22 years! We’ve gone from “gay” being an insulting reference to an entire generation of millennials treating discrimination of sexual lifestyles as tantamount to discriminating someone on the basis of their skin color.
And how did all of this happen? Did it happen because President Obama said “make it so?” Granted, it happened in part because the Supreme Court put the final nail in the coffin when they declared homosexual marriage legal, but they did so to thunderous applause. They were catching up with the culture, not dragging it along. There were some who objected, but they were in the minority.
This all came about because the homosexual movement realized years ago that the only way to get ahead in our system of government is to change the culture first. They sought cultural revolution alongside political/judicial change. Thus, for the past decade we’ve been treated to homosexual couples on mainstream TV shows like Modern Family kissing, and prominent celebrities and leaders “coming out” to the point where it’s no longer strange or uncommon to encounter the gay lifestyle. Once the culture accepted it, the politics was soon to follow.
In some respect the prolife movement has done the same. Abortions are at their lowest levels since 1973 and states have slowly been moving in the direction of making it harder to get an abortion. Since we don’t live in a dictatorship these trends have been happening because both the culture and the electorate are in harmony, and not because “our guy” got elected and is just going to tell us how it’s going to be. What then is necessary for the prolife movement to advance further? Cultural revival. We need to be winning the hearts and minds of the American people by arguing that all life is sacred and precious.
But that’s not Trump’s approach. Trump is demonstrating through his actions that he doesn’t consider life “precious”—as noted above—and that the abortion issue is just a means to an end of taking the reign of power. He’s making prolifers a “deal”—vote for me, and I’ll give you this thing you want. But being prolife isn’t a bargaining chip, it’s the central understanding to our worldview. Will this win hearts and minds? No, it will turn those who have not yet made up their minds away from the prolife movement because the prolife movement will be seen as bigotry and misogyny. “Prolife” will be viewed as “anti-women”. That’s precisely how the prochoice supporters have attempted to label those of us who believe in the sanctity of life, because they know doing so will effectively end any advancements we may hope for.
But what about the Supreme Court?
What if Trump fails to win hearts and minds but succeeds in appointing Supreme Court justices who—years after he’s out of office—begin to turn the tide? There are two problems with this argument: first, Trump isn’t trustworthy and, second, even if Trump were telling the truth it is doubtful he fully understands or appreciates how difficult of a promise this would be to keep.
Can we trust Trump to keep his word? This list of 138 distinct shifts on 23 major issues would suggest otherwise. This is not someone who appears capable of staying on course when he perceives it no longer benefits him. Getting a Supreme Court nominee through the Senate is often one of the most difficult political battles a president faces. Pushing through a nominee as “conservative” as Trump has been touting would require risking an enormous amount of political capital. You shouldn’t expect the chronically self-interested to be quite so generous with a precious commodity like that.
It’s difficult to discern whether Trump understands that judicial appointments don’t just happen when a president snaps his fingers. Trump has demonstrated an alarming lack of understanding with the limitations placed on the president. For example, when Hillary attacked him for not paying income taxes or exploiting labor laws he responded by accusing her of doing nothing to stop people like himself from exploiting loopholes in the system, mentioning multiple times that Clinton’s had “30 years” to fix all this. Clinton may have held positions of significant responsibilities and authority, but at no point during her tenure as First Lady, Secretary of State, or junior Senator of New York was she actually in a position to “fix” the so-called loopholes. To suggest otherwise speaks volumes to Trump’s perception of what political power means. It’s possible Trump is being honest about appointing prolife justices, much like a child who expresses sincerity when asked not to sneak into the kitchen and eat the cookies. It’s unlikely he’d do so once he realizes how difficult it truly is, much like the same child an hour later when mommy’s in the other room.
Playing the guessing game with a Supreme Court justice has rarely worked. Justices Kennedy, Roberts, and Souter were all appointed by Republican presidents (Reagan and both Bush’s) as supposed “conservative” justices. Today Roberts and Kennedy are seen as “moderate” justices and Souter was considered a “liberal” justice.
By the way, I’m using quotation marks around the words “conservative”, “moderate”, and “liberal” because the real issue with the Supreme Court isn’t left vs. right, but judicial activism vs. Constitutional restraint. A “conservative” justice isn’t one who seeks to expand the duties of the court further by enacting a conservative agenda from the bench, but one who seeks to restrain the court’s function to that of interpreting the law. Justices are unelected and have no business performing the duties of a legislator.
How would Trump’s questionably abrupt conversion to conservatism avoid the missteps of the past three Republican presidents? He says he’s a conservative, but he’s yet to say anything to show he understands Constitutional limits or judicial restraint. He’s using a word that he doesn’t appear to understand and promising to appoint like-minded justices when actual conservative presidents have tried and failed.
We wouldn’t be having this discussion if it weren’t for the fact the court continues to broaden its powers to the point it’s becoming the most important “issue” in deciding a future president, and certainly Hillary Clinton would seek to expand the courts even further. To the extent appointments reflect the president’s values, we can expect Hillary to appoint liberal justices and Trump to appoint authoritarian justices. Both would seek to significantly expand the power of the executive office in a manner that’s unfit for a free people.
But if we’re going to play the guessing game it would be unwise to only focus on the Supreme Court. Majority control of the United States Senate is precariously balanced between both parties. This is of particular importance to the Supreme Court because, while the president nominates justices, it is the Senate that gives the ultimate consent to nominees. Therefore, the make-up of the Senate can often determine whether a president appoints judges that strongly shares their worldview or represent a more balanced candidate. Case in point: Obama’s picks have been decidedly left of center, but Kagan and Sotomayor are significantly further left than Garland. Why? Because Obama now must deal with a predominately Republican Senate.
The outcome of the control for the Senate is less of an unknown than waiting around to see if Trump reneges on his promise to appoint prolife justices. Historically, the president’s party almost always loses seats in mid-term elections. In other words, if Trump were elected he’d likely preside over a Democrat Senate, unfriendly to the idea of appointing the sort of justices Trump’s been bragging he’ll nominate. It may even mean the Democrats retain their majority when a new president is elected, setting us up for an even more “liberal” Supreme Court.
What would it take to end abortions in America?
Whether Trump or Hillary is elected president the outcome will be less than ideal for the prolife movement. But even if a strong prolife candidate were elected president we would still be a long way off from ending abortions in America. Much like the strides made by the LGBTQ movement described above, ours is not only a political fight but a cultural fight as well.
Such radical change is going to take far more than putting “It’s a child, not a choice” bumper-stickers on your car right next to the campaign sticker of some political candidate who has a 100% prolife rating from some special interest group. This is the greatest danger Donald Trump poses to the prolife movement: he reduces our duty to defend life to a single vote on election day. The conversation has drifted from actual ideas on ending or reducing abortions to accusing people who say they won’t vote for Trump as a matter of conscious of being implicit supporters of “Killary” and the wholesale murder of babies. Adults with the responsibility to defend the unborn have opted to become children, neglecting the hard work of thinking in exchange for believing the lie that their problems somehow resolve themselves if the “right guy” is in office.
What it would take to end abortions in America is a topic too broad to cover in these last few paragraphs, but I’ll leave you with some thoughts:
First, we’d need to drop this misconception that abortion is a strictly political issue. The problem with addressing abortion through a political lens only is that it ignores the underlying causes of broken homes, shattered families, domestic violence and drug abuse, single-parents, divorce, rape, and access to birth control. Ending abortions means not only revolutionizing politics, but also confronting our national mindset and the way we live. We’d almost certainly have to address the barriers to adoption as the alternative to abortion would lead to more children without a stable or safe family.
Speaking of families, that too would have to radically change. Do we live a life that seeks to promote families and family values? Let me stress again, I’m not talking strictly political. Do we treat our own families with respect and act in a way that promotes unity and stability? I ask in all humility as I know families can often be the deepest source of hurt in a person’s life, but this represents a cultural problem that must adequately be dealt with before we can begin having a serious conversation about ending abortions.
The correlation between abortions and a decrease in violent crimes is a subject many of us in the prolife movement are uncomfortable talking about. Yet we may even have to contend with an increase in violent crime should we succeed in ending abortions. Meaning our lives and the lives of those we love will be less safe and added security and law enforcement measures will be needed.
Many of our would-be disabled and handicapped are aborted. If they were born it would add a burden on the system to care for their special needs. Are you comfortable with the idea of your taxes increasing to pay for all of this? Are you comfortable with the idea that many of us—perhaps even yourself—will have to voluntarily take on added responsibilities to care for an increase in orphans, disabled, and victims of violent crimes? Are you comfortable with the idea that ending abortions may make your life uncomfortable?
Like most of the problems we face, conservatives recognize the solutions begin with us, not with “them”. In the end, abortion is a symptom, not the disease—corrupt culture is the disease. And you can’t fix a corrupt culture by electing a man or woman who are the very embodiment of corruption.