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Thursday, June 28, 2018


I spent a troubled night, and awoke, brooding.  It is nearly sixty years since I first raised my voice against the evils of the world.  In that distant time, when I thought about it at all, which was very rarely, I supposed that when I grew old, I would rest quietly by the campfire or in the reading room and tell young men and women what the fight was like in the old days.  Little did I imagine that I would sit on the ground, and tell sad tales about the death of kings.

And then, there came to me the words of Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And so, once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…

We have been dealt two blows in as many days:  the terrible Janus decision from the high court, and the retirement of Associate Justice Kennedy, with the threat to Roe v. Wade and a host of other foundational court decisions.  These are terrible times, with fascism on the horizon in the United States and our last defense severely undermined by the Kennedy retirement.  By the time the Mueller investigation’s results reach their inevitable Supreme Court review, will all hope have evaporated for a judicial affirmation of its results?

We must fight.  But what does that even mean?  Herewith some thoughts, wrenched from my fevered mind. Make of them what you will.

Coming so close together, the decision and the retirement compel us to draw a distinction.  The assault on workers’ rights, advanced yet another step by Janus, can be no surprise.  The exploitation of workers is not a byproduct of capitalism; it is the essential foundation and reason for being of capitalism.  Justice Kennedy’s replacement, in addition to being a safe vote for the reversal of Roe, will have as his or her goal the further oppression of workers and the further enrichment of capitalists.  That, after all, is why the high court exists.

On the other hand, the inevitable attack on Roe has no essential connection to capitalism.  Its purpose is to secure the political support of millions of useful idiots whose religious obsessions make them malleable ground troops for the seizure of political power by the Republican Party.  Capitalists themselves care not at all how their workers reproduce themselves, only how they reproduce capital.

What is to be done?  The Janus decision is simply a small part of the larger fight against capitalism, a fight in which we are outgunned but not outnumbered.  As my brief post on Gini Coefficients makes clear, and as Piketty’s important book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, details, capitalism is increasingly successful in its core exploitative mission.  Organize! Is still the best one word answer we have.

The threat of the overturning of Roe is more particular and requires a more elaborate answer.  Let us be clear.  Overturning Roe will not make abortion illegal in the United States.  It will remove the hold on those state laws making abortion illegal.  Depending on how you count, the overturning of Roe will make abortion illegal in roughly 15 states.  Since there is little hope of getting a federal law passed legalizing abortion, that means we must use the federal structure of American government to our advantage.

Now, for as long as I have been alive, States’ Rights has been the battle cry of segregationists, homophobes, and other rightwing lowlifes, so some may consider it, shall we say, ironic for those of us on the left suddenly to discover the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.  Not I.  I had my say half a century ago about the philosophical foundations of representative democracy in a little tract called In Defense of Anarchism.  I experience not the slightest twinge of embarrassment at invoking the cry of states’ rights.  It is all false anyway, so far as I am concerned.

Reflect.  Roe was decided in 1973.  That means that every single woman in the United States of childbearing age has, since the onset of her puberty, lived in a country in which abortion is legal.  The women living in the states with anti-abortion laws will suddenly find that they are no longer protected from the enforcement of invasive restrictions that they may hitherto have found it convenient to profess to support.  In every one of those states, there will be countless women who can be mobilized to vote out the Republican legislators who enacted or support those laws, and to elect state legislators and governors who are ready to repeal their state’s anti-abortion laws.  In each state, the issue will be entirely local.  Repealing an anti-abortion law in one state will not in any way require actions in other states.  Nor will it be necessary to enact pro-abortion laws.  Absent state laws and the Roe decision, abortion is as legal as dental surgery.

In short, the overturning of Roe could be a mobilizing weapon for progressive forces the likes of which we have not seen before.

Finally, what are the prospects for blocking a Trump nominee before the November mid-terms?  Not good, I would say.  Why?  Well, with McCain dying of cancer, the Senate is split 50/49.  If the Democrats can hold all of their votes – an enormously difficult task this year – then they only need one Republican to switch, say Collins or Murkowski.  Both are pro-choice.  But McConnell is no fool, and Trump merely wants a win.  Which means all the Republicans need do is to find a reliable anti-Roe judge who has had the good sense to keep his or her mouth shut on the matter and has left no troublesome trail of lower court decisions.  Collins and Murkowski will quiz this candidate sharply, he [in all probability] will give the appropriate answers, and Collins and Murkowski will profess themselves satisfied. 

The one wild card is the Mueller investigation.   It is rather difficult to judge the effect on all this  by, let us say, Mueller’s naming of Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator.  One can dream.

Well, I had my eyes checked this morning, so all of this has been written with dilated pupils that make everything a blur.  Who knows?  Maybe the drops blurred my mind as well my vision.


David said...

The drops may have affected your sight, but they didn't affect your insight. Thank you.

David Palmeter said...

Your point that reversal of Roe would not outlaw abortion but merely leave it to the states is an important one. Most states allow it and, presumably would continue to do so.

There’s a certain irony in this in that one of the critics of the Roe decision, both as to its legal foundation (right to privacy) and as to the tactical decision to bring a constitutional case, was Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Indeed, the National Abortion Rights League questioned her appointment by Clinton, although in the end, I believe they did not oppose her.

The right to privacy is an amorphous theory, developed by the Court in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in part because the robber barons didn’t like the tabloid press scandalizing them for their peccadillos. The Constitution has nothing to say about a right to privacy. It has to be implied from the text. Ginsburg contends that the right to an abortion is a matter of equal protection of the law, not privacy. For a woman to have equality in our society, she must be in charge of her own body, just as men are in charge of theirs.

As to tactics, which is where she parted from most pro-choice advocates, she argued that the issue was already being won state-by-state pretty much below the radar. She feared that to constitutionalize it would raise its public profile and could lead to a strong anti-abortion movement. She was right.

Carl said...

If he doesn't die, McCain will certainly resign in time for the governor of Arizona to appoint his replacement, making the Senate 51-49 again.

David said...

As many have probably already read, about 575 women were charged today with unlawfully protesting at the Senate's Hart building. They were committing civil disobedience to protest the separations. Among those arrested was Rep. Pramila Jayapal. Roll Call has the story here:

s. wallerstein said...

How about this poem from Yeats?

WHY should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher's wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.

Dean said...

For old men and rage, Frederick Seidel makes a mark.

Anonymous said...

Apparent connection between Trump and Justice Kennedy: Kennedy's son works for Deutsche Bank and it was he who approved real-estate loans to Trump.