Published August 27, 2020
Since I announced publicly that I will be voting for Joe Biden in November, I’ve received a few communications from puzzled readers. “How can you, a supposedly pro-life woman, support someone who believes in killing babies?” Others say, “What do you not like about Trump’s record? The tax cuts? The record jobs numbers? The conservative judges?” One reader summed things up with “I used to like you.”
I understand. I feel the same way about many people myself.
I will try to respond for the sake of those who, like me, find themselves alienated from the Republican Party despite some policy agreements with the Trump administration.
Let’s start with abortion. I have been pro-life my entire adult life. I haven’t changed. I continue to find the practice abhorrent, and will persist in trying to persuade others. But I’ve noticed a tendency among pro-life conservatives to forgive absolutely everything else if a politician expresses the right views on abortion. This is a mirror image of the left, as we saw when Bill Clinton was accused of sexual misconduct. Many liberals were willing to overlook his gross behavior toward women in the name of preserving abortion rights. Call it “abortion washing.” Both sides do it.
Abortion washing shuts down moral reflection. Rather than do the work of analyzing how one good thing weighs in the balance against other considerations, abortion washing permits the brain to snap shut, the conscience to put its feet up.
My views on abortion can’t be severed from the rest of my worldview. I oppose abortion because it’s morally wrong. I understand that women are sometimes plunged into terrible life crises by unplanned pregnancies, which is why I do what I can to provide help for them. Crisis pregnancies can present agonizing choices, but I don’t think killing is an acceptable solution because life is sacred.
That doesn’t settle the matter of how to place abortion within the matrix of factors that go into voting. There are prudential considerations. While I would prefer to vote for someone who upholds the right to life, I’ve never believed that electing presidents who agree with me will lead to dramatic changes in abortion law, nor is the law itself the only way to discourage abortion. The number of abortions has been declining steadily since 1981. It dropped during Republican presidencies and during Democratic presidencies, and now stands below the rate in 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided and when abortion was illegal in 44 states.
The Supreme Court, despite Republican appointments, has side-stepped many opportunities to reverse Roe. As David French noted, Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter were harsh critics of the decision, but chose, on the bench, to vote for continuity. So if the logic is to support presidents based on the kind of Supreme Court nominees they will choose, the chances that any particular appointment will have the effect of changing the law seem remote.
It has always been my hope to change people’s hearts, so that this cruel practice—like slavery, torture, and mutilation—can be put (mostly) behind us.
Being pro-life is part of an overall approach to ethical questions. It’s wrong to take innocent life. But other things are immoral too. It’s also wrong to swindle people, to degrade and demonize, to incite violence, to bully, and while we’re at it, to steal, to bear false witness, to commit adultery, and to covet. I don’t think Trump has committed murder, and he seems to have honored his parents (though perhaps in the wrong way). But as for the other eight of the 10 commandments, Donald Trump has flagrantly, even proudly violated them all, and encouraged his followers to regard his absence of conscience as strength.
Donald Trump is a daily, even hourly, assault on the very idea of morality, even as he obliterates truth. His influence is like sulphuric acid on our civic bonds. His cruelty is contagious. Remember how he mocked a handicapped reporter in 2016? His defenders either denied the obvious facts, or insisted that, while Trump himself might be “politically incorrect,” his supporters wouldn’t be influenced by that aspect of his character.
Alas, they are. Consider the incredibly moving moment during the Democratic National Convention when young Braydon Harrington, who struggles with stuttering, introduced Joe Biden. That night, an Atlantic editor with the same affliction tweeted “This is what stutterers face every day. I’m in awe of Braydon’s courage and resolve.” But Austin Ruse, author of The Catholic Case for Trump, tweeted his doubts that Biden ever stuttered, and replied to another comment with, “W-w-w-w-w-w-what?”
Casual cruelty has become the fashion for many Republicans. Trump acolytes have adopted the mob-boss style that Trump brought to the Oval Office. When former Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen was preparing to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz, tweeted, “Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.” (Gaetz was rebuked by the House Ethics Committee for this last week.)
Even U.S. senators and cabinet secretaries have aped Trump’s bullying tactics. During Trump’s impeachment trial, Senator Rand Paul (R., KY) repeatedly badgered Chief Justice John Roberts to reveal the name of the whistleblower—in violation of the spirit of whistleblower protection statutes, and despite knowing that it might endanger that person’s safety. When Roberts declined, Paul revealed the name himself on the Senate floor. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo permitted his aggression free reign when NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly asked a question he didn’t like, screaming profanity at her. Sen. Martha McSally, perhaps sensing that the new Republican chic is rudeness, wheeled on a CNN reporter and called him a “liberal hack” before you could say Trumpian. And Ted Cruz, self-styled “constitutional conservative,” has made a show of joining the social media group Parler, which hosts alt-right and other unsavory characters, the better to “own” Twitter.
It isn’t just a matter of style. At Donald Trump’s order, thousands of children, including hundreds under the age of four, were forcibly separated from their parents at the border. Pro-lifers are tender-hearted about the most vulnerable members of society. So images like this must stir something. Separating children from their parents is a barbaric act. In the crush of outrages over the past three and a half years, it has gotten swallowed up, but the horror of what was done in our name should never be forgotten.
All of this is familiar to Trump supporters, along with the “fine people” in Charlottesville, the mocking of reporters for wearing face masks, the Joe-Scarborough-is-a murderer intimations, the Lafayette Park tear gas, denying the legitimacy of elections, the bleach enemas, and on and on. They accept it. Some Trump supporters genuinely hate Trump’s imbecilic tweets and disordered personality. But they will vote for him because they believe that the left is far worse.
Gaetz, characteristically subtle, claimed at the RNC that Biden and Democrats will “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door. And the defunded police aren’t on their way.”
Writing in Commentary, Abe Greenwald proclaims that the violence following George Floyd’s death is the start of a revolution. Echoing the alarm of the Flight 93 election argument from 2016, he writes, “The battle for the survival of the United States of America is upon us.” Speaker after speaker at the Republican National Convention has sounded the same theme. The left is on the march. Violent mobs are coming for your suburban home. If you don’t vote for Trump, Antifa will control your town council, AOC will confiscate your guns, and Al Sharpton will dismantle the police.
Funny, but I could have sworn that the Democratic Party nominated Joe Biden last week, not Alexandria Ocasio Cortez or Bernie Sanders.
Look, there are extremists on the left, and the Democratic Party has a weakness for not wishing to call them out. Democrats do the truth and themselves no favors by attempting to gloss over the looting, arson, and vandalism that have persisted in Portland, Chicago, and other cities throughout the summer. And they insult the millions of peaceful protesters who expressed the conscience of the nation by failing to distinguish them from criminals who used the opportunity to pillage and destroy.
Some of the extremists are not on the streets, but on the editorial boards of leading newspapers, on university faculties, and in other positions of cultural influence.
But it’s dishonest, and frankly, a bit hysterical to attempt to hang every sin of the left around Joe Biden’s neck. He’s no radical, and the party that nominated him showed that its centrist core was stronger than its extremist wing.
Biden denounced violence in cities, saying:
The vast majority of the protests have been peaceful. Anyone who burns or pillages… should be arrested. They are a problem for society and they make a mockery of what the march is all about. They should be tried, arrested and put in jail.
As for calls to “defund the police,” Biden kept his balance.
Absolutely not. I do not support [defunding the police] and I never have. What I support is strong and serious reform of police departments which most serious police officers in the country support. And we should have transparency in what in fact occurs within police departments as it relates to accusations of brutality or violating peoples’ rights.
In the wake of renewed violence following yet another horrific police shooting, this time in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Biden repeated this message, expressing deep sympathy for Jacob Blake and his family, outrage at what happened, and also condemnation of violence, saying “burning down communities is not protest, it’s needless violence . . . That’s wrong.” Biden struck exactly the right tone.
The argument that the left is worse doesn’t persuade me. Strange as it is to write those words after 30 plus years as a conservative columnist, I have to say that when you compare the state of the two major parties today, the Republicans are more frightening.
It is the Republican party that has officially become a personality cult, declaring that it will not adopt a platform but will simply follow whatever Trump dictates. It is the Republican party that pretends that COVID-19 will magically disappear. It is the Republican party that has elevated a series of criminals and grifters including Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Roy Moore, Steve Bannon, Wayne LaPierre, Rudy Giuliani, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Roger Stone. It is the Republican party that shamefully declined to uphold the Constitution when Trump diverted funds to his border wall. It is the Republican party that has become truth-optional. And it is the Republican party that now opens its arms to adherents of a deranged but nonetheless dangerous new cult called QAnon, which a (defeated) Republican called “mental gonorrhea,” and which in December, 2016, inspired a man to open fire in a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C., as part of a “self investigation.” The FBI has designated QAnon a domestic terror threat, yet minority leader Kevin McCarthy has committed to providing committee assignments to Marjorie Taylor Greene, should she be elected in November
There is putrefaction where the Republican party’s essence should be, and appointing pro-life judges cannot mask the stench. So this conservative is voting for the Democrats. Will the GOP reform? I hope so. But my priority isn’t trying to heal the Republican party. It’s trying to heal the country.
Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a contributor to The Bulwark, and host of The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast.