When the worst people in the world keep winning

Since my return to active blogging, I have been reluctant to post about politics, choosing instead to retreat into aestheticism. Today I feel I have to respond to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in some way, because I feel implicated in the decision as a former evangelical. My church and family were never particularly politically active, and I was mercifully spared the lifelong shame of attending an anti-abortion protest or harrassing women outside a clinic. But it was the one absolutely unquestionable goal — the one trump card that meant conservatives always had the moral high ground against liberals. What could possibly be more important than stopping the genocide against the unborn?

For such an absolute axiom, however, we never seemed to place much weight on it. We never seemed to ask, for example, what the liberals thought they were achieving by condoning the murder of infants. To the extent that anyone tried to explain it, they tended toward obviously crazy theories — basically, that liberals love evil for its own sake, that they glory in the destruction of life just to piss God off. As my dad once said to me out of nowhere, “Liberalism is a religion and abortion is its sacrament.” Since almost none of us knew any liberals well and obviously none of us were in a position to have a rational exchange of views with them if we did, those extreme statements were weirdly free-floating, attaching to people who were by definition outside our circle. We also never seemed to ponder whether we really thought that “abortion is murder,” which is to say that terminating a pregnancy holds the same moral weight as killing a post-born individual. The way we thought about the women involved certainly didn’t indicate that we did — until recently, the idea of actively punishing the wicked abortive mother was not really on the agenda. A woman who understood what was happening couldn’t really want to kill her child! That was insane! It had to be the doctors misleading and seducing them, they’re really to blame.

As with all conservative projection, the truth was that the pro-life view is insane. Abortion is not murder. Developing embryos and fetuses, especially in the very early stages of pregnancy, are not morally important entities unless the woman bearing them decides they are. Early term abortion is a morally indifferent act, and late-term abortion would only be chosen under the most urgent circumstances, by both the woman and her doctor. Believing otherwise is crazy. It breaks your brain. Spending your whole life trying to wrap your mind around such a ludicrous, insane belief distorts your personality. It warps your capacity for human sympathy by accustoming you to value hypothetical “persons” no one has ever met over the woman standing right in front of you. It deadens your moral sense by teaching you that lying and cheating and maybe even occasionally killing is justified in the battle to “save” the lumps of flesh hidden within a full-grown human being you cannot allow yourself to treat as such.

And look at the people who handed down this decision! Clarence Thomas is operating under a heavier load of cognitive dissonance than almost any man alive — the only Black person on the Supreme Court for decades, today he argued for emptying the Fourteenth Amendment of all meaning and enforceability. Brett Kavanagh screamed and yelled and vowed vengeance on the floor of the Senate, on national television, because he couldn’t admit that he did something really bad when he was black-out drunk. Amy Coney Barrett play-acted the Handmaid’s Tale in a creepy cult and gladly seized the seat of the most outspoken feminist in the history of the Court in order to personally destroy her legacy. As for the three men who have made themselves a vessel for cheap talking points of the kind that the typical intellectually curious teenager quickly gets bored with, the less said the better. Two unrepentant sexual assailants, two people who very actively chose to symbolically betray the members of their demographic, five people who accepted nomination by presidents who initially took office against the popular will — this rogue’s gallery gets to decide on our human rights.

They’re the champions the evangelicals deserve — people who spend their lives in a sad bubble surrounded by Jesus-branded tchotchkes, who get goosebumps from simplistic repetitive songs meant to emotionally manipulate teenagers, who can’t have a genuinely honest discussion of any important issue without clamming up or lashing out in defensiveness, people who see again and again and again that their thing is breaking people, that their children can’t stand to be a part of it, that their fellow citizens distrust and resent them, and say: this shows we’re right. These are God’s chosen people. These are the ones who arrogate to themselves the right to decide on our behalf.

It’s a cliché to say that the worst people on earth have deep conviction while the good are wishy-washy — but they do not seem to have the courage of their convictions. Neither “courage” nor “conviction” comes to mind when we think of the typical evangelical, or the typical conservative. Someone who really believes, really knows that they are on the side of right isn’t so prickly, so irritable, so habitually dishonest and deflecting. They can’t take yes for an answer because they don’t know what they want, don’t know what their supposedly deeply-held beliefs even mean. They’ve destroyed their own minds, their own consciences, their own structure of basic emotional responses — on purpose, over and over, day after day for years and years, until they know nothing else. Except they do know something else: they know, deep down, that this isn’t it, this can’t be all there is, this can’t be worth their one single precious life on this earth. It is to unknow this indisputable fact, to squelch this unanswerable question at the core of their being, that they keep going back to their lies and conspiracy theories and sad bromides, like a dog returning to its own vomit.

Their salvation is the least of our worries, but if we save ourselves from them, we will also be saving them from themselves. They need us to take their power away, they need us to break this unbearable winning streak that is only making things worse and worse — for us primarily, but also for them. No one should have to live like they do. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

One thought on “When the worst people in the world keep winning

  1. So, they aren’t really winning. I think they are lost because of the ‘disenchantment’ of the world. This has thrown them into chaos and they desperately want to return things to order, their order.

    I don’t think this an unreasonable response, however misguided. That liberals act like the ‘disenchantment’ is no big deal, as if there always just must be some collective sociality, adds fuel to the fire. And it’s obviously untrue as the overturning of Roe demonstrates.

    The trouble is that, for humans, unlike wolves, sociality must be desired, not just assumed.

    Do we even want to care for others?

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