Elections 2020: Three Consistent-Life Approaches
by Rachel MacNair
The Consistent Life Network takes no stand on specific candidates. This is my own personal take on how people who support the consistent life ethic view the U.S. presidential election of November 3, 2020.
Category 1: Trump is Out of the Question; Biden is Bearable
People in this category are so aghast at Trump that they regard his being in office as intolerable, for a long list of reasons. For example: he doesn’t understand any taboo against using nuclear weapons; he’s sabotaging the diplomacy in the State Department that might prevent war; he eagerly supports the death penalty and suggests it in cases where accusations of guilt are sloppy; his words and policies often have negative effects on minorities and refugees; his budget has drastic cuts in the social safety net for the poor; he’s sabotaging efforts to mitigate climate change; and most recently, his response to a pandemic has cost lives and increased poverty far more than would have happened under someone more competent.
His anti-abortion stand is one of the few good things about him, but even there, he doesn’t understand the issue well. He’s doing the opposite of life-affirming things – such as having decent health care available to the poor and avoiding cruelty to immigrants – that would help pregnant women choose life. He gives the pro-life cause a terrible public image, which is crucial to winning hearts and minds. He wouldn’t answer when asked if he’d ever paid for an abortion himself.
In addition, there are conservative columnists (not consistent-lifers) who admirably articulate what’s wrong with abortion but who also regard Trump as unfit and dangerous, such as David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and George Will.
Category 2: Trump is Crucial; Biden is Impossible
The people in this category reason this way: First, if the most vulnerable of us don’t have the right to life, then nobody does. It’s foundational to everything. You can’t have good medical care if you’re not even allowed to live.
The huge numbers of abortions make it by far the most horrific bloodshed going on in the U.S. This in turn impacts abortion policy in other countries. Those numbers will be shockingly higher under any current Democrat’s abortion policies. Therefore, a vote for Biden is a vote for thousands more babies being killed right away, and bodes ill for the future.
Biden isn’t the actual nominee yet, but in the event that his presumptive status gets changed for any reason and the Democrats end up running someone else, the same point will apply to any of the Democratic candidates likely to run. It was true of all those that ran in the primary.
Additionally, Trump has this difference from his predecessors: the pro-life movement has for decades dealt with Republicans who don’t really mean it. Reagan had right-to-lifers working hard for his election, and yet appointed two pro-Roe Supreme Court Justices, thus keeping Roe v. Wade in place all these decades. (I’ve worded this as a betrayal; most pro-lifers won’t use that term, but heaven knows they were frustrated). George W. Bush considered the Title X regulation that would keep family-planning money from going to abortion facilities, but he didn’t put it in place in 2006 because he didn’t want to risk alienating Congressional allies when he needed them for support of his war in Iraq. This delayed the regulation another 13 years.
Trump is the only one of the set who’s actually gotten the job done on Title X and several other abortion-focused policies. He’s the only president who addressed the March for Life in person.
Most important of all, he’s been more faithful in appointing Supreme Court judges who may be inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade, and would likely appoint more in a second term with probable upcoming vacancies.
Besides, do we really think that Biden will be better on keeping us out of war, given his past experience? It was the Obama-Biden administration that pushed a costly program of “modernizing” nuclear weapons.
Category 3: Not Willing to Choose Between Disasters
Those in this category won’t select either Trump or Biden. They may vote third party or independent. As my mother put it (my family has a long third-party tradition), she votes not for a selection, but for a direction. By voting for what she actually wants rather than what she merely finds not quite as objectionable, she communicates what she actually wants.
But there’s one obvious and glaring disadvantage to this approach: absent something weird and unpredictable, it’s only one of the candidates in the two major parties who will win. People in both the above two categories insist voting for anyone else is not really making a choice at all. You can feel cleaner, but you’ve helped the more objectionable candidate win by not voting for his or her opponent.
Putting the Blame in the Right Places
I fall in the third category, and with great trepidation I face an election year in which the many friends I have in both of the other categories are going to castigate me for not being in theirs. But in addition to the point that Category 3 is where my sympathies lie, I also know I would completely and entirely lose any shred of credibility with all my friends in either one of the first two categories if I selected the other one.
But here’s the point I most want to make:
While the logic of elections will have the people in each of the first two categories rebuking the people in the other, I don’t think this is where the rebuke best goes.
For people in Category 1, their actual opponents aren’t the people who use the reasoning of Category 2. Those in Category 2 are tender-hearted people with crucial concerns. The real problem is that Democrats are so extreme on abortion. They don’t merely have horrendous policy stands, but they constantly have words of contempt for people who think otherwise. Not mere disagreements, but disdain. They’re very deliberately chasing possible voters away.
I watched in a 2016 Clinton-Trump debate as Clinton justified late-term abortions using astonishing euphemisms. I watched in amazement that she didn’t understand that everyone that agreed with her was someone whose vote she already had, and the only thing she could possibly accomplish with that answer was to lose votes. Not people who would vote for Trump, necessarily, but people who she was discouraging from showing up to vote at all. Her answer was stomach-churning.
And for people in Category 2, their actual opponents aren’t the people who use the reasoning of Category 1. Those in Category 1 are tender-hearted people with crucial concerns. The problem is that while some Republicans are sincere, many candidates (including Trump) only give lip service on abortion because they know that’s where the votes are. In Trump’s case, he doesn’t have a hands-on approach to policy. He lets sincere people who do care handle the policy.
But he’s doing far more to keep pro-abortion resistance going than a president who was actually sincere and understood the issue would. The work of reaching hearts and minds has been made so very much harder because people who are rebelling against the cruelty he’s practiced put pro-life advocacy into that same category. We’re going to have a lot of trouble correcting the stereotypes he’s doing so much to bolster. Mere policy can only do so much, and we need to understand how much of an obstacle he’s setting up for us in years to come.
For the future, we can have less of an election dilemma by having ranked-choice voting.
For this year, those of us in the U.S., or who have friends in the U.S., can at least work directly on anti-violence referendums this November.
But we also need to remember that elections aren’t what decide everything. While they have strong impacts, lots of other actions have strong impacts as well.
I’ve noticed over the decades that when the Democrats are in office, the pro-life movement seems much more visibly active; during Republican administrations, the peace movement has more and larger demonstrations. Too many people have a sense that when their preferred candidate gets elected, they can sit back and let that person take care of the policy.
It doesn’t work that way. It’s absolutely crucial that, whoever wins, we keep active at the grassroots. We’ll never achieve what we need to achieve if we just leave it to politicians.
Henry David Thoreau
Slavery in Massachusetts, 1854
“The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls,—the worst [person] is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot- box once a year, but on what kind of a [person] you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.”
For our posts on similar themes, see:
A President for Life and Peace? / Mary Meehan
My Day at the Democratic National Convention / Rob Arner
Adventures as a Delegate to the Democratic Party Convention / Lisa Stiller
My Difficulty in Voting: Identifying the Problem (about the American Solidarity Party) / Monica Sohler
Pro-life Voting Strategy: A Problem without an Answer / John Whitehead
How Consistent-life Advocacy Would Benefit from Ranked-Choice Voting / Rachel MacNair
See also our website on Peace & Life Referendums