I recently shared a HuffPo article featuring an interview with Phillip Yancey. If you’re unfamiliar with Yancey, he’s an award-winning author who’s written some of evangelicalism’s most thought-provoking books: What’s So Amazing about Grace, The Jesus I Never Knew, Reaching for the Invisible God, and more.
If you haven’t seen the snippet of this interview, you can watch it here. It’s definitely worth three minutes of your time.
I posted the article with the following quote from the interview, “I am staggered that so many conservative or evangelical Christians would see a man who is a bully, who made his money by casinos, who has had several wives and several affairs, that they would somehow paint him as a hero, as someone that we could stand behind.”
His point is apt. The support that Trump’s receiving from evangelicals makes little sense in light of so many areas where his values and behavior are so contrary to the gospel. I certainly understand that a percentage of Trump’s support is born out of the irrational hatred that evangelicals have been trained to feel for Hillary for over twenty years. I mean, they’ll never admit to themselves that’s the case, but that’s how social conditioning works.
Trump and the pro-life vote
The first response came from a dear friend who’ve I’ve known for years. He explained that the reason he’d vote for Trump was because, “the unborn have no constitutional rights.” This, of course, was in reference to Hillary’s April interview on “Meet the Press” where she said,
“The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights. Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possibly can in the vast majority of instances to, you know, help a mother who is carrying a child and wants to make sure that child will be healthy, to have appropriate medical support.”
And even though she was entirely accurate about how laws currently read in regard to fetuses, despite the fact that she went out of her way to call them “unborn persons” (which pissed off Planned Parenthood), and regardless of the fact that she followed up by saying, “there is room for reasonable kinds of restrictions,” the right went out of their way to color this as part of Hillary’s malevolent child-killing agenda.
My friend went on to say that he was convinced that abortion represented one platform issue in his voting record where he’d have to answer to God. In his opinion, other areas of social justice would be kept in line by the system’s checks and balances, but abortion represents the singular area where there’s no wiggle room.
I completely understand where my friend is coming from. Abortion is an area that I also care about (although maybe in a more nuanced fashion).
But for the longest time I’ve questioned the judgement of one-issue voters, and I think Trump’s candidacy clearly communicates why.
1. Abortion is an issue of forced opposition
The pro-life discussion is designed to be a wedge issue. It’s been used by evangelical groups for decades to keep Christian voters tethered to the G.O.P.
Because this issue requires that Republican candidates run on a “I’m-more-pro-life-than-the-next-guy” platform, it’s difficult to truly distinguish a Republican’s real convictions about abortion. And let’s be honest, no matter how strong their rhetoric is, there isn’t a lot that a president is going to do end abortions.
I mean, they can work on getting more pro-life friendly Supreme Court justices, but if Trump wins, you can literally guarantee that the house and senate will swing far left (in fact, there’s a strong likelihood that a Trump win would make him the last Republican president in a long, long time) it’s going to be difficult to get these justices confirmed.
And even if abortions were completely outlawed, there’s no proof that restrictive abortion laws are associated with lower rates of abortion. Some of the lowest abortion rates come from countries with the most liberal abortion laws. Despite how counterintuitive it is to how we’ve been trained to think.
Political parties know that this discussion is more about engineering partisan loyalty than stopping abortions. If you don’t realize it’s being used to create political polarity, I don’t know what to tell you.
2. If abortion is your number one issue, focus elsewhere
By the time that we’re having a discussion about whether we should “allow” a woman to get an abortion, the church has failed. There could be so many ways that, as a society, we could support policies that would actually lower abortion rates. I talked about that a little in a post called 5 Reasons We Should Focus On Poverty Instead Of Abortion. I find it incredibly ironic and frustrating that the party that everyone champions as a defender of life consistently resists efforts to expand support for families that can’t afford to grow, opposes investing in family-planning programs, and can’t seem to think beyond abstinence-only education programs which don’t actually help young people avoid pregnancy.
If stopping abortions is your #1 issue, why not focus on programs and structures that can actually help women avoid many of the scenarios that make abortion feel inevitable? Instead, you put all of your eggs (no pun intended) in a basket marked “abortion cessation” which has made precious little progress in the last 43 years.
3. You’d put the republic at risk on a pro-life gamble?
I get that there are people that, for whatever reason, look at Trump and think, “Hmmm . . . presidential,” just like there are people who see Vegemite and think, “Hmmm . . . food.” I don’t understand them, but I know that they exist.
What I don’t understand is that there are people who look at Trump and say, “he’s not really the best choice, but I have to vote for him because of my commitment to the pro-life platform.” To this person, I have a couple questions:
- Is there no person so good that, if they didn’t have a pro-life agenda, you’d vote for them?
- Adversely, is there no one so ill-equipped that you wouldn’t vote for them even if they claimed to be pro-life?
- You do realize that a Republican candidate literally has to say that they’re pro-life, right?
Let’s look at Trump’s history with abortion:
In 1989, Trump helped sponsor a dinner at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel in honor of Robin Chandler Duke. If you’re not familiar with Duke, she was a president of NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League which later because the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. In the end, Trump didn’t attend because of death threats by pro-life groups.
Ten years later, Trump talked to Tim Russert where he defended being conceptually against abortion but extremely pro-choice in practice.
At some point when he began considering a run as a conservative candidate, his extreme pro-choice stance changed. He’s called this change an evolution of his beliefs, and I can get behind the fact that people change as they mature.
But the change brought such a bizarre pendulum swing. In a March 30, 2016 interview, Trump said that it’s his intention to make abortions illegal and to punish women (but not men) who have them. His comments were dramatically and immediately reputed by the Republicans and Democrats alike, and his campaign couldn’t “clarify” his statements quickly enough.
Obviously, like so many of Trump’s “policies” he’s pulling this nonsense out of thin air. I don’t think he has a real position on abortion (or anything besides trade for that matter). I think he knows the party line and I think he has opinions, but they haven’t coalesced into real policies . . . and he doesn’t need them to. Trump’s not going to do anything about abortion. Better and more sincere G.O.P. presidents than him have neglected to make any real changes in this area.
And I can hear quite a few of you saying, “What about Mike Pence!?” I’ll give you that Mike Pence is a one-man anti-abortion crusader. In fact, he signed an abortion bill so extreme that other anti-abortion, Republican women opposed it. But be honest with yourself, this was a strategic pick on Trump’s part to solidify the pro-life vote because he was so incredibly weak there. I have a real hard time believing that it signifies, in any genuine fashion, his personal stance on abortion.
4. You can’t say you’re pro-life if you’re only in it for the fetuses
My single biggest frustration with people who identify strongly as “pro-life” is that it doesn’t seem to include people outside of the womb. For years I’ve marveled that people would celebrate turning a teenage mother away from an abortion clinic without giving any real thought to the issues that made her consider an abortion in the first place. Heaven forbid that she ends up a single mother needing subsidies to feed this child—she’ll be labelled a freeloader and a burden on the system.
If you believe that a woman should be forced to see a pregnancy to term but you fight every opportunity to help her afterward, I have a hard time seeing you as pro-life (maybe pro-existence?). In fact, I struggle enough that the abolishment of capital punishment isn’t part of the pro-life platform, but that’s just me. It seems that a pro-life stance should be a conception-to-the-grave thing.
Trump adds an exclamation point to this line of reasoning. Here’s a person that mocks people with disabilities, objectifies and degrades women, has problems with race (come on, the Nixon administration had to sue him over race issues—THE NIXON ADMINISTRATION!), and vilifies immigrants and Muslims. Does this sound like a person that’s truly pro-life? Maybe, if pro-life is just about the unborn—but heaven forbid if any of those unborn children grow up to be unattractive, disabled, Islamic, or female.
It’s time to wake up
I think there are a lot of sincere Republican candidates who genuinely care about the abortion issue. But we need to be wise enough to see that the “evangelical voting bloc” is a white whale that the G.O.P. will continue to chase as long as they feel it benefits them. Because that’s the case, we simply cannot trust that the pro-life dialog isn’t just bait in a box trap. They keep laying it out there, and we keep taking it even though nothing ever changes.
Think about it. The abortion debate only works to build enmity and partisan loyalty if it’s never abolished. As long as abortion remains, there is a hook in the jaw of every individual who sees this as the most important issue in American politics. They will never tell you this, but if abortion was abolished tomorrow, they’d have to find a new way to lock you in. I’m convinced that they’ll only make small enough steps to continue to lead you along.
The fact that evangelicals are so quick to believe the absolute worst about Democrat motives and take everything Republicans say at face value suggests that they’re unable recognize that these issues are about both parties maintaining their power. The fact that evangelicals have allowed politics to be reduced to a binary, good-guys-vs.-bad guys narrative is a sign that their plan works (but I’d say the same thing to liberals).
Republican pundits spend the same amount of time parsing out the verbiage they use to solidify their base as Democrats do. Very little is said about issues that hasn’t been run through a gauntlet of special interests groups and polling data. This means that most discussions about abortion are pandering.
I completely understand why this issue matters to you, but there’s too much going on in America to ignore what you see in order to vote for what you hope. I have a hard time believing that God blesses you with reason, allows you to live in a democratic republic, but is perfectly fine with the perfunctory checking of a box for a party or person who tells you what you want to hear.
Both parties love single-issue voters. They’re the easiest to manipulate, and they’re the reason that both parties are locked into the same talking points in every political season. As citizens, we need to be wiser than that. I can’t imagine any other area of responsibility where I’d hyper focus on one issue and shrug off the rest. Wouldn’t a parent who only cared about whether their child was into drugs and let all other issues slide seem crazy to you? Should you trust a nuclear safety inspector who only changes the red emergency light bulb and ignores other important data? I mean, that red emergency light is important, but they could actually prevent it from ever needing to be used!
If you’re a serious single-issue voter, then I know that you believe that your vote matters, and you’re right. We’re in absolute agreement there. I believe our votes can make government better or worst, and that makes the lives of citizens better or worse, all citizens . . . even the born ones.