Thursday, October 25, 2018

Critical Judgement

If you stand at the corner of the world in which I stand, you would think the upcoming November 6th election is a fait accompli, a runaway victory for Democrats and maybe the two or three Republicans in the country who distance themselves from the current president. After all the feeling goes, who would vote for anyone who supports a bigoted, misogynistic, narcissistic shell of a man who lies incessantly, openly embraces dictators, courts white supremacists, and publicly mocks women who are victims of sexual abuse, while through his words and deeds, dismisses cherished institutions of this nation such as the system of checks and balances, the free press, the constitution and democracy itself?

Well the truth is, lots of people support this president, and one of the big reasons it seems, at least by my understanding of it, is that they hate political correctness and snooty people who think they are better than them. On that, perhaps they have a point. Someone recently asked the following uninformed, snooty question on the answer website Quora:
Why is the Democratic Party so unpopular with Americans who haven't graduated from college?
The questioner received a sensible, articulate, and long-winded response from a Trump supporter that began with this:
I am a Southerner—that oft-maligned species of American some on the Left like to assume is just one step away from a family reunion and a marriage. I come from a long line of people who never earned a college degree.
He goes on to correct the misconceptions the presumed Left Wing questioner has of Right Wing people:
The overwhelming majority of people on the Right are not racists. Nor are they stupid. They are not homophobic. Nor are they anti-science. They are not misogynistic. Nor are they nutty religious fanatics clinging to their guns.
I agree with that wholeheartedly but have one question for the writer. Many people who belong to what you describe as the "overwhelming majority of people on the Right", have left the Republican Party out of disgust for the party's kowtowing to this president. Take away those qualities you mentioned that do not define you, and what is left to justify your supporting Donald Trump who is the very personification of those values?

OK there's the economy which is doing well at the monent. Yet the current president inherited this economy from his predecessor who himself inherited an economy that in 100 years was eclipsed in severity only by the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 30s. Yet Trump supporters who have an incredibly selective memory will go to their graves arguing that Barack Obama drove the economy into the ground while Donald Trump raised it back from the dead, even though facts prove otherwise.

There's North Korea with whom the current president claims we were on the verge of war before he took charge. Again there is little to back up that claim as North Korea and its despotic leader had nothing to gain and everything to lose by starting a war against this country. One could reasonably argue that Kim Jong-un out-maneuvered Donald Trump during their summit Singapore last summer, by gaining credibility on the world stage that would not have been possible had the Preident of the United States not granted it to him. Clearly the POTUS was smitten by Kim and his absolute control over his people; he said so himself. Unfortunately for Trump, his love for Kim seems unrequited.

There are immigrants, who Trump bends over backwards to scare his base into believing are the proverbial bogeymen hiding under their beds at night. Despite the fact that the previous administration detained and deported a record number of illegal aliens up to that point, this president continues to make the ludicrous argument that Democrats support open borders, and the people who will cross them and rape your daughter before they murder you.

We've just been through the contentious confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh where indignant Republicans claimed that a very reasonable investigation into alleged criminal behavior in his past, was nothing less than character assassination. The Republicans managed to convince their base that the Democrats, simply by daring to ask Kavanaugh tough questions at his job interview, disregarded the rule of law and common decency. Meanwhile the president while claiming to take the high ground, openly mocked the woman who accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her, while his adoring public, allegedly so concerned about common decency, laughed out loud at her.

There are the trade tariffs that ostensibly are in place to influence the purchase of American products but whose side effects are threatening to handicap or destroy far more American companies and jobs than they protect.

There are the tax cuts, crumbs thrown to Trump's working class base who stands to gain little as opposed to the rich for whom the cuts will be a windfall. In the meantime, to relieve the trillion dollar debt those tax cuts will in no small part contribute, the Republicans are actively pursuing the cutting of "entitlements" that we, the working and middle class people of this nation have paid into our entire working lives, such as Medicare and Social Security.

Given the glee with which so many working and middle class Trump fans, be they college grads or not, defy reason and verifiable facts by supporting policies that clearly work against their own interests, it's small wonder why Trump detractors, college grad or not, question their intelligence.

These are merely a handful of issues that Trump supporters cling to that are so soft they can be cut with a butter knife. However there is one issue that is not. It is the 1,000 pound gorilla in the room, abortion. I know this will rile many of my left wing friends, but while I don't see eye to eye with "pro-life" people, I get where they are coming from. It is not  religious fanaticism that leads people to oppose abortion, even though many "pro-life" folks are religious fanatics. Nor is it sexism, people who believe that women do not have the right to choose what they do with their bodies, although many pro-lifers believe that as well.  It is perfectly logical, in my opinion, to oppose abortion on the grounds that the act is the willful taking of a human life, in other words, murder.

Some “pro-choice” people would refute this argument claiming that an unborn child is not a human being, therefore abortion cannot be murder. But that argument requires so many leaps of reason that it runs counter to logic and science, ideals so called “progressives” claim to value.

Where I philosophically split with "pro-life" people, is my resolute belief that moral laws and statutory laws are not one in the same. Simply put, no matter how much we would like to, we cannot legislate against actions simply because we find them morally objectionable.

Please bear with me on this one.

Moral laws are absolute and perfect, black and white, pure and simple. Human life is far from that and as imperfect beings, humans have no business judging others' morality, just as the Bible tells us. Nevertheless in order to maintain an orderly society, human laws are relevant and necessary; society in fact has the moral responsibility to wherever possible, enact laws that protect the most vulnerable among us. At the same time, human law must reflect human life in its many shades of gray, and there is no issue in our world today with more shades of gray than abortion.

For what it is worth, I believe that the moral and ethical burden for the decision to terminate a pregnancy must lie not with the state, but with the parents of an unborn child, both the mother and the father. Through a simplistic lens, that would make me "pro-choice" and I grudgingly accept that label. That said, I would add that depending on the circumstances, while abortion may or may not be a moral or ethical choice, it is always a terrible choice to have to make.

But what about protecting the right to life of the unborn, after all who could be more vulnerable than an unborn child? Well here's the dilemma, nearly everyone agrees that abortion is acceptable in the case of a pregnancy posing a grave risk to the life of the mother. Yet are those unborn children less entitled to the "right to life" than other unborn children? If so, who then is to determine which criteria are necessary to deem a pregnancy dangerous enough to warrant an abortion?  On top of that, who gets to decide whether any given pregnancy meets those criteria? After all with every pregnancy comes a certain amount of risk to the mother.

What about pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest? Most people would make an exception in those cases as well. Will every woman seeking a legal, state mandated abortion without a signed affidavit from her doctor declaring her pregnancy to be life threatening, be put into the position of having to claim she was raped? What kind of evidence will she need? Will she have to bring the case to court? Once again, who will be the arbiter to decide if these claims are worthwhile?

In my book, the only one who could justly arbitrate such cases is God. Short of that, the state with its imperfect laws, is simply inadequate insofar as determining where to draw the line between which abortions are moral and which are not. Therefore the only way to practically legislate abortion is to either ban it entirely with no exceptions, or keep it legal. The former choice is harsh and draconian; imagine telling your daughter that her only chance to live is to terminate her pregnancy, which unfortunately is illegal. Too bad, sayonara, nice knowing you kid.

So we are left with the latter.

My views on abortion and the law have been formed over at least forty years of internal philsophical struggle, and soul searching. I realize my conclusion, at least as it stands today, is far from satisfactory, and accept the fact that many people on both sides would take issue with it.

But it's the best I've got. For me, abortion is a painfully complicated issue. For others, it is not. For some, the right to life trumps all other rights. For others, a woman's body is inviolate, the right to do as she sees fit with it is absolute. In either case, there is no in-between, no listening, no consideration, no compassion for the other side.

For people on either extreme of the issue, politically speaking, abortion is a deal maker or beaker. That is precisely why millions of pro-life Trump supporters, many of them, conservative Christians, look the other way at this president's countless moral transgressions. And it is why any Democrat who proclaims him or herself to be "pro-life", might as well give up politics and open up a hot dog stand.

I'm not sure if there is any compromise possible on the abortion issue, but in order to heal this country, and our seemingly intransigent divisions, we have to try. We can begin by listening to the arguments of the other side, no matter how objectionable they may seem, and use critical judgement to question our own strongly held beliefs.

For "right to life" people that means considering that the most productive and effective way of saving the lives of unborn children may not be by making new laws, but through compassion, education, and a philosophical change of course, including giving up the resistance to birth control (other than abstinence). They must learn how to advocate not just for the unborn, but also for the support of struggling families. As Sister Joan Chittister said:
I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.
For "right to choice" people that means also changing course, coming to terms with the fact that abortion is more complicated than an issue of women's rights alone, it is a life and death issue as well. It is understanding that responsibility walks hand-in-hand with every right. As I said above, abortion may be a choice, but it is a terrible choice that no one should ever take lightly. Right-to-choice advocates should be willing to educate people to choose wisely.

The greatest threat to the United States right now is division. Sadly there are politicians including the current President of the United States, who do not have the best interests of this country in mind, who thrive on exploiting our division and nurture it any way they can for their own gain. The abortion issue is a prime example. All Americans of a sound mind and a good will, on both the right and on the left, must say no to the politics of divide and conquer.

The way to start to do that is listen, and hard as it may be, to not demonize people who have different opinions. Right-to-lifers aren't necessarily relgious zealots intent on placing every womb under a magnifying glass and pro-choicers aren't necessarily satnaist baby killers. Once we get beyond those stereotypes, put aside our prejudices and listen to what the other side has to say, maybe we can even learn a thing or two from people who think differently from us.

We may not agree, but if we can learn to agree to disagree, we will have come a long way. If we can somehow make headway in that direction with an issue as contentious as abortion, there is probably no issue we can't tackle. Given the lessons we have learned over the last two years of this administration, I truly believe that is the only way this nation can survive.

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