I was visiting the Natural History Museum with the boys, when the news hit about the Dobbs decision. And then I went from one weekend suburban activity to another — drinks with friends, trip to the beach, brunch with friends, home project with kids, family bbq, and so on. Periodically, I would open twitter to get some political gossip and hear the outcry. Strangely, my real world life was completely apolitical. Sure, Steve and I were stunned and talking through the politics all weekend, and sometimes, after a nervous eye contact check, it came up during one of our social gatherings. But for the most part, this monumental moment in American politics occurred without a ripple in the timeline. New Jersey suburbia kept doing what it does.
My neighbors and friends weren’t crying (or cheering) because the Dobbs decision won’t touch them. They will always have access to abortion and birth control in our state, they aren’t planning on a big move to Mississippi or Alabama, and they know they will always have the means to take an airplane ride if necessary. This decision won’t touch them.
I also think that people around here are burned out. They don’t feel strongly about either political party anymore. The school shutdowns and pronoun/woke/identity-politics/language-police stuff have alienated so many people who identified as Democrats. Now, they aren’t going to vote Republican, and they loath Trump, but they are much weaker Democrats and are much less engaged in politics as a whole.
Over the weekend, Steve put on his History PhD hat and started ranting about 1930’s Germany — it’s never a good sign when Steve does this. He said that Germans knew that the Nazis were creeps, but the average citizens had been through so much by that point, they circled their wagons around their families and stopped caring about the politics and their neighbors.
And then I put on my American Government PhD hat — sometimes it’s handy to have those battered garments in the back of our closet. While Steve sees 30s Germany, I see the eleven years of chaos due the time of the Article of Confederation, before the Constitution was ratified in 1789. Then each state passed its own laws without any federal guidelines. States had their own currency. The federal government was so weak, that it couldn’t properly organize a national army or collect taxes. With a real danger of civil war or foreign invasion, a constitution was written; Madison and Hamilton were enlisted to explain to the public why a federal system of government was superior to a confederacy.
I see us moving back towards a confederacy — a nation of 50 democracies. Democracies-ish. A federal government can giving lots of discretion to the states for the small decisions, as long as it recognizes the primacy of the national government. But a federal government can’t hand over all the big decisions to the states without devolving to a confederacy. If that happens, the states cease to be united, and things fall apart.
In a way, Steve and I are seeing the same thing. In Germany, people were circling the wagons around the family, and I see people circling the wagons around their states. A well-run democracy cannot operate with that siege mentality.
Congress has to tackle this issue and pass a compromise abortion bill, maybe something like first trimester legality with details left to the states. With a broad majority of public opinion supporting a bare-bones abortion bill, Congress should be able to pass this bill. Some pro-choice advocates have maintained that an abortion law coming out of Congress, rather than the Supreme Court, would be a stronger law anyway. If Congress can’t pass a widely supported law, then the whole thing is so broken anyway that we are lost.