Continental Drift

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.

6 thoughts on “Continental Drift

  1. My sister just texted:
    “Even some of my trumpy friends on Facebook are having a shit fit over the scotus rulings”

    Yes, that is because 1. she and most of the people in her age group (she was born in 74) have always lived in a world with Roe. And 2. Thomas clearly signaled that SCOTUS was coming for birth control and same-sex marriage and LGBQT+ civil rights. AND they basically said that state laws like NY’s gun laws can be overruled by SCOTUS. So basically, we CAN’T sit around and think “Oh, our state is ok. We’ll be fine.” The rule of law has been disposed of. Now there is only “those in power do what they want and get what they want.”

    Some time around 1993 or so, we were in NC having dinner with some high school friends of my husband (i.e., New Yorkers). The topic of abortion rights came up, and one of them indicated she was anti-abortion because of her Catholic faith. I looked at her, married and not pregnant, and I said, What about birth control? She said, and I quote, “well, birth control is a lesser sin.” And that about sums up Long Island Catholics.


    1. At some point you have to explain Long Island Trump supporters to me. I mean I usually think that LI is the same as Jersey, just with more Billy Joel and less Bruce, but you guys have some really crazy Trump supporters there.


      1. A lot of white people in Long Island are Catholic or Jewish. The ones who are Catholic are often cops. Everyone knows a cop or is married to one or is one. Police officers were mostly Irish and later Italian in the early 20th century. Many moved out of the city, some to NJ, some to Westchester, but a lot to Long Island. But Long Island has a bit of uniqueness because it’s an island. You can’t really spread out too much. In Jersey or Westchester, you can move a little further north, or a little further west and still be close enough to family. You can’t in Long Island. It has become very insular as a result. Furthermore, the legacy of cops plays a huge role. People like my BILs grew up with cop fathers who worked in the city in the 1970s and developed perceptions of ethnic New Yorkers as criminals and animals. But on Long Island? They were safe in their redlined Levitt communities attending their Catholic churches filled with white people like themselves. Any time non-white people come to Long Island, they are seen as a threat because Long Island is a closed space. Any time one new family comes in, another has to go out. In order for families to stay close to each other, they have to compete for real estate. And they have to keep their families relatively small in order to keep a certain standard of living. Kids expect to have their own rooms, not share them. More kids means more expenses, and then you can’t stay close to your family in the town you grew up in. So many of the Catholic beliefs these people grew up with, such as community service and duty to take care of the poor, have had to be discarded in order to survive in this competitive space. They’ve dropped so many of these principles, but in order to stay Catholic (which is part of their identity as white Long Islanders), they have held on to one particular shibboleth: condemning abortion. Everything else that violates Catholic beliefs is ok, but if you hold on to that one easy shibboleth, you can still be Catholic.

        Just my rambling, incoherent hot take. And ugh, I have work to finish before S gets here and causes 18 hours of chaos before I take her to the airport for her flight to Germany.


  2. 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.

    Is there anything thing at all stopping the U.S. Congress from outlawing abort or birth control in all states? Because when you have removed enough of the voting rights protections, you’re going to get a Congress that will do that.


    1. No, there isn’t. Such a law is completely consistent with Dobbs. It seems very likely that next time Republicans control the House, Senate and Presidency there will at very least be a very strong push for a nationwide abortion ban. The Supreme Court certainly won’t stop them.


  3. “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.” It was a huge and ongoing political malpractice on the part of the Dems not to codify Roe when they had a chance. There was always some goal which was more immediate and urgent. Whirlwind, reaped.


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