Voting for Trump and the Question of a "New Pro-Life Movement"

[My final long intervention with regard to the election, this is a follow-up to my last Massachusetts Citizens for Life blog, "NeverTrumpers and Basic Political Hygiene."]

To start: I am grateful that so many, including those who disagree with me, took the time to read through my last post and thoughtfully weigh my arguments. Such generosity of spirit is how the revival of democratic deliberation comes about.

Let me take this opportunity to clarify a couple of points. First, all those, like me, who vote for Trump must be committed never to defend the indefensible and to resist energetically a President Trump in any and all instances should he violate the basic canons of human dignity or of constitutional order.

A corollary: we must as a people, in a most intentional way, overcome the libertarian consumerism that has lobotomized the common good from the American mind, so that never again will we have two such character-challenged persons before us to choose from to represent the people as a whole. We must cultivate pietas, a humble awe and gratitude before the divine glory hidden in the achievements of the dead (tradition), in nature, in high culture, in every neighbor, especially the suffering neighbor.

Second, I want to leave no ambiguity that my concerns about “bad political hygiene” apply to every person who cannot bring himself to recognize rationality and goodwill behind a contrary political opinion held by someone else, not just to NeverTrumpers. There are partisans of Clinton, Trump, and Neither who indulge the temptation to anathematize. From whomever, it is civic cancer. The pharisee mutilates the body politic.

Third, let me make clear that I recognize that not all NeverTrumpers indulge in this pharisaism. There are many NeverTrumpers whom I love and respect. I simply disagree with them on what must be done in this election for the sake of the most powerless. Clinton’s vision of an America is one in which abortions are funded by tax dollars, in which Catholic hospitals are compelled to perform abortions, in which the law should place no limits at all on this private franchise to dispose of human life, and in which the dignity of women is somehow built upon the rejection of an ethic of care. Clinton’s America would be so inhospitable to the fostering of the basic conditions of civilized coexistence, of liberal democracy, and of a renewed republic of virtue, I am convinced of the necessity of voting for Trump, despite his evil comportment towards women and his atrocious demagoguery vis-à-vis immigrants.

So, I disagree with NeverTrumpers, while respecting them. But there is a certain strain of NeverTrumpism that strikes me as particularly naïve, the one that speaks of a “new pro-life movement.”

A little prolegomenon: there is not a sincere pro-lifer who does not feel in his or her guts the same passion that motivated the abolitionists.

But between visceral urges and properly human action fall intellect and will.

Say the machinery of the culture of death, the biopolitics of the global elite, deserves to be smashed. And it most certainly does. Do we learn politics from the Incredible Hulk?

When one acts out of raw emotion, one cannot build, advance the cause of emancipation, foster the progress of a civilization. Hegelian and Marxist privileging of the magical power of negation is profoundly anti-democratic and anti-humanist.

As I’ve noted before: we all know what was inside Lincoln, disgusted by a slave auction in New Orleans, when he said, “By God, boys, let’s get away from this. If I ever get a chance to hit that thing, I’ll hit it hard.”

But movement pro-lifers follow Lincoln all the way: you “hit that thing,” not by pursuing revolution, but by pursuing the incrementalism of a constitutionally framed politics (the fact that revolution was thrust upon Lincoln belongs to the mystery of divine providence, as he himself so profoundly explicates in the Second Inaugural).

And you “hit that thing,” in a properly human way, by at least always voting according to the most viable strategy that advances the cause of the most powerless human life.

Within the pro-life movement, we have disagreements about the “personhood” strategy, as there have been disagreements before about the efficacy of civil disobedience. I have said before, and will say again, constitutionally framed incrementalism is the only strategy that befits the American citizen and this great republic. And it is the only strategy that can induce America to embrace the ethos of defending the most vulnerable.

So there are those to the “right” of the right-to-life state organizations who overlook the mediations that must necessarily come between the visceral abhorrence we all share for abortion and our actual conduct as rational actors.

Now there are those to our “left” who might also be overlooking necessary mediations. There is talk of a “new pro-life movement,” especially amongst NeverTrumpers who excoriate participants in the actual on-the-ground pro-life movement for daring to come to the prudential conclusion that a vote for Trump (no matter how much he has been a poster boy for the sexual revolution or has insulted deeply pro-life immigrant communities or has degraded women) is necessary given the pro-abortion fervor and radicalism of Hillary Clinton, who is the only other electable candidate. These "new pro-lifers" tend to discount the necessity and the urgency of changing laws and of engaging in the nitty-gritty of political process in general.

The promising thing about hearing people speak of a “new pro-life movement” is hearing from people whom we desperately want to join our ranks. We need and want new ideas and new fervor. The problem with talk of a “new pro-life movement” is that it tends to ignore the concrete opportunities the existing pro-life movement affords. To have an even more energetic pro-life movement is what we all want, but that requires joining forces, not bypassing the old in favor of the new.

And it requires recognizing important facts, such as the actual operation of our constitutional regime and how the development of the federal power has given absolutely inordinate weight to the decisions of the Supreme Court. More deeply, it requires internalizing, bone-deep, the lesson that Martin Luther King, Jr., kept insisting upon: law is a teacher.

And deeper than that--all effects, all consequences aside--the pro-life movement of tomorrow must continue to know this: LAW MUST NEVER SANCTION THE USE OF PRIVATE VIOLENCE AGAINST THE POWERLESS, even should that sanction never be exercised. There is nothing left of civilization in a society whose law refuses to protect the right to life of the innocent.

A pro-life movement energized by the new members we do in fact need and welcome cannot innovate at the cost of ignoring the practical wisdom gained by decades of patient democratic effort. Together we must build on the long, hard struggle to get incrementalist restrictions placed on abortion (parental involvement laws, informed consent laws, etc.), which have been crucial in reducing abortion numbers. One need only look at the important work of the excellent scholar Michael New, for example:

Yes, we must work to reduce abortions, especially by meeting the needs of women and girls in crisis pregnancies, who are under pressure from dereliction of the fathers of their children or from chaotic family patterns or from economic distress or from sexual consumerism or from anti-natalist careerism or, in the case of pregnant girls, from their parents preferring the violence of abortion to derailing the bourgeois lifeplan. Movement pro-lifers have taken on the overwhelming preponderance of that burden. We’re happy to have help on that front.

But it is not either political action or transformation of the culture. It must always be both. 

We get a renewed republic only by building on what’s still whole in our rotting culture. Please get your friends to join their state’s right-to-life group. Please join Mass. Citizens for Life!

There has been a catastrophic breakdown in the generational transmission of an ethos of caring for the common good. As a gen Xer myself, I am eager to see my demographic cohort and the millennials provide energy that the pro-life movement needs. Unless the younger generations flood into civil society, bringing their immense gifts to bear in voluntary associations committed to the common good, we have no future.

An America true to the proposition of the equality of each human life begins with active participation in the concrete, existing, right-to-life movement. From there, we can innovate. We can only do this together.