Abortion, Hypocrisy and the Will to Power
"What does the GOP want? A kingdom of Christ on earth, ruled by His self-anointed elect."
The principal lens through which I observe the American right is this: what looks like hypocrisy from the outside can be explained by the pure will to power.
At the moment, in the national political landscape, there is ample evidence that the Republican Party and its far-right fellow-travelers seek absolute power at all costs. The barest of glances at recent headlines reifies the principle: the comical, tortured gerrymandering in red and purple states, functionally creating a firewall against majority rule; the wholesale erosion of voting rights; the continual insistence, central to party orthodoxy, that the last presidential election was a fraud, and the exiled and florid would-be king of America is right in his poxy fantasies; the seismic event—once declaimed, and now embraced—of the storming of the Capitol. What does the GOP want? A kingdom of Christ on earth, ruled by His self-anointed elect. In practice: To impose a nationally quite unpopular set of principles, many nakedly theocratic, and seal them into unthwartable and uncontravenable law; to purge the nation of undesirables—immigrants, LGBTQ people, Muslims, feminists—and even knowledge of undesirables; to rule uncontested, and utterly dominate those they perceive to be their inferiors.
The chief example of such hypocrisy at the moment is the dual and fulsome embrace by Republicans—from elected officials to the rank-and-file—of simultaneous and apparently contradictory notions of bodies, choice and privacy. When it comes to vaccination, the individual is sacrosanct; when it comes to pregnancy, or the termination of it, private medical choices are criminal acts. “Inconsistency has become the hallmark of a party that flips its principles like flapjacks whenever they conflict with perceived political advantage,” says an acid editorial in the Boston Globe. “Hypocrisy will continue until the voters decide they have had enough,” adds the West Central Tribune. But hypocrisy is a strange charge: the allegation of it demands shame and introspection, a desire to straighten one’s principles out until they are truthful. It is meant to sting. But in order for such a claim to have weight and be internalized, the opinions of the accusers must matter to the accused; and that is not the case when, thinly veiled under grandiose moral pronouncements, the will is to rule without opposition, and to crush all those in the way. When you desire such a regime, all objections can be made out to be mewling, insignificant complaint.
An instructive example of this untrammeled will to power is the response to the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020: aided by legislation that had, over the previous few years, made it legally easier to run over protesters, the GOP enabled the vehicular murders and injuries of protesters in no fewer than 110 car-ramming incidents spanning the entirety of the country. Kyle Rittenhouse, the exoneree who shot and killed two such protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has been offered multiple Congressional internships, posed with the former president, and has achieved a stratospheric level of fame among the party faithful. All this sends an unmistakable and absolutist message: the political opposition is so utterly worthless, so fundamentally corrupt and evil, that to kill them is not only acceptable, but laudable. That is the ultimate expression of the will to power; it is an indication that any means necessary are to be employed in order to attain it. Vigilantes and militias complement four decades of legislative larceny, culminating in an ironclad conservative majority on the Supreme Court; the extralegal and the legal methodologies of power work in tandem and coalesce to form an unspurnable tyranny of the minority.
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In the face of all this, what is hypocrisy? Something small, something puny and negligible. Yet we can’t stop pointing it out, hoping, vainly, that this time they will heed us, will notice the internal inconsistencies in their own arguments. It’s galling, for example, that the leading lights of the conservative movement champion the sanctified right of anti-vaxxers under the principles of personal freedom, and of privacy. Covid-19 vaccines, in the vast majority of cases, cause either no symptoms at all or several days of mild, flu-like symptoms; more serious complications are so vanishingly rare they are nearly statistically insignificant. The very same figureheads are openly cheering for the present evisceration of abortion rights occurring under the aegis of law, and thus for the forced continuation of pregnancies: to wit, nine months of fundamentally unprivate and unfree government-mandated bodily change. Historically, pregnancy and childbirth have been a leading cause of death for women, birth and death an intertwined pair; in the present it is still an endeavor that bears significant risk. Pregnancy involves a great deal of medical intervention, far more than even a full series of three covid vaccinations.
Here are some things that can happen to the body in a normal and uncomplicated pregnancy: swelling of the face and extremities; nausea and vomiting, pelvic bone separation, frequent nosebleeds, increased hair growth, urinary leakage, loosened teeth, impaired memory and concentration. Complex pregnancies can be fatal; preeclampsia, a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy, affects between 2 and 8 percent of pregnancies worldwide, and can result in mortality for both mother and child, extended hospital stays, and poor perinatal outcomes. Vaginal delivery entails significant physical trauma, with bleeding, called lochia, that typically lasts four to six weeks; cesarean section is a major surgery with lifetime scarring and the potential complications of any such incision. It may, from the outside, seem staggeringly hypocritical for the conservative establishment to advocate for privacy and freedom in the case of vaccination, and for its utter obliteration in the case of the entire population of people who have the potential to bear children. But power does not need to explain its inconsistencies: it only needs to accumulate and grow until critique grows fainter and fainter under the hum of all it wants clicking into place.
This is how the party that touts its family values demands a generational cohort of forced births while consistently voting against any support for mothers or for children, emphatically including Lynn Fitch, Mississippi’s attorney general, who is bringing the present lawsuit that may overturn Roe v. Wade for good. She advocates for private charities and churches to fill the yawning void. The tattered safety net will be withdrawn utterly, and birthing people and their new and undesired children will be left to free-fall. This is the condition that Fitch desires, for theocratic ends, for the earthly glory of Christ. “We are a faith-based driven state and country,” she says; the governor of the state announced that he was praying for her. The party that touts its support of religious freedom is happy to suppress the freedom of those whose faiths, like mine, countenance or even mandate abortion in certain circumstances, including the physical and mental health of the mother. But such apparent contradictions matter little to those who espouse them: a contradiction cannot be pointed out except by a person, and the political opposition are not fully people, to the zealots of the party. As freshman Congressman and accused sexual assaulter Madison Cawthorn put it, they are merely “earthen vessels.”
If control is the aim, and subjugation of women is the goal, it simply does not matter if there is a torsion of principle, or a double standard, or a flaw that can be highlighted. The more arrant the hypocrisy, the more brazen the contradiction, the stronger the party that continues to advocate those policies grows, having been stripped of shame on the grounds that those who would seek to invoke it are bereft of worth: any flaw is null and void because the people pointing it out mean nothing. Only the unborn, floating and hypothetical in their sacs, are sacred; the born are inconveniences; let them break, like earthen vessels, into shards, and be ground into dust under the feet of power on the march.