So much for the Land of the Free.
By overturning Roe, the American right has destroyed its moral authority. It’s time for those of us who actually believe in freedom to become as much of a threat as they imagine.
There’s nothing I can say to make you feel better about what's happened. If there was, I wouldn't say it.
You’re right to be angry. You’re right to be outraged that that the most powerful country on earth, the nation culturally licensed to define and defend liberal democracy, the nominally United States of America just gave religious extremists the authority to remove bodily autonomy from half its citizens in defiance of the democratic mandate. That is catastrophic anddisgusting. Abuse of power comes as no surprise, but you’re allowed to be shocked. And you ought to be angry.
And you should know you are not alone in your anger. You should know that you’re not the only one right now who’s dealing with this collective grief for the rights and norms you took for granted by doomscrolling until you’re dehydrated while the room gets dark.
How did it get so dark so fast?
There’s a character in a an Ernest Hemingway novel who explains that he went bankrupt ‘in two ways: gradually, then suddenly.’ Democracies die the same way. Authoritarian lawmakers and their lackeys have been mobilising for years to restart the rusted machinery of white patriarchal power and hammer their nation into a new shape in the name of history and tradition. But something changed this week.
The moment the Supreme Court killed Roe vs. Wade, America, as political analyst Jared Yates Sexton observes, ‘entered a new era.’ In that moment, ‘the progress of the 20th century was openly attacked, and a planned deconstruction of all our progress was sprung into the open.’
Anyone who woke up this week and discovered that her government now has the power to keep her pregnant knows in her bones that that is a violation of human dignity. That it makes a mockery of the very principles of freedom and personal liberty that America claims to stand for. And yes, violating everything your nation claims to stand for is as American as medical bankruptcy and school shootings, but there’s something pretty damn decisive about this. Conservatives can bang on about traditional values all they like, but this is something new.
The anti-abortion laws about to come into force across the United States are unprecedented in scope and savagery. No nation has ever imposed anything like the machinery of state sexual surveillance that is about to clamp down on millions of women, girls and trans people across America. If you believe in the right of the individual to determine their own destiny, if you believe in liberty, hell, if you have any interest at all in the separation of Church and State, you should be livid.
Being a superpower comes with certain responsibilities. The United States has let women down, it has let the world down, and it has let itself down. It’s awful, and it’s embarrassing, and believe me, I know how it feels. I know what it’s like to watch your country respond to relentless economic crisis by trying to reassert old power hierarchies by any means necessary in the name of national pride and become, in the process, extravagantly goddamn deranged. I know this because I’m British. All the Americans I know are in some sort of shock. If you’re one of them, I’m so, so sorry.
A few nights ago, at a windswept protest in front of the US embassy, I watched two well-meaning women from the Democratic party tell a crowd of grieving Americans that the way to fight back was to elect more Democrats. The speakers repeated their panicked talking points like people in the depths of a dissociative fugue, and I don’t blame them. Because Democrats who really, truly believed in the idea of America and trusted their institutions and tried so hard to change the system from within have spent decades making every conceivable soul-staining compromise on the basis that, when it mattered, their leaders would have the power to protect women's human rights.
And when the time came, they didn't use it.
Because- well, that might not have been very nice. That sort of thing might provoke the other side. And who knows what might happen then?
I’m don’t know about you, but I’m sick of being warned not to provoke the other side. When did that ever work?
Around the world, the entire mainstream liberal consensus is still held hostage to its own fear of a right-wing violence that no amount of placation and apology can actually prevent- because no gay person, no queer person, no person of color who acts as if their life matters and no white woman who acts as if she doesn’t owe babies to the ethnostate has to do anything at all to provoke these priggish wingnuts except exist. The far right is not interested in compromise. It does not want a debate. It wants power.
White supremacists fighting a holy war against sexual freedom and gender chaos are not going to be swayed by gentle explanations that without abortion rights, you know, women won't really be equal anymore. They know. That’s the whole point.
You cannot protect oppressed people by pandering to their persecutors. That’s what’s known as ’giving in without a fight’.
You may have noticed that I’ve not addressed the apparently essential question of whether a fetus is a person. I’ve not addressed it because that’s not the relevant question here. It never was. The relevant question is whether a woman is a person whose pain matters and whose life has value. Reproductive coercion is a mortal insult to everyone physically capable of pregnancy- which, to them, is all it will ever mean to be a woman. All it should ever mean.
And no, I’m not interested in playing the weaponised pedantry game today. It is possible to acknowledge that the forced birth movement is deeply rooted in misogyny while respecting trans identities and making it clear not all pregnant people affected by these laws will be women. For a start- because patriarchy is exactly this ugly - some of them will be children.
So no, I’ve got no time to pay attention to boring edgelords whimpering ‘what is a woman?’ when the whole point is that no state and no nation should ever be allowed to define anyone’s life on the basis of their designated sex. Funnily enough, the crackdown on abortion and contraception, the war on sexual freedom, the strategic attacks on gay rights and trans and queer identities around the world are all part of the same violent right-wing backlash against a future they’d rather burn down than share. They are all part of a violent response by a patriarchal order that sees its power slipping away. They mouth the rhetoric of the same conspiracy theorists and domestic terrorists who have massacred hundreds of American citizens in the last decade, they openly speak the language of race war, and those of them who can even be bothered to come up with a plausible lie claim to be defending traditional values.
Clearly, a good many conservatives have judged it necessary to destroy democracy in order to save it. In smug legalese, they Supreme Court majority insists that the only rights that matter are those explicitly mentioned in the Constitution and therefore ‘deeply rooted in our nation’s history’, as Justice Alito wrote in his summary. Appeals to history ring hollow coming from dogmatists who will happily riot to defend their children against the dangerous idea that anything at all might have improved since 1789.
I am wildly uninterested in whether or not the Founding Fathers thought motherhood should be mandatory. The fact that a roomful of Christian fundamentalists and conservative men credibly accused of historical sexual violence found a couple of loopholes in a document written by and for white male slaveowners centuries ago is not, in fact, a flawless moral defence for forcing strangers to give birth.
Nor, by the way, is the asinine idea that state-enforced compulsory pregnancy is in any way equivalent to a damn vaccine pass. We’ve been through this already, but men who think that being asked to do the absolute bare minimum to stop strangers dying of a deadly virus is anything at all like being made to give birth can take their weaponised ignorance and barefaced misogyny and point-scoring shitclownery somewhere else.
Now, if you're reading this, there's probably some reason you think that you’re not entitled to be outraged on your own behalf. Everyone I know who feels helpless right now has internalised the idea that they’re not the sort of ordinary, normal citizen who gets to have legitimate concerns and free speech and a life that matters more than inflating some random angry gammon’s broken ego. Maybe you think your rights don't count because you're one of those those college-educated liberals, or one of those city-dwelling snowflakes, or one of those foreigners, or one of those ungrateful women who just doesn’t want children, or one of those queers, or whatever version of the same old shame story you were told that means you’re probably part of the problem, and you should be grateful to have any human rights at all, so it doesn’t really matter when your government takes them away. Trust me, it matters. I say this as a literal rootless cosmopolitan overeducated woke-haired degenerate leftist Jewish social justice gender goblin who was a Fox News cliche way before it was cool, and last time I checked I was a human being with a heartbeat, and so are you. Okay?
And I’m sick of pretending otherwise. I’m sick of listening to pompous dogmatists congratulate themselves for defending children while they actively campaign to keep welfare dollars away from single parents and assault rifles in the hands of teenage terrorists and domestic abusers while their billionaire sugar daddies light what’s left of the future on fire for profit.
The very best of them are ballistic hypocrites.
The rest of us owe them nothing.
I’m tired of pretending we do.
I’m tired of hearing that women and queer people owe any priggish proto-fascist any excuse whatsoever for terminating an unwanted pregnancy.
No, I don’t care if that’s selfish. Selfishness isn’t a crime. At least, not yet. I’m done with any sort of civility that treats small-minded conservatives cowering in a blanket fort of weaponised ignorance as if they’re the moral majority, when they are no sort of majority at all.
Actually, they’re outnumbered, and they know it. That’s why they’re prepared to abuse any power they have to to stop the rest of us having any power at all. That’s why they’re so frightened.
And they are right to be frightened. Because the world they want to build, the world where rigid gender roles are codified in law and backed up with violence, where men are real men, women are grateful and LGBTQ people are dead or in hiding- that world cannot exist as long as enough of us believe we deserve something different and better.
I know it’s easy to feel helpless right now. And I know you need to know that you are not as helpless as they would have you believe. That you are not as powerless as they want you to feel. If you were, the antediluvian thugs in government wouldn’t have been driven insane with fear of your full humanity.
The truth is that you and I and everyone else who thinks actual, tangible liberty is worth fighting for are exactly as much of a threat as the cringing bigots believe, and exactly as powerful as they imagine.
And I think it’s time we started acting like it. Don’t you?