Trump, Abortion and the Puritan Ethic


It is my thesis that the rampant Trumpaphobia among the right-wing establishment has little to do with the Donald’s actual policy positions. For the most part, his policy positions align with those of the conservative movement in general. In other words, Trump is a stalwart defender of the corporatocracy. The problem that the corporate elite have with Trump is that he tends to reveal the means by which the right pursues its ends, namely stoking animosity and division in order to block a real, working-class coalition. Paul Krugman, on his blog, aptly defines the GOP thus.

After all, what is the modern GOP? A simple model that accounts for just about everything you see is that it’s an engine designed to harness white resentment on behalf of higher incomes for the donor class.

You see, the GOP couldn’t care less about, let’s say, white male, resentment. Instead, the conservative elite sees such angst as a means of securing its own end, namely the unrestricted accumulation of more wealth to the detriment of the rest of society.

Trump, on the other hand, is channelling the very same emotions and prejudices. Only, he’s doing it for the purposes of promoting Trump. He’s stealing the show, and in doing so, opening the curtain to the very mechanisms the right-wing elite wish to keep hidden. He’s like a bad magician.

So we see the same process at work with regard to abortion. The corporate elite does not care a whit about abortion. Oh, perhaps there are some members of this group who frown upon it for moral reasons, but as a class, abortion is irrelevant. After all, wealthy women will be able to get access to abortion services without regard to its legality. It’s a non-issue to the one percent.

But abortion is a valuable tool for dividing one-half of the Demos from the other half, so long as the underlying principle of that tool remains hidden. That underlying principle is the medieval or puritanical belief that sex and sexuality are sinful. What’s more, the nature of this sin lies first and foremost in women’s bodies. For this sin, dare I say, Original Sin, women must be punished. To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Gen 3:16) Throughout most of human history, pregnancy was the means by which female sexuality was controlled and licensed. Pregnancy was the natural state of the married woman, under the dominion of her husband. Pregnancy that took place outside of the patronage of marriage was stigmatized with illegitimacy.

This explains Cruz’s response to the birth control question. “Last I checked, we don’t have a rubber shortage in America. When I was in college we had a machine in the bathroom, you put 50 cents in and voila! So yes, anyone who wants contraceptives can access them…” Anyone? What he means is anyone who can get into the men’s room. In other words, birth control should remain in the hands of men.

Meanwhile, responsibility, or rather blame, for an unplanned pregnancy rests on the woman. She must be punished. The advent of the pill and the legalization of abortion, however, means that women can escape their righteous punishment and can participate in the sin of sexuality with relative abandon. Women can pursue sexual pleasure without wrath. That is something that must be stopped. The licentious woman cannot be allowed to escape the consequences of her actions.

So Chris Matthews hit the nail on the head when he brought up punishment, but in way different than he may have intended. When Trump admitted that women seeking abortions must be punished, he unintentionally revealed the underlying weakness of the “abortion is murder” equation. Meanwhile, the desperate backpedaling by the Republican Party and even his own campaign reveals that the “right to life” position on abortion has little to do with protecting the rights of the fetus as a human being. In short, almost everyone on the right acknowledges that abortion is not the moral equivalent to murder. This is a fundamental problem for a so-called “pro-life” movement that benefits from this very equation.

If abortion were the moral equivalent to murder, then Trump’s initial position, “there has to be some form of punishment” for the woman, is appropriate. Trump may equivocate on the details of what that punishment should be, but every state and the federal government is very clear on the penalties for murder–lifetime imprisonment and, ironically for the so-called pro-life movement, the death penalty. This is clear in the law. There is no debate. The only debate is with what to do with women who experience a miscarriage. Should they all be investigated? If it is found that a woman participated in any activity that might be construed as harmful to the fetus should she be tried for second-degree murder, manslaughter even if involuntary?

Almost nobody believes this. Equating abortion to murder is a rhetorical device that is never subject to analysis. Few people actually believe it in practice. This is why, when asked, most pro-lifers are willing to make exceptions for rape and incest. If abortion were akin to murder, such exceptions could not be defended. After all, the child does not inherit the sins of the father (Eze 18:20).

So abortion is not murder and, thus, the fetus does not have the same rights as a born human being. Almost everyone knows this, but now, thanks to Trump, we actually have to discuss it. The abortion/murder equivalence is revealed for the fallacy that it is, and there goes another perfectly good strategy for the right.

Now we have to give credit to Ted Cruz and John Kasich and the Republican establishment for desperately clinging to their time-tested strategy. Cruz would ban all abortions except for those done to protect the life of the mother, and was willing to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood. Kasich has a notorious pro-life record, but punishing the woman? Absurd. But why? If a fetus has a right to live, how can willfully ending that life be defended on the part of the woman? Well, clearly the woman in question is the victim of a “pro-death” culture pushing her to make a bad decision because of her confusion–hysteria.

Okay. First, this is an admission that personal decisions are influenced by social forces. Um…(spoken in a whisper) that’s the liberal position. American conservatives are supposed to be about personal responsibility. After all, a person convicted of murder may also be subject to external social forces, confusion, if not actual hysteria. But that is not a defense. Ask any law and order conservative worth his salt and he will tell you that one is expected to take responsibility for his crimes. Commit the crime, do the time. Yeah!

Secondly, this analysis is a direct assault against female agency that is a cornerstone of the feminist movement and of the pro-choice position. Suggesting that women, despite all of the hurdles that so many women must endure in order to get an abortion, are simply too emotional and irrational to make the right choice. They must be guided by a more rational hand–a man. In the New York Times, Katha Pollitt observes, “If you consider how determined a woman has to be to get an abortion in much of the country these days and how much energy states expend trying to dissuade her, it’s hard to see her as a frail flower. If abortion is murder, the woman is less like a victim and more like someone who hires a hitman. In law, both parties are culpable.”

The dirty little secret is, of course, that the pregnancy is the punishment. When a woman sins by using her body for pleasure, specifically her own pleasure, then she runs the risk of a nine-month sentence of incubating a pregnancy. Pro-lifers give this away when they argue, “if she didn’t want to get pregnant, she shouldn’t have had sex.” If she has sex, she must suffer the consequences with…um…a little blessing growing inside of her as a result of her gift of giving life.

Wait! What?

That gift of giving life, however, must be exercised under the patronage of a man, presumably within the confines of marriage–preferably a loving marriage, but…you know.

The advent of the pill, the legalization of abortion via Roe v. Wade and the sexual revolutions of the 1920’s and the 1960’s are direct challenges to male dominance. The most basic feature of patriarchy was always male dominion over women’s bodies. Female sexual pleasure has, consequently, been repressed through religious notions of sin as well as early scientific concepts of nymphomania. Regardless, female sexuality always carried with it the stain of pathology. Somewhere, there is a woman who is experiencing sexual pleasure, and it must be stopped!

Whether anti-abortionists know it or not, the genealogy of their movement resides in the repression of female sexual agency. Pregnancy no longer has to be a tool for male dominance and a punishment for a woman’s sin. Because women now have the tools of sexual liberation at their disposal, effective contraceptives and medically safe abortions, a pregnancy, entered into and carried to term by choice, really can be a blessing. A baby does not have to enter the world as a constant reminder of her mother’s stain. This is a step forward for civilization.

Yet there are those who fear a presumably emasculating power of women’s sexual agency. The most revealing part of Trump’s confession was not that he believes women should be punished for pursuing an abortion. Punishing women for exercising their agency is a given in conservative politics. No. The most revealing part of this interview happened as follows.

MATTHEWS: What about the guy that gets her pregnant? Is he responsible under the law for these abortions? Or is he not responsible for an abortion?
TRUMP: Well, it hasn’t — it hasn’t — different feelings, different people. I would say no.
Of course, you would!


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