Life and Religious Liberty for Me, But Not for Thee

With Amy Coney Barrett now on the Supreme Court and weighing in on cases, the payoff to the evangelical right for their unstinting support of Donald Trump becomes even clearer than it has already been.  She joined a narrow majority to block COVID-19 limits on church occupancy.  Despite numerous cases of COVID-19 outbreaks tied to church events (whether worship, choir practices, or other gatherings), despite over a quarter million Americans dead from COVID-19, the Supreme Court majority ignored the known science around how COVID-19 spreads because of “religious liberty”.  Much has been made of the fact that six of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are Catholic, but there were Catholic justices (including the Chief Justice) in the minority.  Even the Pope was critical of those protesting restrictions on church attendance.

As someone who felt compelled to quit my first full-time job out of college because of constant pressure from my employer to work on my day of worship (as a Seventh-day Adventist, my family and I typically attend church on Saturday), I am angry that religious liberty is being used as the pretext to invalidate measures intended to preserve public health.  When those measures (and stricter ones) have been applied elsewhere (parts of Europe, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, etc), we’ve seen them work successfully in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.  Particularly because the same Supreme Court was not at all concerned about religious liberty when it came to the Muslim travel ban (the Quakers, among others, see the hypocrisy clearly), the ruling seems especially hollow.  Plenty of churches (including my own) have stayed remote throughout the pandemic, either broadcasting services from empty sanctuaries except for themselves and musicians, or from home.  I’ve given offering and tithed online.  It is by no means an ideal experience, but given my own comorbidities it is better than risking my twins being orphaned.

Because Supreme Court confirmation fights (and the attendant press coverage) have focused so narrowly on where a nominee stands regarding Roe v. Wade, no attention has been paid to their stances regarding other issues quite relevant to life–and death. Invalidating restrictions on church occupancy during a pandemic is just one of the ways in which “pro-life” applies very poorly to describing where a justice actually stands.  As the clock runs out on the Trump presidency, the Department of Justice under Bill Barr is accelerating the pace of executions.  Barrett has already participated in her first capital punishment case on the Supreme Court.  She did not recuse herself, nor register her opposition to the execution going forward as justices in the minority did.

I suppose it has always been this way, but when a lot of people talk about religious liberty, they only want it for themselves–and no one else.

Rest In Peace David Prouse

I’ve loved science fiction and fantasy for as long as I can remember. But I hadn’t thought much lately about exactly where that love began until a phone call from my mom today. She called to let me know that David Prouse had died. While James Earl Jones was the unforgettable voice of Darth Vader, David Prouse was who we all saw.

Before tonight’s conversation, where she reminisced about taking my sister and I to see it in the theater, I distinctly remember her taking me to see Return of the Jedi in the theater when I was 9.  I remember the anticipation of seeing and just how much I enjoyed it.  But when she mentioned my sister being in a stroller, I paused.  Because my sister and I are 4 1/2 years apart, she wasn’t talking about when we saw Return of the Jedi.  My mom was talking about the preceding movie—The Empire Strikes Back.  While I’ve seen it many times since then in almost every conceivable format save LaserDisc, I didn’t remember the very first time.  She thought I would be scared of Darth Vader, but as she told me I mostly stared in awe.

So Rest In Peace to David Prouse.  Thanks to you—and my mom—for starting my journey into science fiction.

Empathy Now

Predictably, the calls for empathy for “the other side” have already begun.  This tweet from Ian Bremmer is one example:

While I understand the sentiment, I find these demands for empathy to be premature. The speed with which these demands have come (and the people they tend to come from) tell me that they do not know anyone who has been hurt by the effects of Trump’s policies–much less have been hurt themselves.

One of my former co-workers had his wife prevented from joining him here because of the Muslim ban. He and I were working on a contract at the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service at the time. Another co-worker from that time was married to someone from one of the banned countries. Imagine trying to explain to your child what the president said about the place you come from, and your faith.

For years I have listened to Trump and his supporters attack birthright citizenship–the very thing that makes me an American. I’ve seen his administration make it harder to become a citizen legally and try to strip citizenship from naturalized citizens like my parents. I have quite a few friends from the places Trump called “shithole countries”. I’ve stressed out along with my staff and friends at work about whether or not their visas would be renewed as they navigated a process made deliberately harder by the Trump administration.

The people who voted for Trump–twice in some cases–meant for us to endure another 4 years of these assaults on citizenship, faith, and dignity. Even as I write this, some of his supporters are amplifying Trump’s baseless charges of voter fraud. To ask those who opposed Trump to show empathy to his supporters now shows a real lack of understanding for the profound harm Trump’s presidency has inflicted on marginalized people (and likely will still inflict because his presidency doesn’t officially end until Inauguration Day in January 2021).

Sympathy may be possible later, perhaps even empathy–even though his supporters certainly displayed none who disagreed with them in 2016–because those of us who at least attempt to take our Christianity seriously believe Matthew 5:44 to be a command, not a suggestion. But it will not be on anyone else’s timetable.

2016 Was Not an Anomaly

As of this writing, we lack certainty regarding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. But we know enough to be sure that 2016 was not an anomaly. Trump has already surpassed his vote total from 2016 by over 4 million votes.  In the midst of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly a quarter million of our fellow citizens—due in significant part to the incompetent handling of the pandemic—Trump still has a path to a second term.  Despite the open corruption and self-dealing, despite Trump’s racism and misogyny, despite impeachment and a trial for pressuring President Zelensky into opening an investigation into Biden, 4 million more voters want a second Trump term.

Those 4 million additional votes for Trump include improving on his performance with Hispanic voters. While it is easier to see hindsight (as most things are), the combination of the Supreme Court preventing Trump from cancelling DACA, the targeting of previous fear mongering about “caravans” not being directed at Cuban-Americans (or not perceived by them as such), and the successful branding of Democrats as socialists by their GOP opponents seems to have resulted in a faster and clearer result favoring Trump in Florida than in 2016. Even some of those targeted by the caravan rhetoric have not been swayed from their support of Donald Trump. This election should mark the official death of the “demographics is destiny” idea that Democrats have been operating under for many years. As Chris Ladd puts it perfectly in this paragraph from a piece written November 2, 2020:

“Democrats’ POC coalition was premised on the notion that these targets of white racism would recognize their common interests and unite in resistance. Thing is, many don’t want to risk sharing the fate of Blacks in America. Educated whites and more affluent immigrants generally feel safe from being treated like Blacks, but less affluent newcomers on the margins of whiteness don’t. Rather than joining forces with this coalition, many immigrants see an alternative path to safety – becoming white.”

Becoming White: The Weakness in Democrats’ “People of Color” Coalition

Another key factor in Trump’s apparent Florida victory: the successful imposition of what is effectively a poll tax by Florida’s GOP governor and legislature prevented nearly a million Floridians who had completed sentences for felony crimes from voting. They did this in clear defiance of the 65% of Floridians voted in favor of automatic restoration of voting rights in 2018.

While the Democrats appear to have retained control of the House of Representatives (including all 4 original members of The Squad), the majority will be smaller than it was after the 2018 midterms.  Even as Cori Bush joins The Squad, QAnon will seat its first congresswoman, and Madison Cawthorn (known for a bucket list that included visiting Hitler’s Eagles Nest) will become the youngest member of North Carolina’s delegation to Congress–and of the entire body. 

As significant as the uncertainty regarding the presidential election is, the GOP appears to have retained control of the Senate as well. The electorate not seeing fit to punish any of the senators who have enabled all of Trump’s excesses has created a huge opening for a slightly more subtle authoritarian to successfully challenge Biden, Harris, or whoever else the Democrats put up for the presidency in 2024.  Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Tucker Carlson, and/or one of Trump’s children seem likely candidates to at minimum form exploratory committees if not follow through and run to succeed Donald Trump.  Even in the event Trump loses the 2020 election, I would not rule out the prospect of Donald Trump running for re-election in 2024.  

The Senate remaining in GOP hands even if Biden wins kills most (if not all) prospects for meaningful legislation to reform the issues we’ve seen during the past four years. If the latest anti-ACA lawsuit succeeds with the 6 conservative justices now seated on the Supreme Court, millions of Americans will lose the healthcare insurance they gained because of it and millions more (including myself) with pre-existing conditions at risk of becoming uninsured (and uninsurable) due to changes in employment. Without control of the Senate, Democrats would have little power to put a legislative fix into law. The same would be true of nearly any law the GOP chooses to make a court case out of. Because this same Senate has stocked the lower court with Trump appointees (mostly political hacks with law degrees rather than serious jurists), such cases reaching SCOTUS if lower courts don’t rule the way the GOP prefers seems more likely than not. GOP control of the Senate almost certainly puts a wrench in any plans Biden has for staffing cabinet and sub-cabinet positions requiring Senate confirmation.

While it appears that Biden may yet win the presidency, we know that for the second consecutive election and the third in just 20 years, a minority of American voters has (for now) successfully stymied the will of a majority of American voters at the ballot box thanks to the Electoral College.