The Progression of American Progressives
On January 20th 2017, Donald Trump will officially become the 45th US President. A Republican President whose strong rhetoric on issues such as immigration and defence, he prides himself on being a successor to Ronald Reagan, whom he often quotes as being an inspiration to him, the second most after his father, Fred.
So how will this affect the social issues of America?
The United States, as opposed to Europe, is often seen as much more conservative in many matters. Though the church and state are in theory separated, religion has slipped its way into the heart of American politics, the idea of God and religion in everything from the currency to the pledge of allegiance. With this religious background, America has become a bastion for the conservative movement. Whilst the Dutch freely float the ideas of sexuality around, nudity is the biggest TV taboo in a culture where violence is often shown on the screen. Whilst liberalism is often scorned by the UK, there is dirt like no other attached to the name when one watches the likes of Tomi Lahren and Glenn Beck curse the name from their news desk.
When one thinks of social issues, two will spring to mind almost immediately- same sex marriage (and by extension, rights), as well as abortion. Loved and hated by each side of the political spectrum, they are two things that may be affected by a Trump presidency.
1973 was a landmark year for abortion rights. Roe v Wade, a ruling that can name itself as one of the most influential Supreme Court decisions ever, was passed, and with that, new freedoms for those who wished to attain abortions. From the moment it passed in court, it has been controversial. The promise of repeal is the hallmark of many a Republican pledge (and even amongst Democrats, though that is rare), with nearly every candidate in the 2016 Republican Primaries attacking it, with various degrees of vitriol. Ben Carson in particular slated the ruling, and compared women who had abortions to ‘historical slave owners.’ Whilst the other candidates were not quite as passionate about the subject, there is a definite lack of good feeling towards abortion in the movement. Though there are pro-choice Republicans- such as Susan Collins of Maine- they remain a minority in a party that runs on a pro-life platform.
Now, what will Donald Trump do?
At first, Trump did not seem to be as extreme on abortion as Dr. Carson. A former Democrat, his views were at first considered moderate. In 2016, however, he made the announcement that the doctors and women who performed and underwent abortions respectively should be ‘punished,’ effectively telling the world that he believed in a strict abortion policy, with the usual exception of life probably present. After a worldwide condemnation of his thoughts, he backtracked. Furthermore, he agreed with the idea that Planned Parenthood should be defunded, though he accepted the good he does.
Presidents, it is easy to say, tend to be more advisory than full of action in terms of domestic policy. Through checks and balances, the President is often kept in line and often cannot pass the legislation he wants, and vetoes are often overridden. This time, however, it is different. With a Republican President, Cabinet, Senate and the majority of Governors, the legality and accessibility of abortion is about to become a hot topic.
Take for example the Heartbeat Bill that is passing its way up to Governor John Kasich (yet another Republican candidate in 2016- I think there must be millions). In Layman’s terms, abortion will become illegal (except in cases of the mother’s life) once a heartbeat is detected, which usually occurs at six weeks. The issue that many take with it is that most women do not know that they are pregnant until after that stage, essentially eliminating it even in cases of the heinous crime of rape. Kasich, a highly pro-life candidate, vetoed the bill, probably due to the week limit as well as the exclusion of rape. Instead, he signed in a prohibitive law that prevented abortion after 20 weeks with the exception of maternal life. Though it was not passed, the 2/3 majority case may come through and force it into law, setting a precedent of abortion limitations in the other 49 states.
Of course, this could have happened under a Clinton presidency, as the state laws have a high degree of independence from federal interference. Though, given the timing of said bill, one may attribute it to the change in the political climate.
It is debatable as to how far Congress could go with abortion. Not all Republicans are pro-life. Some are more sympathetic, whilst others like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio believe that abortion should only be legal in cases affecting maternal health.
The biggest problem facing reproductive rights is that of Planned Parenthood.
As controversial as abortion itself, Planned Parenthood is not just the abortion factory that its critics make it out to be. The organisation is the largest provider of female healthcare in the USA, with its provisions of smear tests, HIV/AID testing and breast cancer screenings amongst its many offerings. Abortion makes up a relatively small number of its services, though its advocacy on the subject encourages many to think of it as such. Much like the repeal of Roe, the defunding of PP had made its way to the top of the Republican agenda, so much so that it was part of the reason behind the 2013 government shut-down.
Donald Trump stated that he is aware of how much good PP does, and how many women it helps, though he feels it should be defunded because of its provisions of abortions, in line with his pro-life views. Since the majority of abortions take place in clinics as opposed to hospitals, this puts the accessibility of abortions down. Such a large organisation may struggle to survive on donations alone, especially in a country where some of the most vocal critics are out for blood. An outright ban on abortion is next to impossible, but we may see a decrease in the availability.
So what does that mean for abortion rights in the USA?
There are very few countries in the world that restrict abortion in every case. In these countries, illegal abortions are widespread and in El Salvador, is one of the leading causes of the deaths of young women. Combined with a lack of widespread contraceptive availability, the demand for back alley terminations is high. As I stated earlier, there is pretty much no chance of an outright ban. Restrictions, but not a ban. If the demand is there, so will the supply. If abortions are further restricted, there is a chance that we may go back to the days of pre-Roe. Norma McCorvey, the ‘Jane Roe’ of the case, initially considered an illegal abortion, but backed out when she discovered that the doctor did not have a license. Though it may not be as drastic a situation as in El Salvador, the consequences of hugely strict abortion legislation may force desperate women to desperate measures. I understand that not everyone reading this article agrees with abortion, but they cannot deny that this is something that may well happen.
Trump is in line to appoint a new Supreme Court Justice after the death of Antonin Scalia in February of this year. With a Republican house that blocked Obama’s attempts at an appointment, the likelihood of him getting who he wants is high. With this, the scales will tip. The conservative wing of the Court, led by Clarence Thomas, will now hold more power, as opposed to the liberal wing, headed up by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Whilst not a conservative majority, it’s certainly heading that way, and the chance of a Roe repeal is becoming more and more likely. Bader Ginsburg, whilst tough, is in her 80s. She may not resign, but death is a part of life, and her tragic passing would give Trump another chance to nominate a pro-life judge, ultimately sliding the Court to the right. Assuming this comes before the mid-terms which would possibly allow Democrats back in power, the Roe repeal would become scarily likely.
Abortion isn’t the only question on everybody’s lips.
Much like 1973 was a landmark year for abortion, 2015 delivered for LGBT activists. In June that year, the decision of Obergefell v Hodges allowed same-sex marriage in the USA, a ruling that had not come too soon for many activists. Marriage equality hit the mainstream long before the ruling, with Obama becoming the first sitting President to endorse it.
Like Roe, it was not without controversy.
Some politicians are against gay marriage, and a few even civil partnerships, at all. Others believe the government should have no involvement in these affairs, or that states should decide. Religious pressure groups felt anger, and Kim Davis was notably arrested for her refusal to issue marriage licences in her ward of Kentucky. Right now, the decision looks set in stone, but who know what the new administration has in store?
Trump, in one of his first interviews as President-elect, stated that he accepted the result of the case and was not willing to challenge it. This was hardly new- Trump seemed less opposed to the ruling than his fellow candidates, and during the race, allowed Caitlin Jenner to use the bathroom of her choice during the transgender toilet controversy that had politicians like Ted Cruz at boiling point. Contrastingly, he did support the bill that requested that transgender people use the toilet of their birth gender, though it seemed as though he did so as a result of his belief in states’ rights. To put it neatly, he is a mixed bag on the issue, though it doesn’t look to be a priority right now.
In this case, it is Mike Pence that many see as the opposition to LGBT rights.
The future VP is not popular amongst the gay-friendly community. The enactor of the highly controversial Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act- which allows businesses to refuse service of gays on religious grounds- he has previously supported a constitutional ban on marriage equality, and does not believe in civil partnerships either. He has opposed legislation that adds homophobia to a list of hate crimes that includes racism. Most notably, he has links with gay conversion therapy, a practice that most die-hard Republicans don’t even condone. Those who oppose him worry about having a man in the second highest office in the land who potentially thinks homosexuality can be cured.
Fortunately for his nay-sayers, the office of VP does not have much sway in the way of legislation. They can only vote in the Senate if there is a tie-break, and the last time that happened was in 2000.
Like with abortion, it seems that the Republican-controlled house and possibly eventual conservative-leaning Supreme Court may be the key to a more conservative approach to LGBT rights. Obergefell is less likely to be repealed than Roe, though we cannot rule it out. The legislative branch is now the key element.
Previously, I mentioned the Indiana Religious Freedom Act. With bills such as this, there are challenges. Firstly, you have to decide who has more rights- the business owner or the LGBT customer. Religious liberty is extremely important in the Christian United States, as is their first amendment. As we have seen with gun control, the US Constitution is beloved by the people. The freedom of religion in this case is controversial in that it can be backed up by the Bill of Rights, but the Bill of Rights does not mention homosexuality. A modern one may do, but not one that was written in the 1700s. One must choose between the rights of two groups.
States rights is an important concept to most Americans, particularly those on the right, however, a federal version of the IRFRA is not completely out of the question. In past cases, Republican policy makers have voted against adding gays to the list of minorities protected by hate crime laws, and in most cases, they may not have changed their minds. Some deny that Republicans are inherently homophobic, whilst others are totally convinced of their dislike of the gays. If one looks at the demographics of Republican voters, the most religious tend to lean towards them, and if that is represented in their elected representatives, then religious freedom is most likely to take over.
In the event of a repeal of Obergefell, same-sex marriage may go the same way as abortion. Prior to the 2015 ruling, 38 states had made gay marriage possible in some way, if not fully, in their territory. If we were to return to these times, it would likely be a case of couples crossing state lines in order to be wed. Similarly to those seeking abortion, it may not be possible, thus not permitting them the right to get married and instead stay in a civil partnership, or enter one if they have not previously. This again raises the question of rights- is it fair that a same sex couple cannot enjoy the marital arrangements and benefits as those in a heterosexual pairing?
We don’t know what a Trump presidency would bring. At the time of writing, the Cabinet is not yet full and the first 100 days are still over a month away from completion. The liberals could be correct in saying that his administration will erode their hard-earned rights, or they could be wrong, and they could be pretty much left alone.