The New Inquisition is Coming
Sandow Birk, “The Great Battle of Los Angeles,” 1998, oil on canvas, 64 x 120”
First, a few words about the recently revitalized discussion of the “great replacement theory.” There is a form of that which I can in good conscience embrace, and I encourage you to do so as well. Racial supremacists definitely need to be replaced, most especially when they provoke or practice violence (which they feel entitled to do with impunity). To those barbarous folks: you do not deserve to be regarded as Americans, let alone as “patriots.” “We” have indeed been coming after you for years wielding the tools of civil democracy and non-violence, and will continue to do so until you are … extinct.
Pedro Berruguete, “Saint Dominic Presiding Over an Auto-da-fe,” 1495, oil on panel, 60 1/2 x 36 1/4”. Courtesy of Museo Nacional Del Prado, Madrid
“[Roe] did not claim that American law or the common law had ever recognized such a right [to abortion].”
— Samuel Alito, draft of the repeal of Roe decision.
“Overturning Roe could fuel a clash between the states not seen since the runup to the Civil War.”
— James Traub, New York Times, May 19, 2022
Next to the Nazi Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition is perhaps the most remembered genocidal effort. Many other deserving candidates are scattered throughout the annals of history. Nor was it unique even to medieval Europe; but it was documented like no other,. Thus we do not merely inherit the means to remember, but our grasp of the individual case helps us to understand the broader issue. Driven by moral zealotry, religious organizations have not just condoned but acted out the most odious conduct in the name of a transcendent faith paired with a fervent desire to rescue souls.
The driving purpose of the Inquisition was not at all to ruin lives but to rescue souls, but there are always individuals who will ride the bandwagon to self-benefit. Cloaked in the language of their office, some inquisitors and their henchmen may have gained materially or erotically in their exercise of abuse. But, to generalize, this was regarded as a struggle between absolute good versus absolute evil. True believers “knew” that what they saw in their victims was the resistance of demons that delighted in inhabiting the body of a good Christian in order to replace all good Christians.
In our own time we have had to contend with similarly ridiculous notions such as “replacement theory” (popularized recently by certain mass shooters and media personalities) and the theocratic certainty that life begins at the moment of conception. Keep in mind that there are far, far more miscarriages than abortions, which are widely and fairly regarded as acts of God. Perhaps God turns out to be the most prolific abortionist. These concepts are nothing more than artifacts of barbaric superstitions masquerading as moral certainty. There is nothing remotely new about this, our Spanish inquisitor would feel very much at home enforcing both. While such views are entitled to tolerance in a maturing society, any general imposition of them is nothing more than an echo of a past, one post-war America had seemingly left in the proverbial dustbin of history.
This is the first image ever made of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. It’s the first direct visual evidence of the black hole at the heart of our home galaxy.(EHT Collaboration)
Abortion and Party Polarization
Unfortunately, this is the energy emanating from the radioactive core of the Republican Party today, and deep within that core resides a majority of the Supreme Court justices. The recently photographed massive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy is a suitable metaphor. The moral conduct of the party’s leadership is a black hole relentlessly sucking in the feckless, pulling them from the bright penumbra that both reveals its presence and hides what happens within that black hole.
Abortion has animated that penumbra in America for decades; take the three bright points in that donut-shaped halo as the energy expended by those most animated by their anti-abortion conviction. For Justice Samuel Alito and millions of Americans (a fact that feels downright embarrassing to acknowledge) the reversal of Roe augurs an era that will conclude with zero abortions in the U.S. The moral conviction among the core of religious believers is incandescent: they are certain that with the law and prosecutorial discretion effectively in their hands, they will stamp out abortion altogether. Oh yes, and the women who currently regard access to safe abortion as a right will come around to see abortion through the anti-abortion lens. Those who do not, and are not convinced, are regarded as morally corrupt beyond redemption, worthy of incarceration. Worse, these true believers are certain that they are not only rescuing “children,” they are rescuing each mother’s soul from damnation just as surely as those inquisitors knew it in 1478.
Make no mistake, these people are close to being in a position to leverage a near monopoly on political and judicial power. Working in tandem they will possess various means of intimidation and coercion, and have made it abundantly clear that they will try to impose their purity on the entire country. Count on it. Within the next two months this reality will begin to play out in the nearly half of our states ready with so-called “trigger laws.” California, by contrast, is among the states that have memorialized an inalienable right to privacy in their constitutions. This was established by ballot measure in 1972.
The Coming National Ban
The next step following repeal of Roe, should the Republican Party gain Congressional majorities, will be passage a national ban on abortion meant to overrule state mandated rights such as exist in California. Expect California, New York, and the other half of the states with Democratic Party leadership to be confronted with a law that currently would be blocked by Senate filibuster rules. I will predict with confidence that the Senate filibuster rules will be summarily modified or disposed of in precisely the way that Democrats failed to when attempting to pass the Voting Rights Act last year. There will be a host of court challenges, so this war will go on for years, and if the current Supreme Court remains in place I will further predict that its rulings will invariably be in favor of the anti-abortion position. Meanwhile, in a twisted sense Republicans will attempt to mirror (and design the political messaging to mirror) the Civil Rights Movement. Of course, unlike the Voting Rights Act, this bears not the dimmest resemblance to the Civil Rights Movement.
Democrats’ failure to pass voting rights legislation, it must be said, centered on a single sitting Senator; but the impact on voters has made that beside the point. Liberal voters have been dismayed, and polling has not surprisingly predicted certain defeat for Democrats, particularly House Democrats, in November. The singular lesson for the Republican leadership: Just do it.
New York Magazine cover by Barbara Kruger: Who Becomes a “MURDERER” in Post-Roe America?
This was predictable, and a subject I have written about previously. Still, the point of the repeal of Roe is that it raises the question of the mid-term elections in a completely fresh way: will the backlash to this decision and the states’ legislative response change the political calculus? Republicans are gambling that it will be insufficient to make a difference. From where they sit today that must look like a gamble not only worth taking, but one that they must take.
Senator Strom Thurmond speaks with reporters after ending the longest filibuster on record, 24-hours,
18-minutes, against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Courtesy the Bettmann Archiver/Getty Images
A New Political Calculus?
But it is easy to imagine that the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe dramatically alters the eventual results of the mid-term elections. It seems obvious that the scales must fall from the eyes of millions of previously passive voters, and that Democratic base voters will turn out in record numbers for an off-year election, as they did in 2018. Anti-abortionist voters constitute a distinct but energetic minority, as the abortion issue has been driving those voters for decades. Pro-choice voters haven’t really cared as much because so many took a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health care decisions for granted. Confronted with this new reality, the issue of abortion will move the political needle. The question is, enough to re-orient election dynamics? In principle we should all expect to see American voters turn November into a Democratic wave election. Thus far polling does not suggest that large a shift; but it is still early.
I do not, sad to say, have confidence in either the Democratic Party’s leadership or infrastructure; nor am I convinced of the moral clarity of the pro-choice majority of voters. Therefore I am not ready to get my hopes up. It is my wish to be proven wrong.
The other reason for genuine concern is that the Republican Party is now infused with the idea that they may steal lost elections with impunity. The “Stop the Steal” movement should actually be driven by the Democratic Party and allied progressive organizations. Only one party is dedicating itself to stealing elections; but that party is attempting to pre-empt challenges to their electoral abuse in part by accusing Democrats, utterly free of the slightest shred of truth but loudly and repeatedly, of doing just that. The truth is the opposite; Democrats (and some Republican officials and pundits, though not many) have been the ones working to ensure election integrity. Yet it is Republicans who declare voter suppression laws are passed to ensure an “election integrity,” laws entirely devoid of integrity.
All of this is a direct product of the Big Lie promulgated by the defeated former president: that Democrats deliberately found ways to cast millions of fraudulent votes. The tactic of the Big Lie is a classic propaganda technique designed to protect corrupt individuals from both public scrutiny and prosecution. And it is a key reason why, together with the political shortcomings of the Democratic Party, key objectives of the extreme right are now within its grasp. The ends justify the means, particularly when these large goals hover so close to being realized. If the judicial goal overturning Roe is about to be realized, the top political goal will be to pass a national ban on abortion. The disruptions that this will cause are difficult to overestimate. But now is the time to imagine what this might be like.
An activist holds a picture of U.S. Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito during a demonstration in Washington
in December, 2021. Courtesy of the Financial Times of London. © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
An American Inquisition
If the post-Roe U.S. includes a national law prohibiting abortion, please expect that the effort to enforce such a ban will be both vast and energized, at least for a period of time. And that is where understanding a few fundamentals of earlier inquisitions such as the Spanish provide us with the insights and tools needed to address and minimize the damage. This should come as a headline to no one: millions of people (mainly women and children, but many men as well) will suffer, and that suffering will take many forms. A portion among those millions will literally die. But the backlash has already begun. There will again come a time that the privacy right will be restored, and with a clearer understanding of its constitutional significance. But a good deal of damage will take place during this possible time of inquisition.
That time will come, and rather soon, if voters do not do what they must. Given a federal government dedicated to the forced eradication of abortion, might armed force be deployed to California (and other states) towards achieving that goal? I say, yes, in fact a Republican monopoly on power in less than three years would make this a virtual certainty. Plan on there being live ammunition and fire on command orders from the highest authorities. Plan on millions of Americans to either cheer such a response, or to meekly accept the coercion that it implies.
What would the deployment of National Guard troops and independent vigilante militias used to enforce a national ban on abortion look like? Not so tough to imagine, just start with the mirror of President Eisenhower’s deployments to enforce school desegregation. This will be used to frame such action with a major distinction: National Guard troops back then were never ordered to fire a shot. The moral mission of this prospective administration will demand that if blood is to be spilled, so be it. By now many Americans have been brainwashed by skillfully crafted propaganda to believe — truly believe — that their country has experienced a hostile takeover by what amounts to an outside force (i.e., liberal elites who practice pedophilia and the murder of children), indeed a force of absolute moral evil. A force intent on putting an end to America itself. The truth is that it is Democrats and liberals who want a country that accommodates civil discourse and political freedom just as much as they welcome racial and ethnic diversity. Unlike the alternative, there is a place in that country for anti-abortionist true believers.
Diversity of opinion about abortion echoes the underlying ethos now driving the Republican Party. Those who believe in the right of an individual to either choose or reject abortion support that no woman should ever be forced to undergo an abortion. Most Americans believe that the restrictions laid out in Roe are generally reasonable, if deserving of revision based on new scientific advances, i.e. with earlier viability of a fetus being a good example.
But those who oppose abortion seek to impose what is only an article of faith, generally driven by a particular religious conviction, on the entire population. That is exactly why polling for many years has consistently shown support for retaining the privacy rights guaranteed under Roe running about 2 to 1. The issue is not just personal to half of our adult population, it is intimate. There are other important matters facing voters this November; but nothing approaching the horrific mass personal impact that a post-Roe America, resulting in a 21st century inquisition, will have.
If voters fail to act on these stakes we will get exactly what we deserve. We know what will be coming, our eyes are now wide open. So, please, no excuses such as “a pox on both their houses.” This must be a wave election, just not the way the Cook Political Report predicts.
Laurie Simmons, “Mother/Nursery,” 1976, gelatin silver print, 9 7/8 x 7 15/16”. © Laurie Simmons. Courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York