Doesn’t anyone vote against their self-interest anymore?

Today the Supreme Court will begin to hear a constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act. I don’t know how to talk about this without coming across as unbearably self-righteous, but mainly I just want to know that someone else knows what I’m talking about! Here’s the situation.

The ACA is what is making my family’s life tolerable right now. My husband and I are both self-employed, and even when one or the other of us worked for some company that offered employer-sponsored insurance, we couldn’t afford it. So, except for me when I was pregnant, we both went for nearly two decades without health insurance, and therefore with very little health care. This meant we always had the choice between risking bodily or financial ruin. We got away with it, more or less, because we were young. Now we are both 45, and the ACA, and the expanded Medicaid it funded in our state, came along just in time to save our bacon as we begin the long downhill slide into decrepitude. 

So I am following these hearings with fatalistic interest — interest because the decrepitude is speeding up, and fatalistic because there is nothing I can do about what the court decides. If the ACA is found unconstitutional and repealed, all I can do is petition my state reps to work out something else. That’s not nothing, but it’s not much. 

Here’s the part I’m having trouble conveying without sounding crazy. Several of my more liberal friends openly insisted that I oppose the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court specifically because they believed she would certainly favor ACA repeal. They made it clear that I was doing something bad to vulnerable people by not taking a stand against Barrett. And never mind that there was literally nothing I could do to change the course of events — and that events were by no means set in stone. The question of whether or not the ACA is constitutional was deemed irrelevant on the grounds that it’s very hard to be poor; and the fact that I know what it’s like to be poor just made my point of view more offensive in their eyes. I offended them just by not being personally angry at Amy.

I have a confession to make: I think the ACA is unconstitutional. Or it may be. I don’t really know, because I am a housewife who knows how to type, and those are my qualifications to speak on the topic of constitutional law. I very much hope our legislators find a way, with or without Barrett, to keep the ACA in place. I hope the courts decide it is constitutional, or that they can preserve the constitutional part that is useful to poor people. But I also hope that Supreme Court justices see it as their job to figure out whether something is constitutional or not! I’m really attached to this idea! 

There is no power on earth or under heaven that will keep you from instructing me, in the comments, about why I’m wrong about constitutional law, so go ‘head. But that’s not really my point. My first point is that I would never vote for a president based solely on the likelihood that he will appoint a judge who is likely to make a decision that I think will benefit me. This is partly because there are too many variables in play, and I’d much rather vote based on things that are indisputable, rather than things that are hypothetical.

But my primary point is that that every adult should vote against his self interest from time to time, and I will never stop being dumbfounded at how many people can’t accept this as normal, everyday virtuous American behavior. When I say, “I think so-and-so will happen, and that will likely hurt me, but thus-and-such is indisputably true, so I’m going to proceed based on that,” people look at me like I’m some kind of moron, and the want to argue with me that so-and-so will be BAD for me, BAD, you see. But I don’t make all my decisions on whether they will be bad for me or not, because I am not a psychopath. 

Don’t think I’m saying it’s only liberals who make these arguments. Conservatives do the exact same thing, just for different issues, and they’re just as baffled that I would ever vote for someone who has promised to do something that might hurt me. 

Am I missing something? Didn’t it used to be a quintessentially American thing that we cared about what was right, even if it wasn’t personally good for us? Didn’t there used to be such a thing as ideals that are separate from self-interest? Or am I laboring under some kind of penumbra of American Catholic masochism, wherein things that are hard and unpleasant automatically seem more virtuous? Or what?

I already know that I’m some kind of impossibly starry-eyed idealist because I still care about the separation of powers. Whatever. All I know is people I used to respect are straight up making arguments like “This vote is necessary to protect my stocks” or “I heavily depend on the coal industry, so I’m proud to give him my vote.” 

Don’t misunderstand. I get making compromises. I can’t remember the last time I went through a day without making compromises, political and otherwise. But I don’t get being okay with it. I don’t get pretending like it’s not a compromise. Making compromises should make you unhappy, either because it hurts your conscience or it hurts your bottom line. Voting should make you unhappy! Why aren’t more of you people unhappy? That’s what gets me. 

Maybe we really should be restricting who gets to vote — not based on land ownership or bank accounts or education, but based on your ability to even consider voting against your own self interest. Maybe voter registration should be designed like one of those wretched social experiments they perform on kids: You can eat this piece of candy now, or you can give two pieces of candy to your mommy. Except your mommy is the constitution, and the candy is your self-respect.

Listen, whatever party you belong to is going to screw you over eventually, because that is what parties do. If you think your party is going to always help you out all the time, that’s a sign you’ve become an absolute amoeba, and have simply learned how to brainwash your own self into believing good is bad. Voting against your self-interest is like swallowing something prickly because you’ve been gorging on pudding so long, you’re in danger of forgetting how to chew. Snap out of it! Especially if you make a big deal about honoring the founding fathers. It’s as if people think the point of democracy is so everyone gets their chance to be their very own King George III.  

Voting against your self-interest reminds you that no system will save you. The constitution won’t save you, either. But at least it’s something outside of yourself. You do remember there’s something outside yourself, right? 

Remember the scene in The Silver Chair, when Puddleglum stamped on the witch’s fire, and the children woke right up? He broke the spell partly because the magic fire was out, but also partly because the room now smelled like burnt Puddleglum. That’s what democracy should smell like: A nice, pungent stink of self-sacrificial burning flesh, that breaks the trance and reminds us we’re not in paradise here and never will be. More Puddleglum, please. 

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Image via Pxhere. (Creative Commons)

In defense of ignoring Amy Coney Barrett

This past week, I joined the vast, cranky ranks of the quarantined. I had some Covid-like boggy lung symptoms and spent four days holed up in my bedroom, waiting for my test results. Happily, they came back negative, and I was allowed to crawl out of my cave.

I felt like I passed another test, too: I resisted listening to the Amy Coney Barrett hearings. If you don’t know me, you don’t know how weird that is. I am an intensely political person (that was me at age 14, standing in the slush on a busy street corner, waving a homemade Jack Kemp sign). Even when I do not have a huge, open swath of quarantine time to devote to politics and the news, I love to gorge on current events.

If you knew me, you’d expect me to be all in with the hearings, in particular. How Amy Coney Barrett is received is especially relevant to me as a working, feminist, Catholic mother with a large family. Like Ms. Barrett, I have had “vagina clown car” insults thrown at me by people who profess to believe in reproductive choice. Strangers who know nothing about me have declared I must be either neglecting my kids or shorting my job because no one could possibly be both a good mother and a good worker. I have been informed that, because of my Catholic faith, I want all women to be the legal property of their husbands and the state. Like Ms. Barrett, I have been mercilessly dragged for my clothing choice, even when no sane person could find fault with it. The woman even gets dinged for her crazy eyes, and I, too, have crazy eyes.

But I am not unreservedly on team Amy Coney Barrett. I was dismayed when she and her maskless family starred in what turned out to be a superspreader event. I am someone whose life has been transformed by the Affordable Care Act and who desperately needs it not to be deemed unconstitutional. And I have become increasingly alarmed at the spectacle of white adoptive families using their Black children as a shield against accusations of racism. Ms. Barrett herself has not done this, as far as I know, but she does seem to speak freely in public about her Black children’s trauma. And there is that photo where her white family is front and center, and her Black children are arranged as bookends.

And there it is. There is one of the reasons I have not been following the hearings… Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image via Pxfuel

Between Brock Turner and Brett Kavanaugh, when do girls matter?

Did Brett Kavanaugh try to rape a 15-year-old girl when he was seventeen? Did he drag her into a bedroom, hold her down on a bed, grind on her, try to tear off her clothes, and hold his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream? I don’t know. I sure hope we find out.  We should delay the vote on his appointment while we investigate, because the stakes are pretty high, and we all agree we don’t want an attempted rapist on the Supreme Court. Right?

Ah, we don’t agree.  Well, dammit.

A large contingent of Americans on social media are openly saying they don’t care if he’s guilty. They are saying things like:

At seventeen, his brain was still developing, so his culpability is reduced.

Hey, he was drunk when he did it. We all do stupid things when we’re drunk. 

This is normal hetero hijinx. Boys will be boys. It’s not admirable, but it sure is common — shows the guy is normal, in fact. Heck, high five, Brett. Studly guys like us all have some notches on our belts, wink wink. 

And most of all:

But it happened so long ago. There’s no indication he’s still like that. We’re really going to hold him responsible for something that happened so long ago?

There is no sober, cautious examination of the facts, here, from his supporters. All of these arguments rush to the conclusion that he did do exactly what Christine Blasey Ford accuses him of doing. And they are okay with that. They’re willing to wave away the violent attempted rape of a 15-year-old girls as inconsequential. Why?

Because  . . . she was just a girl, and that’s what girls are for.

That’s the only answer I keep coming back to. Part of me wants to say that the GOP is so bristling with misogyny and the desperate need to appear macho that they’re always willing to throw women under the bus when power is at stake. Look how readily they nominated and elected a confessed abuser, and (to pick one example at random) look how quickly they toggled from “Stormy Daniels is a dirty liar” to “Hey, now, bribing a hooker isn’t an impeachable offense.”

But if that answered it, then the dems would be different, and they’re not. Handsy Uncle Joe Biden, anyone? You know he’s going to run next election. Bill Clinton, anyone? You know that man is a rapist. And yet he’s never once stopped being the progressives’ darling, because he’s also their sugar daddy and he gets them what they want. And if you have to wink at a few rapes, well, they’re just women. That’s what women are for.

Right now, it happens to be the GOP who wants to give a lifetime supreme court appointment to someone credibly accused of a serious sexual crime. Next time, or the time after that, it will be a progressive again, because some people — Al Franken springs to mind — are just too useful to be shucked away for a little thing like sexually abusing a little thing like a woman.

They’re just girls, and girls are here for men to use. Just like it was just a girl that Brock Turner violently raped behind a dumpster while she was unconscious. It was just a girl when those guys from Steubenville gang raped her and posted the video online. And they got a slap on the wrist and were allowed to get on with their lives, while their young victim is still used as shorthand, in Steubenville circles, for “lying whore.” Because she’s just a girl.

When a young man gets drunk and tries to rape a girl, there will always be someone to say he shouldn’t be punished too severely — shouldn’t lose his place on the team, shouldn’t be kicked out of school, certainly shouldn’t serve any jail time — because don’t you see, he has so much promise? This might damage his future!

And what about her future? What about her? Who is thinking about the actual human girl in Blasey’s account, who wept and screamed and fought back, while those normal, healthy, hetero boys turned up the music and pushed her back onto the bed?

It was so long ago. Well, If Blasey had gone to someone with her story that very night, what do you suppose they would have told her?

Now, Christine. Brett is a very bright young man with a promising future. Why, I bet he could be on the Supreme Court someday. 

Brock Turner got six months (a longer sentence would have had “a severe impact” on him) and served three, because he had so much promise.  Austin Wilkerson raped an unconscious girl (after pretending to help her, to throw off the scent of onlookers) and was punished by having to sleep in jail, but went to school and work as normal during the day. David Becker got two years probation after raping two unconscious girls. Because those boys had such a bright future ahead of them. They’re just being boys! This is what happens! This is what boys do! But the girls? Well . . . this is what girls get. This is what they are for.

This is what you are saying, when you want to give men a pass for something they did long ago. This is what you are conveying to millions of women who have been raped and abused, when you allow yourself to say “yes, yes, sure, sure, of course rape is bad, but this is the supreme court we’re talking about, here! This isn’t just the rape of a girl we’re talking about, this is serious!”

I know how hard it is to see this clearly, to keep this firmly in mind when there’s a political storm swirling around. I know you want to talk about how awful Dianne Feinstein is, and how biased the media is, and how suspicious the timing of it all is. Hell, I fell for that with Anita Hill. I let them convince me that Clarence Thomas was the savior we needed to put this country to rights, and that this trashy, unhinged woman was just sniffing around him looking for glory, probably paid off by some secret politics operatives to make up a story that didn’t even sound true.

But believe it or not, politics isn’t the most important thing. A supreme court nomination isn’t the most important thing. The most important thing, when stories like this are in the news, is the victim, and how we treat them, how we speak about them. The most important thing is that we don’t lose ourselves in the ideological storm, and allow ourselves to say anything that even sounds like “but it was just attempted rape” or “but he was just a teenager when he did it.” When you say that, you are telling victims that it doesn’t matter what happened to them, because they are just girls. Boys need their bright futures, but rape is what girls are for.

If we want to argue that the poor boy’s brain is still developing and we need to take that into account, then what about her developing brain? What about her sense of self worth that’s being so violently malformed, first by her assailant, and then by the crowds of people saying he’s normal and she’s a lying, scheming, whore?

Or the argument that boys are hormonal volcanoes just boiling over with sex, and this is how they learn, you see. They learn from their mistakes, and they get to move on, don’t you see. So I wonder how many girls they get to learn on. Do they get one rape freebie, and then after that, they’re responsible for knowing that rape is bad? Or do they get one attempted rape per year, as long as they learn a little bit more each time? I have eight daughters. How many of my daughters is it okay for a seventeen-year-old boy to try to rape, as long as it’s part of their learning process, and they have a bright future?

Girls . . . are human. Girls are not there for the benefit of helping boys to turn into men. They are not there to be soiled and then tossed on the heap while boys go out and buy themselves a whole new look, a whole new life.

If you don’t want men to be dragged down by decades-old accusations of rape, then you need to crack down on minutes-old accusations of rape as they happen. But that’s not how it goes. Still, even now, that’s not how it goes.

When a woman says, “This man raped me a long time ago,” we say, “But that was in the past. He can’t change the past.” When a girl says, “This boy raped me last night,” we say, “But his future! We can’t wreck his future.” And there she stands, suspended between his past and his future, with no value of her own except for how much she’s worth to whichever political party is feeling desperate today.

There are some acts which are so abhorrent, they cannot simply be forgotten. I have sons, as well as daughters. They’re not yet seventeen, and yet they know you’re not supposed to get drunk, and if you do get drunk, you’re still not supposed to rape anybody, not even a little bit. They know this. Seventeen is not a child. If, at that age, you have a son who’s still unclear on the whole “Don’t get drunk and sexually savage girls,” thing, then he should be involuntarily committed. There’s no grey area where he gets to sacrifice a few girls while he figgers it out. Because that’s not what girls are for. Girls are human.

But when grown men tell teenage boys that a smattering of attempted rape is normal, expected, excusable behavior; that all boys do something like this because they’re still developing; and that it’s not worth worrying about because it was so long ago, then this is what they’re doing: they’re educating a whole new generation in the uses and abuses of the bodies and psyches of girls and women, for the sake of men, who alone are real.

Think. Think about what you’re implying when you are willing to wave away accusations of attempted rape. Think about what you’re telling girls about what they’re for. Think about what you’re telling boys about what they’re for. Think about what you’re telling victims about what they’re worth. Think about how you’re talking about these things. Think about who is listening.

He says he didn’t do it. I hope his party has the integrity to at least try to find out, because if they say “it’s important” but then appoint him without an investigation, they don’t really think it’s important.

But that’s out of my hands. What I’m talking about here is how we talk about boys, and how we talk about girls, and how we talk about rape. What’s in our control is to guard ourselves, to change how we respond to stories of rape. To be consistent and humane whether it’s our guy on the witness stand or not. Because if it’s not our guy this time, it will be next time, depend on it.

Hell yes, an attempted rape accusation matters. Even a very old one. Even though it was just a girl.

I’ll say it again: I don’t know if Kavanaugh is guilty or not. I don’t know if Blasey is telling the truth or not. I’m saying it’s a big fucking deal when 17-year-old boys try to rape 15-year-old girls, whether their names are Brett and Christine or not.

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Related: If she was sexually assaulted, why didn’t she say something sooner?

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Image by bOred via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Will the Catholic Church be hurt by the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage?

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Hats off to everyone who was surprised by today’s Supreme Court ruling that states cannot constitutionally ban gay marriage. Hats off for your optimism and your faith in the judicial branch!

Those of us with a more jaded view knew that this ruling was inevitable, and that the seeds for this decision were sown decades ago, when contraception and no fault divorce became the norm.  If marriage is just a financial and emotional arrangement to make adults happy, why not gay marriage? If marriage is just an official pronouncement that some people love each other, then why not? Gay people can love each other.

 

Of course, Catholics don’t believe that marriage is just an official pronouncement that some people love each other. And of course our job remains what it has always been: to faithfully, doggedly, charitably continue to explain that a sacramental marriage is between one man and one woman for the benefit of their children, for the benefit of society, and for the benefit of each other. It’s not that we will not accept gay  marriage, it’s that we cannot.

If we Catholics are clear on what marriage is, how much will it affect us when the rest of the country is all mixed up? I don’t believe that priests and ministers will be prosecuted – jailed, fined, or strung up in the public square – for refusing to officiate at gay marriages. But I do believe that churches are in immediate danger of losing their tax exempt status if they are found to discriminate against people in gay (and other non monogamous, non hetero) unions.

If you read the bottom of Huffington Post or any typical American combox, you’ll get the impression that churches are exempt from paying taxes because, in the bad old days, religion was in control and the poor taxpayers didn’t know any better than to fork over their hard earned dollars to a bunch of corrupt prelates who spent it on fancy robes, wine, and cages in which to imprison women and the occasional altar boy (and if we’re talking about Los Angeles, this was more or less true. It’s getting better!).

But now we know better, says the bottom of the internet, So tax ‘em, but good! Seem fair, especially if you’ve been taught that religion is mainly a giant oppression machine.

But the truth is, churches are tax exempt because they are good for the community. They serve the people, and the revenue they take in shouldn’t be taxed by the government because it’s used to do the work that government isn’t able to do on its own. Even if you think there is no God, you have to admit that churches do good for the community even while teaching and believing things that the community isn’t always happy to hear. This has always been the case.

In my state of New Hampshire, nearly every charitable organization is run by Catholic Charities. Food, shelter, counselling, services for homeless people, abused women, and immigrants — Catholic Charities does it all. They run under names like “NH Food Bank,” but it’s all Catholic Charities; and Catholic Charities is, of course, inseparable from the Catholic Church.

So what would happen if churches lost their tax exemption? Poof goes Catholic Charities (and all the fine organizations manned and funded by non-Catholic churches, as well! The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, but it is by no means the only one). Poof goes their ability to serve the poor, the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the nuts, etc. etc. Poof go the vulnerable.

Goodness knows we’ve already seen how this works. When Catholic organizations declined to place children with gay couples for adoption and foster care, they lost their contract with many states. They were unable to comply with a law that violated their faith, and so they were forced to shut down. This secular media portrayed this as “evil Catholics would rather abandon helpless children than make a loving couple’s dream come true” rather than “society would rather see children go without parents if it means that gay couples won’t be able to work with every agency in the state.” So we know that the Tolerance Inc. has no qualms about sacrificing the helpless if they think they can make Christians hurt; and we know that these injuries will be portrayed as self-inflicted.

What to do about it? I have no idea. It makes some sense to get churches altogether out of the business of offering civil marriages. If the state wants to define marriage, let the state performs all those marriages, and let people pursue sacramental marriages in the churches as a separate thing. I suspect that even then, if sacramental and civil marriage are decoupled, churches will face discrimination lawsuits, just like bakers and inn owners faced lawsuits for refusing to facilitate gay couple’s weddings. They’ll win some and lose some. There is no legal coherence in this country anymore.

People have no idea how much our nation depends on the Church. Well, they’re about to find out.

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At the Register: SCOTUS: Pro-Lifers Are Citizens, Too

In effect, the law [which was just ruled unconstitutional] created a First and Fourteenth Amendment-Free Zone for a certain class of people. It made it a crime for some citizens to be on a public sidewalk, or to say things in public. Today’s decision reasserts that all citizens have equal protection under the law, and should enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. In short: you can be places and say things and not go to jail for it, even if you’re a pro-lifer.

Read the rest at The Register.