A Pox on Both Houses
My friend and colleague, Jackson Yenor, recently wrote a response to Josh Frey’s critique of the State of the Union. Frey claims that Trump’s SOTU rhetoric on abortion was empty, and, knowing that nothing could be passed through the legislature, the President made these bold proclamations in order to superficially appear firm on the Pro-Life issue. Yenor is much more forgiving, arguing that the “thrice married playboy whose own life cannot clear any sincere definition of moral behavior,” is the predominate hero of the Pro-Life movement today. Donald Trump is not the hero we need, but may be the one we deserve.
The President has taken some action to further the pro-life agenda during his tenure, such as appointing Pro-Life judges and returning the power to defund Planned Parenthood to the states. Most recently the President, while attempting to "build a culture that cherishes innocent life," barred clinics that provide abortions or abortion referrals from federal funding. Although Trump’s track record while in office makes me question if substantial and lasting policy change is his real goal.
Donald Trump was slowly bleeding support due to the government shutdown and chose to seize the opportunity to once again rile up his most fervent supports. In the time between the shutdown and the SOTU, a Virginia delegate proposed a law that would allow for a child to be aborted during the 40th week of pregnancy, or even in the midst of active labor. These acts of infanticide were praised by the Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. In New York the legislature cheered when it passed a law which removed abortion from New York's criminal code and allows for abortions of any reason up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Knowing full well that no pro-life bill would pass through the House, and that even a bland—albeit necessary—Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would struggle in the Senate, our President sought to enrage his supporters and direct them at the enemy (in this case Nancy Pelosi and any number of other House Democrats).
As Frey rightfully points out, Trump had two years of governmental control and did not make much federal headway with abortion, border security, or any number of his other campaign promises. When his poll numbers are on the line, however, he has proven his willingness to make grand showings of Republican values in an effort to recuperate whatever support he can.
Ending his essay, Yenor claims, “Motives matter less than Frey thinks.” However, I argue Frey did not go far enough in condemning the dishonest motives behind some of the SOTU claims. We, as a nation, once wished for good people and good ideas to govern; now it seems the American public prefer their own ideas and anyone but the other side’s people. Neither party is devoid of this plague.
Donald Trump, who four years ago stated that Republicans could not allow then President Obama to “subvert the Constitution” of the United States due to his inability to negotiate with Congress, is now doing the same thing. Trump himself claims “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” Mike Pence as Governor claimed that the President usurping power and end-running the consent of the governed would be a “profound mistake” and a dereliction of duty. Ted Cruz in 2014 argued, “It's incumbent on Republicans in Congress to use every single tool we have to defend the rule of law, to rein in the President, so that the President does not become an unaccountable monarch imposing his policies...." It now seems as though these once staunch defenders of the Constitution have changed their tune. When did we choose to subvert norms and bend the rule of law in order to more expediently “own the libs”?
Both Democrats and Republicans are not attempting to whitewash the behavior of their political officials to fit true moral and ethical standards; but rather we have begun to warp these standards to fit the actions and vices of “our guys” in office. Our values begin to die when we justify empty rhetoric and vile actions by public officials just because we share a common party identity.