It seems to me that this period of political history illustrates the danger of complacency quite perfectly… militaristic aggression by powerful nations, restrictions to the right to vote, restrictions in free speech, ever-increasing corruption of politics by money, governments breaking their own laws, political parties gaslighting the public… all of which has become commonplace in the world during my lifetime: often so normalised that it is no longer even questioned – merely passed-off as “ah well, that’s politics for ya…”
This week saw yet another stark example of that: the leak of the draft judgement by the Supreme Court of the United States of America which (if published as is) will rule against the automatic right of abortion for women in the United States of America. Why is this an example of complacency? Surely this is just a result of Trump having loaded the bench with judges who favour restricting abortion rights? In part perhaps, but I don’t see it that way…
I have been reading the judgement itself, and from the perspective of someone not legally trained, I can honestly say that the judgement seems to me to be sound. The premise of the original Roe vs Wade ruling was that abortion was an accepted legal right of citizens at the time of writing of the constitution of the United States of America and so it was protected under the IXth Amendment. Whereas according to this judgement, in fact most States in America had ruled abortion illegal – and hence it cannot be considered an automatic right. It should be noted, that there is a lot of debate around this interpretation – and that it is a constant topic on conversation: and this is the point – why has this debate not be addressed formally? The Roe vs Wade decision was passed down by the Supreme Court in 1973 – nearly 50 years ago… and yet in all that time, not one President thought that maybe they should pass a law to actually formalise the whole thing? Hence complacency…
From a personal perspective, I fully support the right to have an abortion (in all circumstances), and I live in a country (France) where it is a right which is enshrined in law. This right is not based on precedent, there is an actual law granting women this right. When a law is passed, the constitutional question of whether or not something is a right or not becomes largely academic – so one can only question why it is that the 9 American Presidents since Richard Nixon, have completely and utterly failed to do anything about this. Political will?
Polls in the United States of America show varying results, however it is safe to say that a majority of those polled indicate support for abortion in all or most cases (59%-80% depending upon the polling agency). One would think then that the decision to pass a law legalising abortion shouldn’t be all that contentious – even given that a hard 40% of people are against it. Yet this is where complacency comes in… with a Supreme Court decision effectively allowing abortion to take place – where is the need to push something which could conceivably lose you votes – or perhaps more importantly, political donations and good press coverage! This failure/ refusal/ unwillingness to act has persisted, with Presidents variously either taking anti-abortion positions, or taking a strict legal position, à la “in accordance with Roe vs Wade” – and in most cases there has been support provided for the position that federal funds should not be used to support or pay for abortions except in the case of rape or incest. All of which suggests that despite the 1973 ruling, political money (if not actual public opinion) has been firmly rooted in the anti-abortion camp.
Thus, for 50 years, the debate concerning abortion has been allowed to fester – like many other debates… and please consider that the issue for me here is not that abortion should be legal, the issue is rather that once again debate has been stifled because of political fears. The political will (read here: influence and money?) seems to be firmly behind the anti-abortion stance – and this despite the public opinion being on the other side. So politicians have contented themselves with avoiding the issue, relying instead on someone else to take responsibility – the Supreme Court.
The concept that voters can decide at the ballot box what policies they want to implement is a fallacy when politicians are unwilling to position themselves on issues – or worse still, when they position themselves in favour of the least unpalatable position – such as merely doing nothing and maintaining the status quo.
Complacency is not leadership. The problem with complacency is that when faced with someone with a position of principle, that definite position can succeed – because the people who support it will react. We therefore need to have leaders who are prepared not simply to accept that someone else takes a position, we need leaders who actively state their position and who seek to implement it. It you are in favour of the legal decision to allow the abortion of a non-viable foetus, then pass the law to say so. If on the other hand you believe that abortions are immoral then pass a law to say so.
Complacency will eventually lead us into a society which slowly becomes aligned with the messages that those in power wish to push, because unless someone actually stands up and fucking says something, those are the only messages the public will ever hear.