Yesterday, in an interview on MSNBC, Donald Drumpf said that he would like to see women punished for having abortions. Later, he followed up with a “clarification,” saying that it’s the doctors who perform abortions who should be punished, not necessarily the women.
Those who hoped that Drumpf would maintain his previous, more moderate stances on women’s health and reproductive rights can now consider themselves fully disabused of that notion. He has no principles, only ambitions, so we can also be sure women’s bodily sovereignty isn’t the last set of rights Drumpf will sacrifice for his aspirations. (And, of course, it’s not the first: He’s already said he would challenge the 1st and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, etc.)
His shift on reproductive rights made me wonder, “Who is he hoping this message will attract?” He doesn’t need anti-choice conservatives to win the Republican nomination, so he must be looking past the convention, to the general election. I guess we’ll see in November if anti-choice fundamentalists and evangelicals can suspend their disbelief long enough to vote for this many-times-married, casino-owning, spineless flip-flopper.
But I’ve been thinking today about how well Drumpf’s new anti-abortion grandstanding will play with his current supporters, the ones who are pushing him over the top of the primaries with double-digit margins.
Drumpf’s current base — the angry white men putting their froth-mouthed fear of a brown planet on daily display at his rallies — are facing what they feel is an existential crisis. Within a couple decades or so, the United States will be a majority-minority nation and these AWMs are terrified they won’t be on top anymore. How will they know they are God’s chosen ones if they no longer get to lord it over the rest of us?
In addition to their worries over immigration and black/brown birth rates, there is the concern of race-mixing that Drumpf’s neo-Nazi supporters obsess over. How can the AWM dominance be maintained if the majority isn’t purely (or passably) white? It’s the end of the world as they know it.
The AWM’s existential crisis merges smoothly with that of the rabid anti-choice movement. It took me a while to see that what motivates many of the most vehemently anti-choice activists is the simple terror of not existing, but it’s there.
I made this discovery on the sidewalks of Milwaukee back in the summer of 1992. Milwaukee was a target for anti-abortion extremists who came in by the busload determined to shut down the city’s (then) five abortion clinics. As in other cities, hundreds of them would gather in front of the clinic doors and wave signs, chant, sing, and pray. They also chained themselves to the doors and put glue in the locks in an attempt to keep anyone from entering, trampled cops who tried to maintain order, and vociferously harassed any woman approaching the building, begging her to please don’t kill her baby, even if she was just coming in for a Pap smear.
With dozens of other Milwaukeeans, I was trained by NARAL to provide clinic protection. We stood shoulder to shoulder along the sidewalk to create a safe corridor through which clinic patients could reach the entrance. Clinic escorts were trained not to engage with the protesters, to keep our hands in sight if they approached (accusing clinic defenders of “attacking” anti-choicers was a common legal tactic), and to sing to avoid the temptation to speak when provoked.
That didn’t mean that the protesters didn’t try to engage with us. They often came right up to our faces to pray over us, to sing and speak in tongues, to sprinkle us with magic salt that would make us barren, to question us, and threaten us. One question they asked regularly was, “What if YOUR mom had had an abortion?”
The circularity of this proposition irritated me: If my mom had had an abortion instead of giving birth to me, I wouldn’t be around to care, right?
The question was so profoundly dumb and yet so frequently asked of me and my fellow defenders that summer, that I began to hear something else in it, a meaning much dearer and deeper to the asker. After looking so many of them in the face for hours on end, reading their signs, and listening to their prayers, I realized that what the protesters were actually asking was, “What if MY mom had had an abortion? What if I didn’t exist?”
And there Drumpf’s appeal to the AWMs and to the anti-choice voter is sealed. He will assert for them—strongly, terrifically, boldly: You exist. You matter. You are what makes America great-ish.
Until he doesn’t. If there’s one thing we know about Drumpf, it’s that at some point not too far down the road, he’ll decide that only he matters.