One of the first lessons they teach you about political strategy is to avoid accidentally shooting yourself in the foot. Clever strategists, therefore, know how to craft long-term plans that mitigate unintended consequences. For many years now, however, the congressional Republicans have been ignoring this basic rule, and with the ascension of a Trump-branded GOP, half the voting population operates within Trumpism’s “eternal now” brand of politics. Simply put, everything that went before and everything that might follow an act or remark has been rendered irrelevant in deference to the moment. This is Donald Trump’s sole mode of operation.
Over the weekend, the president returned to a familiar topic. Trump again demanded that Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans abandon the filibuster. As you might recall, the most recent push for the “nuclear option” began during the fracas over Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court confirmation and ended with McConnell leaning down hard on his big red button, fulfilling Trump’s demand. Now, a year later, Trump’s at it again, urging McConnell to annihilate the filibuster -- this time on legislation rather than just judicial nominations.
They say dogs are wired to believe that whatever’s happening in the moment will continue in perpetuity. A dog enjoying a good scratch behind the ears believes the scratching sensation will continue forever. Leave a dog at home while you run to the store, and the dog believes you’ve abandoned them for good. (It’s also why they’re so thrilled when you return.) Dogs exist in the eternal now. Trump, likewise, believes that if McConnell categorically nukes the filibuster, the Republican majority will be the sole beneficiary, and this legislative advantage will last forever. Trump doesn’t seem to realize that the Democrats will surely win back a Senate majority at some point, conceivably as soon as the November midterms. Even 51 Democrats would allow the new majority to pass legislation at will, with Republicans having neutered themselves by dumping the existing 60-vote threshold to invoke cloture.
Simply put: If McConnell indulges Trump’s filibuster wishes, it won’t be long before Republicans regret it. If there really is a Democratic majority in January, we'll see a conga line of Trump tweets demanding that Chuck Schumer restore the filibuster because not having one is “so unfair!” Ditching the filibuster is literally the opposite of being “smart.”
Those Republicans who are pushing for a Supreme Court nominee who will support overturning Roe v. Wade could be walking into a similarly self-inflicted propeller.
Laurence Tribe is a constitutional law scholar at Harvard Law who’s argued nearly three dozen cases before the Supreme Court, dating back to the early 1980s. Tribe reminded us on Sunday that stripping Americans of the right to privacy, and therefore sovereignty over what happens inside one’s body, could have serious unintended consequences. In a thread clearly written in response to the potential overturning of Roe, Tribe wrote: “Read Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where SCOTUS said that, unless a woman’s right to choose is specially protected, government would be empowered to compel abortions as well as prevent them.”
The section of Casey he’s referencing indeed suggests that Roe affirms the right of citizens to retain “personal autonomy and bodily integrity” and therefore backstops “cases recognizing limits on governmental power to mandate medical treatment or to bar its rejection.” Justices Kennedy, O’Connor and Souter further argued that the “State's interest in the protection of life falls short” of infringing on the aforementioned personal autonomy and integrity. Overturning Roe would overturn this right.
You’ll never hear Roe-haters tell you they want to strip not just women but all citizens of a right we’ve retained for nearly 50 years. Trump's next appointment could wipe away the right to "personal autonomy and integrity" and calcify a near-permanent 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court. The gang that warned us about “death panels” and shrieked about keeping the government out of decisions between us and our doctors is getting ready to push a conservative nominee for the Court under the assumption that this would-be nominee will support overturning Roe and the stripping of personal freedom over private medical decisions. Or to paraphrasing Barney Frank, conservatives want to shrink government small enough to fit inside our bodies.
It’s not a stretch to buy the commonsensical aspect of what the Court ruled in both Roe and Casey: Repealing privacy rights could carry serious unintended consequences, including the government mandating certain medical procedures, or banning other procedures that don’t fully conform to the dogmas of whoever happens to be in charge. It’s not a stretch to forecast the mandatory sterilizations of prison inmates or, linking this to another major crisis of our time, the sterilization of immigrants seeking asylum.
Already, we’ve heard about child detainees in internment camps being forced to take unknown and undisclosed medications. Additionally, the Alex Jones crowd is particularly militant in its opposition to mandatory RFID microchipping as well as vaccinations and the like. Strip away our sovereignty over our own bodies and we put ourselves and our personal liberty at serious risk, allowing potential authoritarians to mandate all kinds of nefarious medical treatments.
I understand that many people feel a genuine obsession with protecting the "preborn." That said, I also agree with the point of George Carlin’s observation about conservative ideology: “If you’re preborn, you’re fine. If you’re pre-school, you’re fucked.” (See also migrant internment camps.) I also believe overturning Roe has much more to do with controlling and oppressing women, and I strongly disagree, as did the Supreme Court in the Roe decision, that protecting fetal life should supersede women's sovereignty over their own bodies.
What I don’t understand at all is the deeply flawed and dangerous opinion that the government should control what women -- and men, for that matter -- do with our bodies, especially our internal organs. It's shocking that conservatives with one foot in libertarianism refuse to prioritize such an essential liberty, even though common sense and the Casey ruling make clear that the door could swing both ways. Worse, it’s not impossible to envision government controlled by either party exploiting the absence of privacy rights to exert control over much more than reproductive organs.
The question for Trump and his disciples is simple: Is this a risk you’re willing to take? If so, be careful what you wish for. Sure, it’s difficult for zealots to see beyond the anti-choice propaganda and the grisly photos that accompany it, but take some time to consider the unintended consequences. Today you’re supporting the government’s power over the uteruses of American women. What will the government, be it state or federal, want to control in your body after that? And what will stop it? Certainly not Roe and its privacy rights, not after Trump and his Supreme Court strip those away.