On Friday (June 24) the conservative majority activist Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and effectively ended federal abortion rights for women across the country. As thousands upon thousands protest and organize from coast-to-coast, the vast majority of Democratic leadership has responded in the usual milquetoast way. Aside from a very vocal progressive segment, Democrats from President Biden on down have uttered their disdain but frankly, they are devoid of the anger and passion that this perilous moment demands. Unlike Republicans who feign outrage any chance they get, much of the Democratic establishment does the bare minimum to string along their supporters without any semblance of the fierce urgency of now.
Following the historic Presidential election of Barack Obama in 2008, one of his immediate failures was abandoning the powerful, multicultural coalition that supported him, including a significantly large enthusiastic crop of new and young voters. Rather than capitalizing on all of that vigor, President Obama left a powerful, youthful and passionate base without marching orders and without anywhere to place their energy. What resulted was extreme complacency and (to quote him) a ‘shellacking’ in the 2010 midterms. The Republican Party eagerly tapped into their usual Islamophobic, racist and fear-mongering tactics to drum up their supporters and usher in the Tea Party wave — the precursor to today’s far-right GOP.
Fast-forward to the 2016 election, and we saw much of the same dynamic play out. A progressive, young faction of the Democratic Party was castigated and often dismissed as not serious. Rather than utilizing their fervor to their own advantage, the Democratic establishment did everything to keep them and their concerns to the back-burner. They were told that they were too far to the left, and that they didn’t speak for the Party — a dynamic that continues to this day. Despite the fact that Hillary Clinton (who did not represent many of their ideals) clinched the nomination, many young people, progressives and yes Bernie supporters understood the larger threat of a Donald Trump Presidency and put their support behind the nominee even though the Party didn’t do much to court them and their votes aside from saying ‘we’re better than the alternative’.
Contrast this with Republicans. During that same election, there were a million GOP Presidential hopefuls including from one the most coveted conservative families. But once it became clear that the excitement and energy was with the former reality TV star, many people began to change their tune. Even candidates who previously openly denounced Trump, sure enough began to kiss the ring. Rather than fight the base or demoralize their energy, the Republican establishment did what it does best: fall in line.
Some of the 2016 GOP candidates and the Party establishment would sometimes utter their shock and disgust at Donald Trump’s racist comments, bigoted policies, sexual assault allegations and xenophobic rallying cry. The ‘never-Trumpers’, mainstream Republicans and some of their voters would say that they didn’t necessarily like Trump’s words and behavior at times, but had no problem supporting him nonetheless. The fact of the matter is, when it was apparent that Trump’s celebrity campaign was too much of a force to quell, they knew they could use him to get everything they ever wanted, including foremost Supreme Court seats.
A common refrain is that Trump, the most unstable President, was able to nominate so many Justices to the Court and set us on this dangerous trajectory of eroding our rights. As much as I despise 45, the reality is that he was, in essence, simply a useful idiot for the right. Evil genius Mitch McConnell withheld a vacancy on the highest court until they were back in control. Conservative think tanks like the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation supplied lists of potential candidates for the Supreme Court to Trump and his team — he didn’t just magically come up with those individuals or do a deep-dive of his own, let’s be real. They used him and his popularity among the base to get people in positions of power that they wanted. And their calculated, methodical plan worked perfectly.
Following Friday’s devastating Supreme Court ruling overturning nearly 50 years of what was thought to be settled law, many Democratic elected officials responded with calls to ‘get out the vote’ this November and some even boldly asked for campaign donations. What we didn’t hear however from President Biden and leadership in the Party was a move to expand the Court, or a concerted push to eliminate the filibuster. Alas, those measures might be too ‘extreme’ and are only championed by the ‘woke left’. This attitude and lack of an adequate response are so insulting that they might as well outright say yeah we’d like to do something, but we don’t want to rock the boat so much that we hinder our chances at re-election.
Any intelligent voter is keenly aware of the importance of elections, including midterms, especially when so much is on the line. But many among the all-important base of young people, voters of color and progressives are understandably tired of being told to show up and vote, only to have Party leaders throw their hands in the air as basic human rights are under attack. As officials like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have pointed out, there is a lot that President Biden can do at this moment. Increasing access to abortion medication, providing federal resources for people seeking abortion care in other states and using federal property/land to assist women now living under right-wing state laws are a few examples. Then of course there’s always Trump’s favorite: Executive Orders.
Without taking definitive steps to fight back against the onslaught of laws stripping away our fundamental rights and liberties, President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and others are just saying all the right buzz words without backing it up with concrete actions. They are once again bringing a pontificating thought to a knife fight. Young voters and the diverse core of the Democratic Party are simply tired of it; it isn’t voter apathy, it’s voter frustration.
Friday’s devastating news is a continuation of the Court’s attack on basic civil rights, including the right to vote (which culminated in 2013 when they gutted the Voting Rights Act) — and they are just getting started. As far-right Justice Clarence Thomas already hinted, other rights, including access to contraception and same-sex marriage, are on the chopping block.
These are dire times, and we need Democratic leaders to respond to these threats with a call to action that matches the weight of this moment. It is insulting to continuously expect people to shut up and vote when you don’t fight for them with the same passion and the same loyalty. In the face of such blatant radical laws and attacks on our freedoms, the response from the Party that purports itself to uphold democratic values must be to fight as if our lives depend on it. Because for some of us, it does.
This article first appeared in Medium. Click here to go to the original.