Counterrevolution, American style: With overturn of Roe, one more giant stride toward the past
The draft Supreme Court decision to overturn the landmark abortion case of Roe v. Wade that established a constitutional right to abortion half a century ago is one more milestone in the decades-long multi-pronged counterrevolution in the United States. The ruling, leaked to news site Politico and confirmed as authentic although not final by Chief Justice John Roberts, is a slashing attack against the Roe ruling calling it “egregiously wrong.”
The counterrevolution is intended to reverse the trend toward social, political, and economic reforms that took place during the 1960s and 1970s. The Supreme Court has been playing a key role in this turn to the right since it has been loaded by reactionary jurists by successive Republican administrations. Meanwhile, the GOP leadership in the Senate, headed by Mitch McConnell, refused to even give a hearing to Merrick Garland, a more liberal judge nominated for the Supreme Court by Democrat Barack Obama.
If the Roe decision is finalized, it will be the third seismic ruling delivered by the Supreme Court in the last decade. In Citizens United a decade ago, the Supreme Court threw out virtually all limits on political donations by wealthy corporations and individuals. It was a bonanza for Republicans who have always been the party of the well-off. The decision enables the GOP to translate their gains from the sharp decreases in taxation on business and the rich by Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump into more political power they can then convert into more monetary gains in an endless cycle. While the reversal of Roe should be viewed as a step in the restoration of the patriarchy, Citizens United is a giant step away from democracy and toward plutocracy.
The third major Supreme Court decision with wide-ranging societal repercussions was the 2013 Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Act paralleled the short-lived period of Reconstruction that followed the Civil War during which the federal government protected the right of newly freed Blacks to political participation. In the first act, when Union troops left the South effectively ending Reconstruction, Southerners quickly moved to disenfranchise and terrorize African Americans.
We are living a second act in the tragedy of American racism and white supremacy aided and enabled this time by the Supreme Court. For instance, on December 19, 2021, the New York Times, under the headline ‘Map by Map, G.O.P. Chips Away at Black Democrats’ Power,’ reported that:
“Black elected officials in several states, from Congress down to the counties, have been drawn out of their districts this year or face headwinds to hold onto their seats.” The “headwinds” have been produced deliberately by Republican politicians in the South and other parts of the country to cheat their way to a win in 2024 and beyond by carrying out a second great disenfranchisement.
I call all this a counterrevolution, even though the United States did not experience a classical revolution with a climactic moment in the 1960s and 1970s like the storming of the Winter Palace or the fall of the Bastille, because the transformations that happened during those decades, taken together, amounted to a slow-motion but major revolution.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the repeal of the racist immigration law that from 1924 to 1965 prevented almost everyone except persons from northern Europeans countries from immigrating into the United States, and the 2015 decision by a more liberal Supreme Court to legalize same sex marriage, along with Roe and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, were all revolutionary.
The Supreme Court made the Voting Rights Act virtually irrelevant via its 2013 ruling. The argument wielded by the right at the time was that there was no longer a problem with Black disenfranchisement and therefore the Justice Department should no longer have oversight of changes in electoral laws and procedures in districts with a record of discrimination.
This was cynical and false. Those who argued that line knew better. The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was prescient in dissent when she countered that you should not throw away your umbrella just because it is not raining now. It could rain tomorrow. And it has. We are today amid a downpour as we witness multiple, brazen Republican schemes for disenfranchising voters who oppose them. If Roe is overturned, as seems almost certain, many other individual rights will be imperiled, from contraception to gay marriage.
The proof that what we are undergoing is a counterrevolution, rather than just a series of disconnected turns rightward, is the fact that virtually every progressive policy enacted during the slow-motion revolution has been reversed or under attack. Trump’s immigration policy and rhetoric evidently harkens back to the racist 1924 law, as when he asked why are we admitting people from these “shithole countries” (in reference to Haitians) and so few (white) Norwegians? Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s anti-gay measures are a return to the days when homosexuals were marginalized, brutalized, and blacklisted.
People who clamor to make America great again want to return to a sugar-coated past. Today’s rock-bottom taxes on the rich mirror the Gilded Age (1870-1900) as does the level of wealth concentration. Miserly benefits for the poor and attempts to minimize benefits for the middle class began with Ronald Reagan’s caricatures of mythical “welfare queens” who drive Cadillacs and wear furs. It continued with George W. Bush’s drive to partially privatize Social Security, which was roundly rejected by Americans. This time it was the people who were prescient. The Great Recession of 2008 would have rendered those private accounts worthless.
While Republicans can come in different moral flavors, the ideology and policies of the GOP are identical to those of the villains in Dickens, a mixture of selfishness, self-deception, and corruption.
How do Republicans who want to think of themselves as good, decent people live with this? I don’t know. Blame the victim? How do priests who abuse children live with themselves? But they do. They move from parish to parish, repeating the same deeds unless they are caught.
Humans have an almost limitless capacity for self-interest, self-delusion, and rationalization. The Republicans are a little like the European colonists in Africa and Asia in the nineteenth century: they harm people but only for their own good and they practice a Christianity that celebrates riches as the product of virtue and denigrates poverty as the wages of sin and sloth.