Trump and Barrett's threat to abortion and LGBTQ rights is simply un-American

Robert Reich
·4 mins read
<span>Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Trump and many Republicans insist that whether to wear a mask or to go to work during a pandemic should be personal choices. Yet what a woman does with her own body, or whether same-sex couples can marry, should be decided by government.

Related: Traitor review: American perfidy, from Benedict Arnold to Donald J Trump

It’s a tortured, upside-down view of freedom. Yet it’s remarkably prevalent even as the pandemic resurges – America is back up to more than 60,000 new cases a day, the highest rate since July, and numbers continue to rise – and as the Senate considers Trump’s pick for the supreme court.

By contrast, Joe Biden has wisely declared he would do “whatever it takes” to stop the pandemic, including mandating masks and locking down the entire economy if scientists recommend it.

“I would shut it down; I would listen to the scientists,” he said.

Biden also wants to protect both abortion and same-sex marriage from government intrusion – in 2012 he memorably declared his support of the latter before even Barack Obama did so.

What’s public, what’s private and where should government intervene? The question suffuses the impending election

Trump’s opposite approaches, discouraging masks and other Covid restrictions while seeking government intrusion into the most intimate decisions anyone makes, have become the de facto centerpieces of his campaign.

At his “town hall” on Thursday night, Trump falsely claimed that most people who wear masks contract the virus.

He also criticized governors for ordering lockdowns, adding that the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, “wants to be a dictator”. He was speaking just one week after state and federal authorities announced they had thwarted an alleged plot to kidnap and possibly kill Whitmer.

The attorney general, William Barr – once again contesting Trump for the most wacky analogy – has called state lockdown orders the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history” since slavery.

Yet at the very same time Trump and his fellow-travelers defend people’s freedom to infect others or become infected with Covid-19, they’re inviting government to intrude into the most intimate aspects of personal life.

Trump has promised that the supreme court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision, establishing a federal right to abortion, will be reversed “because I am putting pro-life justices on the court”.

Much of the controversy over Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett hinges on her putative willingness to repeal Roe.

While an appeals court judge, Barrett ruled in favor of a law requiring doctors to inform the parents of any minor seeking an abortion, without exceptions, and also joined a dissent suggesting an Indiana law requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains was constitutional.

A Justice Barrett might also provide the deciding vote for reversing Obergefell v Hodges, the 2015 supreme court decision protecting same-sex marriage. Only three members of the majority in that case remain on the court.

Barrett says her views are rooted in the “text” of the constitution. That’s a worrisome omen given that earlier this month justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito opined that the right to same-sex marriage “is found nowhere in the text” of the constitution.

What’s public, what’s private and where should government intervene? The question suffuses the impending election and much else in modern American life.

It is nonsensical to argue, as do Trump and his allies, that government cannot mandate masks or close businesses during a pandemic but can prevent women from having abortions and same-sex couples from marrying.

The underlying issue is the common good, what we owe each other as members of the same society.

Related: Wide Awakes: the Lincoln-era youth movement inspiring anti-Trump protests

During wartime, we expect government to intrude on our daily lives for the common good: drafting us into armies, converting our workplaces and businesses, demanding we sacrifice normal pleasures and conveniences. During a pandemic as grave as this one we should expect no less intrusion, in order that we not expose others to the risk of contracting the virus.

But we have no right to impose on others our moral or religious views about when life begins or the nature and meaning of marriage. The common good requires instead that we honor such profoundly personal decisions.

Public or private? We owe it to each other to understand the distinction.