I have to be honest: Donald J. Trump is performing at least one service to the republic via his run for the presidency. Trump’s pretensions of brutal honesty serve, on occasion, to reveal the brutal extremism within his adopted party’s mainstream.
For example, Trump “doubled down” (as he and the media that obsessively covers him like to put it) on the GOP’s xenophobic immigration policy. That decision brought him early attention and seems to have had a lot to do with his first strong numbers in the polls. Eventually, it also brought him the endorsement of various “white nationalists,” including David Duke, a former “Grand Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan.
Asked about the endorsement, Trump attempted to be coy, pretending to not know enough about the Klan to comment; Republican elites excoriated him for it. One could almost hear the thought in Trump’s head during the next few news cycles: “Really? This is the line we aren’t supposed to cross?” Eventually, as he put it, he “disavowed” the endorsement.
On March 30th, Trump played this role for the nation’s electorate again. Appearing at a “town hall” on MSNBC, the candidate was put on the spot about his stance on reproductive rights and, specifically, on abortion. “You go back to a position like they had where they would perhaps go to illegal places,” he said, speaking of American women. “But you have to ban it,” which means, he acknowledged, that there “has to be some form of punishment.” Once more, GOP elites and Trump’s rivals for the party’s presidential nomination heaped scorn on his head, not because of the nasty extremism of his statement but because he had revealed the nasty extremism of the party’s own “mainstream” positions.
Since the 1970s, the GOP has positioned itself as the “pro-life” party, which, in our political lexicon, means “anti-abortion.” But opposition to abortion would suggest, among other things, that the party would begin by trying to lessen the number of unintended pregnancies. That is not the case; indeed, the party has only increased its opposition to family planning.
Consider the Republican Congressional leadership’s proposed budget for Labor, Health, and Human Services in 2016. The House Appropriations committee has targeted most federal funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs and sex education, and is threatening Title X, which, for over 40 years, has provided public funding for a broad network of low-income health centers that have offered cancer screenings, STD testing, and physician referrals. Title X has also provided family planning, however, and thus it is under attack by the “pro-life” party.
Meanwhile, Representative Marsha Blackburn’s Select Committee Panel on Planned Parenthood has been issuing subpoenas. The ostensible excuse for the committee is the charge, already discredited by numerous state investigations, that Planned Parenthood dismembers infants in order to profit by the illegal trade in fetal organs. Lacking any substantive evidence of wrong-doing, Representative Blackburn has filled her time by preparing seventeen subpoenas seeking, as the New York Times summarized, “the names of researchers, graduate students, laboratory technicians, and administrative personnel” who engage in medical research via the use of legally obtained fetal issue.
Coming just five months after Robert L. Dear Jr. murdered three people at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, saying “No more baby parts,” and identifying himself as a “warrior for babies,” Blackburn’s campaign to publicize the names of those who work on fetal tissue research is nothing less than a threat. Medical research centers certainly see it as such; one research center has already stopped work on a cure for multiple sclerosis as a result of the Blackburn Committee’s “investigation.”
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Trump’s leading rival for the nomination, released a statement saying “Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity.” Cruz opposes abortion even in cases of rape, using the power of the state of multiply the consequences of assault on its victims, including minors. Sad kind of dignity, that.
So, let’s give credit where its due, shall we? Trump has made it clear, if any additional clarity were needed, just how central the punishment of women (punishing them for being raped, for getting sick, for having a medical history or a medical condition or the expectation to regular see a physician) is to the governing agenda of the Republican Party.
Photo via Michael Vadon.