In 1940, Alice Duer Miller wrote a beautiful epic poem called “The White Cliffs.” An American who had married a British man just prior to World War I, she soon lost her husband serving a country that wasn’t hers. As she penned the poem, she faced the possibility of losing her son to World War II, again for a country not her own. Yet, her last poetic lines are these: “I am American bred. I have seen much to hate here — much to forgive. But in a world where England is finished and dead, I do not wish to live.”
Imagine loving a country that is not your own so much. Then consider not loving your own country anymore because it has dragged you into a very dark place, a place of fear and disillusion, a place growing more dystopian by the day.
In the space of just a few days, we have watched a congressperson promise to shut down media organizations if they complied with legal subpoenas, we saw a state pass draconian laws that inhibit voting rights in dramatic, disturbing and undemocratic ways, and then we watched as that same state ignored the constitutional right to abortion granted to women in 1973. On top of that, the state, Texas, granted vigilante rights with financial incentives to any citizen who didn’t want to grant women that right.
Just let the idea of private bounty hunters sink in. They might be husbands or boyfriends, angry neighbors, relatives, friends, pastors, people who think pregnancy by rape or incest is not so bad, folks who hate the idea of abortion but especially like the thought of a $10,000 reward. Some may be devout, but they are all devious and despicable. Over what ideologies might other states consider employing them?
Then came the most stunning blow of all in the form of the unbelievable and terrifying silence of an overwhelmingly conservative and politicized Supreme Court in the face of Texas’ deeply dangerous and replicable law — a law so hideously and overtly fascist, a law reeking with the stench of secret police in autocracies and dictatorships like those of Italy’s Mussolini, Romania’s Ceausescu, and today’s Viktor Orban in Hungary. How can any American not be sickened by that level of betrayal?
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of four dissenting justices, unleashed her fury and spoke for many of us in her minority opinion: “The court’s order is stunning,” she wrote. “Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand. The court has rewarded the state’s effort to delay federal review of a plainly unconstitutional statute, enacted in disregard of the court’s precedents, through procedural entanglements of the state’s own creation. The court should not be so content to ignore its constitutional obligations to protect not only the rights of women, but also the sanctity of its precedents and of the rule of law.”
How, one must ask, does the court overrule 50 years of precedent — a value deeply held by conservatives — in its race to allow the invasion of women’s lives, a question former Rep. Claire McCaskill asked in rage when commenting on MSNBC. How quickly will states rush to replicate this precedent?
In a statement that could have been more strongly supportive of women’s right to privacy and agency, President Biden warned that the nearly complete ban on abortion in Texas will cause “unconstitutional chaos.” It also begs the question, how will the Supreme Court rule on other cases that seek to curb abortion rights nationally?
While civil rights advocates sound alarm bells about worrisome implications for future laws, social justice and human rights, opinion leaders like Michael Moore and others suggest the situation has reached crisis proportions such that terms like “conservative” and “evangelical” in reference to right wing radicals are no longer appropriate because they normalize groups that have essentially become America’s Taliban.
That term may be offensive to some, but in the face of an ever-growing political climate of oppression, exclusion and violence, and a Congress or Supreme Court that increasingly embraces ideas antithetical to democracy and proceeds to exercise the power to curb it, surely the time has come to recognize the imminent and very real threat before us. That threat is nothing short of an undemocratic and dystopian future in which we join in the despair of so many others around the globe.
It’s a world in which we may still have a choice: to deny what is happening with frightening speed or to ignore what is bearing down upon us, only to find ourselves back in Plato’s allegorical cave, in which we all sit staring at a blank wall, our backs to the light, believing that is simply the way we must live.
As Alice Duer Miller might have said, in such a world, where freedom and hope are finished and dead, I do not wish to live.
Elayne Clift writes from Saxtons River, Vt.