Way, way back in the fall of 2016, when Donald Trump and his hair won the presidential election, the backlash against Democrats was swift.
They were to blame for Trump’s win, critics argued (not years of gerrymandering, partisanship, economic despair and deep, vicious prejudice against minorities and women). It was the left’s obsession with identity politics which fueled their own loss. Voting for equal rights for all, apparently, carried too much of an unsavoury flavour for some white Americans. Therefore, such issues should be abandoned in the pursuit of power.
Democratic leadership was clearly listening.
On Monday, Ben Ray Lujan, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, threw a cornerstone of women’s rights under the bus. In an interview with The Hill news site, Lujan shot down abortion rights as a “litmus test” for Democratic candidates, saying the party would fund pro-life (or pro-birth, if you like) candidates in the 2018 midterms.
An army of women’s and reproductive rights groups flew into rage, calling the policy “bankrupt” and misguided. The Democrats’ recently released 2018 midterm platform, focused exclusively on economic issues, can’t fulfill its title promise of a “Better Way” if women aren’t given the economic freedom to decide when and how to start a family, the groups said.
There is some pungent irony in the Democrats’ easy shift from 2016’s defense of women’s rights, to 2018’s take-or- leave-’em attitude.
To begin with, it comes just as women’s reproductive rights are under a deep and sustained threat.
The conservative far right, which has fueled an unprecedented assault on access to abortion across numerous states (including laws that have shut down abortion clinics, laws that could see women fired or evicted for having abortions, and efforts to defund Planned Parenthood), is unlikely to be swayed left by such an offering.
Polling on how Americans view abortion is notoriously polarized. But even if abortion is as debated as the right argues, there’s no evidence that it’s important enough to centrist voters to sway them leftwards, and no promise of a Trumpian-Evangelical effect, since Democratic leadership is at best agnostic on the issue. They’d never promise a Neil Gorsuch.
Meanwhile, the Democratic base is pissed. Women — in particular pro-choice women — have formed the backbone of anti-Trump activism, beginning with the Women’s March, without which it’s impossible to imagine the last six months of the “resistance.” To the extent that Trump’s reign resembles a loose toupee on a windy day, grassroots, women-led protests are to thank.
For these women, defending abortion access is no different than LGBTQ and minority rights, and deeply entwined with race and class inequality.
Lujan’s comments aren’t just a slap in the face to them, and to decades of fighting for women’s freedom. They’re an admission of moral flimsiness. An admission that so-called identity politics really aren’t worth fighting for. And neither are the people they seek to protect.
That leaves the question: After the party has sacrificed women’s rights for votes, who’s next?