Where We’re Going, Where We’ve Been

Much of what our society frames as tolerance in political discourse is infantilizing nonsense. It is not actually respectful to treat people like children, to sit silently as they deny or obfuscate the consequences of their actions, to allow ill-formed or selfish intentions to weigh heavier than results. Adults ought to own what they believe and what it leads to. The problem with the rhetoric of civic duty is not that it is wrong, but that it is used to encourage the mere act of voting, as if filling in a bubble on a ballot were inherently dignified and mature. Just as a juror has a greater obligation than showing up and writing yea or nay on a slip of paper, a person who can vote ought to be making a sober consideration of outcomes, and if he (I do not use a gender-specific pronoun thoughtlessly, though this is far from an exclusively male problem) does not do so, it is neither unfair nor cruel to point this out and to hold him accountable.

So: yes, if you voted for this to happen or failed to vote against it, I hold you responsible for it, irrespective of whether you wanted it to happen, thought it would happen, live in a “swing state,” etc. If you dismissed the importance of the Supreme Court or declared that you wouldn’t be “blackmailed” into voting for someone who didn’t share your ideology entirely or make you feel special, you are responsible for what happened today. This is adult life: things that you don’t mean to happen can still be held against you, even if someone else was the prime mover.

I don’t say this lightly or with any sense of moral purity. I didn’t vote in 2008, and I only voted on ballot questions in 2012, leaving all the offices blank. That was dumb, and I was wrong. I voted in 2016, but even then I don’t think I really accepted that this was a possible outcome. All I can do is own that, and try not to be wrong anymore. I’m lucky, if lucky is a word anyone who believes in personal freedoms can use today, that my failure to vote wasn’t more directly tied to today’s outcome, but that doesn’t absolve me of much. I was wrong.

The way not to be wrong right now is to admit and reject past error. If you thought this day would never come, own that. Instead of trying to explain why this isn’t as bad as it seems (or how it’s not your fault because reasons), listen to the people who were right, especially when they tell you what’s coming next. The logic of this decision is not, despite the majority’s posturing, limited. So many decades-old freedoms related to sex, gender, sexuality, and race that Americans take for granted are rooted in the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment that the conservative supermajority has just rejected. Does that mean all those decisions are doomed? No, but it doesn’t make them safe either. Certainly it’s ridiculous to suggest that 21st century gay rights decisions that are more recent and less publicly popular than Roe won’t be challenged if the far right thinks they can win.

I don’t pretend to have answers about what anyone should do next. Voting for Democrats in every race from local to national is a moral baseline, not a strategy. All I can say is, don’t underestimate the seriousness of the moment, and don’t reject bold choices that would have seemed absurd as little as seven years ago, when most of us were operating under different assumptions that turned out to be dangerously incorrect.

Part of being an adult is accepting that most life decisions require you to make the choice that is least bad rather than the choice that is best, and acknowledging that your instinctive emotional responses to a situation are rarely helpful indicators of what to do. Don’t vote like you’re making an aesthetic choice or identifying yourself with a style or brand. Vote like lives depend on it, because it turns out that they do. And if you don’t think women are going to die because of this decision, including some who don’t even support abortion themselves, then you’re just demonstrating that you don’t know enough about the subject to be putting forth an opinion. There’s no shame in ignorance- there are so many things in the world to know about that we all have to rely on generalities sometimes. Wisdom is acknowledging your ignorance when the world demonstrates it to you, and educating yourself before you speak out again. Maybe I’ve gotten something wrong here; if I have, I’m sure someone will point it out to me.

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