Those voters are among the Republicans’ strongest and most energetic supporters. With abortion alone, they always have reason to hope that this time they’ll get what they want, and reason to fear that they’ll lose what they have. Supreme Court justices in particular. Neither the hope nor the fear is unreasonable, though so far they’ve had the effect of the carrot dangled in front of the donkey’s nose (the hope) and the stick applied to his flanks (the fear). But they also vote, and many seem to vote primarily, to reach other carrots and to avoid other sticks.
Complicating this a little is the fact that not everyone who calls himself a single-issue voter really is one.
Not a Single Issue
Some reject abortion as part of a more comprehensive political philosophy centered on securing human dignity as far as possible in this fallen world. If the completely innocent and vulnerable can be killed, who is safe? And what vision of the good does such a society have? Sometimes “single-issue” means this deeper understanding of things.
The defense of unborn life can be a focusing issue, rather than the single issue. It is for these people the clearest expression of a practical commitment to obeying the moral law and protecting the integral good of the human person. They are not tied to the Republican party in the way so many of their single-issue peers are.
We have too few of them and too many political partisans. The general single-issue voter’s identification with the Republican party makes an unfortunate difference, but it does. Most obviously and perniciously, in letting them use abortion as a hammer to beat others into voting Republican “because the babies.” If Catholic, they claim that the Church’s teaching requires Catholics to vote for the pro-life candidate, though it doesn’t, as I argued a few days ago.
It also allows Republican candidates to talk as if they were pro-life without taking many or even any substantial pro-life actions. Because the supposed single-issue vote is very often not really a pro-life vote at all, they’re not going to lose the pro-life vote. Especially with the Democrats being so wildly pro-choice.
Indeed, the single-issue voters support politicians who may vote pro-life, but not because it’s part of the politicians’ comprehensive political philosophies, which too often have no place for serious concerns with human dignity. Those politicians may do little to advance the pro-life cause but much to undermine human dignity in other ways. The single-issue voter who’s not really a single-issue voter gives them a status as men and women on the side of life, but they don’t deserve it.
The Long Game
Admittedly, some of these voters have had to play the long game, as people wanting substantial change do. It’s proved a longer game than it should have done, with all the Supreme Court appointments “pro-life” Republican presidents have made and the years Republicans controlled the presidency and the Congress. The long game suits other people, the Republican party in particular. Because they really are enthusiastic members of the team, the life issues aside, they’ll never challenge the party to do more than it does.
Four years ago, in a Human Life Review symposium titled “Pro-Life in the Time of Trump”, I wrote that Donald Trump doesn’t evidence any real commitment to the defense of life. There’s nothing in the way he thinks, in what seem to be his assumptions and instincts, to suggest that belief in human dignity shapes his actions.
I likened him to a gambler who might believe a difficult mathematical explanation of playing the odds, but when he gets to the table gambles by his instincts as he did before. That’s the way he believes in the ultimate value of unborn human life.
To be fair to the president, he’s done more than I expected, though nothing very difficult. Often, as with the appointment of supposedly pro-life justices, his praiseworthy accomplishments have been either a byproduct of his real concerns, or the result of a performative appeal to his base, which he has to secure and whip up to have any chance of getting reelected, and who do tend to be secured by performances. Having a nun speak at the convention was a stroke of genius.
Not a Bone
Still, the release of the Trump agenda suggests I was right. In its fifty items, it includes not a word about abortion or any other life issue. Nor does it mention religious liberty. It does include “Teach American Exceptionalism” and “Establish Permanent Manned Presence on The Moon.”
You’d think the Trump campaign would at least throw the pro-life movement one bone in its statement of what the president wants to do if re-elected. Combine a couple other items to leave room for the pro-life boilerplate. You’d think doing that would be basic politics. Pay lip service to a movement that is satisfied with lip service, but needs and expects that.
But no. Not a word in its official statement of its goals.
David Mills is senior editor (US) of The Catholic Herald.
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