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Black Lives Matter activist Hawk Newsome on "The Takeout" — 2/28/2020

Hawk Newsome, activist and chairman of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, explains what his organization stands for and the discusses the treatment people of color encounter across America on this week's episode of "The Takeout with Major Garrett."
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How to come up with a unique Halloween costume without spending a ton of money
Denis Novikov/Getty Images Tap your creativity (and closet) for the best Halloween costume. With an October 30 birthday, it’s only natural that Kimberly Murphy takes Halloween extremely seriously. A natural redhead, Murphy has dressed up as iconic crimson-haired characters like the Wendy’s mascot and Chuckie from Rugrats, but once she started dating her now-fiancé, Brian, nearly a decade ago, Murphy’s costumes leveled up. A selection of Murphy and Brian’s greatest Halloween hits: Dexter and Dee Dee from Dexter’s Laboratory, Ms. Frizzle and the eponymous bus from The Magic School Bus, Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tormund and Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones, and Shaun White and a snowboard. “We put my snowboard on his back so I could actually ‘ride’ him,” Murphy, who, regardless of the character’s gender, always dresses as the redhead, says. “It gave a funny, experiential element to the costume.” This October, the couple, both in their early 30s, is getting married and will be depicting Chucky and Bride of Chucky for Halloween. (You can guess who’ll be donning the white dress.) In childhood, Halloween is one of the few days of the year where you can wear your most imaginative garb to school and to strangers’ doors. As you get older, that sense of youthful creativity might wane, and figuring out what to wear to a costume party becomes another minor conundrum. Whether you dabble in dress-up or are a cosplay aficionado, conceiving of creative, yet approachable, Halloween attire doesn’t need to be a bewildering or expensive experience. Experts in the art of costuming offer their advice for ideating and executing your best guise so you can take home top honors in this year’s costume contest. Narrow your focus When every character, celebrity, historical figure, animal, pun, and meme is potential costume fodder, homing in on one idea can feel overwhelming. Limitations and parameters are your best friend. Use your own appearance — is there a person or fictional character who has a similar style as you? Vaguely comparable features? — and the media that interested you this year as jumping-off points. Everything from YA novels and nostalgic ‘90s TV shows to extremely local jokes and gags (public transit, sports mascots) to niche memes (hello, Chris Pine astral projecting) are prime inspo. Is there an alter ego you’re interested in exploring? Cosplayer and photographer Hope Elmekies often dresses up as characters she feels a personal connection to, like Morticia Addams. “I very much felt like I related to [her] because she’s not fitting in,” she says. “I felt that kinship to that character.” Courtesy Fungirlwithacamera Photography One of Hope Elmekies’ go-to cosplay characters is Morticia Addams. For all of her costumes, Murphy has let her red hair and the height difference between her and her fiancé (she’s 5 feet tall, he’s 6-foot-2) guide her choices. She thinks back to significant pop culture or historical moments that fall under these categories. For example, Murphy flagged Queen’s Gambit as a potential ensemble, due to its buzzworthiness and the fact that the protagonist had red hair. “I take this formulaic approach to Halloween where if it’s unusually small or redheaded,” she says, “that fits my formula of a potential Halloween candidate.” For group or family costumes, it can be helpful to focus on one shared interest, accessory, or hobby. If you all met in an adult dodgeball league, maybe you want to dress up as dodgeball players. Maybe your group is composed of three couples and you want to do a Grease-inspired collab. Then, figure out what effect you’d like your costume to have. Is your goal to make everyone laugh? Be the sexy one? Go all-in on minute details? Incorporate a few friends for a group costume? This can help you zero in on an idea. The location of your Halloween bash can help further narrow down your options, says custom costume maker Correen Borst-Straub of Correen’s Creative Designs. Think about where you’ll wear the getup to determine what’s appropriate. If you’re going to a party in a small apartment, you probably won’t want to wear a huge Marie Antoinette dress or you might want to think twice about wearing vampire fangs to a costumed fundraiser with a sit-down dinner. Buck convention, respectfully Using popular culture as inspiration may yield a few potential ideas, but if you really want a memorable guise, approach these concepts in an unconventional manner. Many people tend to dress up as the main characters from popular shows (how many chefs and Targaryens are we going to see this year?) but supporting roles or genre tropes can also be crowd-pleasing attire. For her all-time favorite Halloween costume, Dani Cabot, the manager of New York City vintage boutique Screaming Mimis, dressed up as a virgin sacrifice. “I got bedsheets and a classic cheesy ’70s Roman goddess dress and I got a huge wig, and then a choker that made it look like my throat was slashed,” she says. Even if you don’t share every physical trait with a character, use your differences to your advantage. Murphy and her fiance have often dressed up as characters that have historically been depicted as opposite to the couple’s own gender presentation. “Gender is always very subjective,” says Philadelphia-based drag queen VinChelle. “Everyone can express themselves how they want to.” VinChelle frequently performs in looks inspired by Beyoncé and uses the star’s photoshoots as a reference. She’ll then scour fabric stores in Philadelphia or New York City for the garment and works closely with seamstresses to construct the outfit. “Beyoncé’s a glorified drag queen,” she says. View this post on Instagram A post shared by ~VinChelle~ (@_vinchelle_) To be clear: This is not an excuse to appropriate other cultures, use makeup to darken your skin, or wear racist costumes. If you’re unsure if a costume is appropriate, run your idea by a few friends first, says Kate Farrier, the wardrobe manager for RWS Entertainment Group, an entertainment and event production company that has produced haunted experiences for the likes of Six Flags Great America, Sea World, and Legoland. Reference your personal style Think about ways you can infuse your personality into popular ideas. Say you want to be a witch or a vampire. What can you do to make the costume feel like you? If your one wardrobe staple is a leather jacket, make your witch persona wear a leather jacket. “If you’re always on your phone, maybe you’re a celebrity vampire, social media vampire,” Farrier says. “Try and make it about something that you always have by bringing your personal items into it because that will make it special for you.” One year, a shopper at Screaming Mimis spiced up their vampire attire by adding ’70s disco accessories. “They did this insane disco Studio 54 vampire look,” Cabot says. You can also take a character who isn’t particularly known for their fashion, like Pacman, and make an interesting garment inspired by their aesthetic. Another way to differentiate is to make subtle changes to tried-and-true depictions. Borst-Straub has a 25 percent rule where she infuses her creativity into well-known designs so the resulting look is 75 percent true to pop culture and 25 percent her own. Elmekies gets inspiration by searching her costume idea plus “cosplay” on Pinterest to see how others have approached the concept. Don’t worry about being so niche that everyone has to ask you what you are, Elmekies says. “So, what are you?” is a great icebreaker. “Sometimes when I go out as Belle from Beauty and the Beast, people don’t know who I am necessarily because it’s not a Disney knockoff, it’s more built that you can wear every day,” Elmekies says. Use what you’ve got (or shop secondhand) Halloween outfits shouldn’t cost a ton of money. Think about the colors, shapes, and silhouettes needed for a costume to help you identify the look’s building blocks. For a gargoyle look, for example, you’ll need a lot of gray apparel and makeup. “Think about the shapes of things instead of the actual items,” says Ryan Walton, the producer of Halloween experiences for RWS Entertainment Group. “[Say] I need a round hoop-like thing. What can I do that’s round and hoop-like that’s not going to cost me a lot of money and then I can refabricate?” Scour your closet (or your friends’ closets) for pieces you’ll need. If you’re dressing up as a flapper, dig out a slip dress if you have one. Then, let your accessories and props do all the talking. “So things like jewelry, gloves, stockings, headpieces, masks can really transform a basic into something that’s excellent,” Cabot says. For any pieces you don’t already own, visit a local vintage or thrift store, indie costume shop, or dollar store to get materials. Workers at these stores can offer expert costuming advice, and by shopping in person, you can be sure you’re getting exactly what you want — no online ordering surprises, Cabot says. Shopping secondhand is also far more sustainable than purchasing a polyester outfit from a big-box store. Chances are you can even incorporate aspects of your ensemble into your regular wardrobe, too. Rock your costume Ultimately, you’re going to have the best time in an outfit you feel comfortable and confident wearing. Think about how the fabrics and props feel; it’s not worth being constricted by shoes that are impossible to walk in. “You will light up the most when you are wearing something that you love,” VinChelle says. “When I am in my favorite costume, I’m a whole other person.” Even if you feel like you don’t have the “right” body type for a certain character or look, “you can look at it as this is my character and my character’s just curvy,” Elmekies says. “Realize your character is incredible.” Even Better is here to offer deeply sourced, actionable advice for helping you live a better life. Do you have a question on money and work; friends, family, and community; or personal growth and health? Send us your question by filling out this form. We might turn it into a story.
The U.S. Has a Microchip Problem. Safeguarding Taiwan Is the Solution.
Taiwan’s domination of the microchip industry has been a boon to the global economy, but it now presents an acute challenge. Taiwan today manufactures most of the world’s microchips, which are in practically everything: cars, coffee makers, combine harvesters. The whole world hums with microelectronic components—including about 92 percent of all advanced microchips—that are made largely in a handful of factories on an island less than one-tenth the size of California. Little more than 100 miles away across a strait lies mainland China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway region and has vowed to bring it back under its control.Were China to seize Taiwan, one of two things could happen to the chip supply: The microchip factories could end up being controlled by China, or they could be destroyed in a conflict. Either way, a global catastrophe would ensue. In the first scenario, China could decide to limit access for the U.S. and its allies to advanced chips, significantly reducing American technological, economic, and military advantages. But if the second scenario came to pass, the world could experience an economic crisis the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression.Luckily, Taiwan is now watching and learning from Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion. And the lessons Taiwan is taking from that conflict suggest how the U.S. can help Taipei—and itself—avoid either dire outcome.[Derek Thompson: The everything-is-weird economy]One of the island’s major manufacturers is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited. An enterprise founded in 1987 through a government initiative, it now makes many of the world’s most essential microchips for Nvidia, Qualcomm, Apple, and thousands of other companies. Thirty-five years ago, when TSMC’s foundries were just getting started, the U.S. firm Intel made about 65 percent of the world’s advanced chips. Today Intel controls less than 10 percent, while TSMC’s share is 53 percent.To see why this matters, look no further than the U.S. auto industry, which forecast an estimated $210 billion in lost revenue last year after factory slowdowns caused by the pandemic led to bottlenecks in the supply chain for automobile chips. In the event of a conflict with China, the destruction of Taiwan’s microchip manufacturing would mean not a slowdown or a bottleneck but a sudden and complete stop of nearly two-thirds of the world’s supply for the industries that depend on it.One view about the risks associated with Taiwan’s near-monopoly in microchip manufacturing in the face of a looming, belligerent China is that it is still, in essence, a supply-chain problem. Therefore, the best way out of this potential catastrophe is to build up production elsewhere, including in the U.S. The recently passed bipartisan CHIPS Act, which will fund programs worth $53 billion, is explicit in its aim “to develop onshore domestic manufacturing of semiconductors critical to U.S. competitiveness and national security.”Another position on Taiwan is that this issue is a strategic military problem, and the best way to respond to an invasion by China would be for the U.S. to leap to Taiwan’s defense. President Joe Biden expressed this view when asked, in a recent interview on 60 Minutes, if U.S. forces would defend the island. “Yes,” he said, “if, in fact, there was an unprecedented attack.”[Read: No more ‘strategic ambiguity’ on Taiwan]The problem with these approaches is that they both, in their different ways, misapprehend the significance of time. The idea of replacing microchip imports with American-made products undervalues Taiwan’s 40-year head start with its microchip industry—and it took at least a decade for the island to become globally competitive. A similar lag will apply to the U.S., which will probably need several decades at least of further investments of the same scale as the CHIPS Act before it can manufacture domestically most of the microchips it requires.An additional complication is that TSMC’s operations have features that are hard to imagine replicating elsewhere. Its advanced-research division, for example, has engineers working in three shifts so that it can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week—“the Nightingale Army,” as they’re sometimes known, who are sacrificing themselves for this national purpose, Taiwan’s “silicon shield.”The time issue with the idea of leaping to Taiwan’s defense is that if China attacks, it could be too late. Should China invade, the coastal-based microchip factories could be destroyed by the time the U.S. military responded. The world would already be well on its way to plunging off an economic cliff.The U.S. does have a third option: make it too costly for China to invade Taiwan by enabling Taiwan to defend itself. Earlier this month, the Biden administration asked for, and Congress is expected to approve, a $1.1 billion arms sale to Taiwan. The package included anti-ship and air-to-air missiles, as well as an estimated $665 million to support Taiwan’s surveillance-radar program. But Taiwan probably needs more defenses to credibly deter an invasion.Taiwan has an unfortunate history of spending too much of its limited defense budget on expensive platforms such as fighter aircraft and surface ships—neither of which is likely to survive the first days of a war with China. Some of the same types of arms that the U.S. has agreed to sell to Taiwan are currently in use by Ukrainians in their defensive war against Russia.Even better, these sorts of systems—such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), drones, loitering munitions, anti-tank missiles, and sea mines—might be able to do the job at relatively low cost. For about a tenth of the investment of the CHIPS Act, Taiwan could build up a so-called porcupine defense with a “large number of small things.”Such a strategy, already proving successful in Ukraine, could yield results within a couple of years, rather than decades. One holdup in the process of arming Taiwan as quickly as America might like is a bottleneck in U.S. arms manufacturing caused by—you guessed it—microchips. The problem is temporary, but it only goes to underline what a priority it is for the U.S. to ensure that Taiwan has the right defense systems to project its own security, in the most timely way possible.
Bad Losers
Chris Thomas has made democracy his life’s work. A 73-year-old attorney, Thomas spent nearly four decades leading the elections division in the office of Michigan’s secretary of state. He served under Republicans and Democrats alike, and his mandate was always the same: protect the ballot box. He trained local election workers; sought out and fixed weaknesses in the voting system; investigated errors committed while ballots were collected and tabulated; and, ultimately, ensured the accuracy of the count. Thomas was one of 10 people named to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in 2013. He earned a reputation as a nonpartisan authority on all things elections, and took pride in supervising a system that was stable and widely trusted.Which is why 2020 shook him so badly. Thomas had retired from the secretary of state’s office a few years earlier, confident that Michigan’s elections were in good hands. Then the coronavirus pandemic arrived, prompting changes to election protocols nationwide, and President Donald Trump began warning of a Democratic plot to steal the election. As Michigan rolled out new voting rules—some that had been decided prior to 2020, others that were implemented on the fly during the pandemic—rumors and misinformation spread. Wanting to help, Thomas accepted a special assignment to supervise Election Day activities in Detroit, the state’s largest voting jurisdiction.What followed was surreal—a scene that Thomas could scarcely believe was playing out in the United States. Michigan had recently expanded absentee voting, allowing any resident to vote by mail for any reason. Because Democrats are likelier than Republicans to vote absentee—and because Detroit is predominantly Democratic—Thomas and his colleagues had to process an unprecedented number of absentee ballots. Complicating matters further, Republican lawmakers in Michigan refused to let election workers start counting absentee ballots until Election Day.The effect was predictable. Because of the backlog of absentee ballots, Trump took a big lead on Election Night. As Thomas and his team worked into the early hours, Trump’s lead shrank. By Wednesday afternoon, it was clear that Joe Biden would overtake him. “That’s when things got out of hand,” Thomas told me.Incited by Trump’s acolytes in the state party, hundreds of Republican voters swarmed the event center in Detroit where Thomas and his workers were tabulating votes. Republicans had their allotted number of poll watchers already inside the counting room, but party officials lied to the public, saying they had been locked out. So people busted into the event center, banging on the windows, filming the election workers, demanding to be let into the counting room. Fearing for their safety—and for the integrity of the ballots—the people inside covered the windows. Thomas says the decision was necessary. But within minutes, video was circulating on social media of the windows being covered, and before long, it was airing on Fox News with commentary about a cover-up.[Read: The Michigan Republican who decided to tell the truth]Trump was alleging a national plot to steal the election, and now Detroit—and Chris Thomas—were right in the middle of it.The GOP assault on the legitimacy of Biden’s victory has led to death threats against election workers and a lethal siege of the United States Capitol. But perhaps the gravest consequence is the erosion of confidence in our system. Late this summer, a Quinnipiac poll found that 69 percent of both Republicans and Democrats believe that American democracy “is in danger of collapse.” They hold this view for somewhat different reasons. Republicans believe that Democrats already rigged an election against them and will do so again if given the chance; Democrats believe that Republicans, convinced that 2020 was stolen despite all evidence to the contrary, are now readying to rig future elections. It’s hard to see how this ends well. By the presidential election of 2024, a constitutional crisis might be unavoidable.I’ve met men and women like Thomas in small towns and big counties, public servants who have devoted their career to safeguarding the infrastructure of our democracy. Over the past two years, they have been harassed, intimidated, and in many cases driven out of office, some replaced by right-wing activists who are more loyal to the Republican Party than to the rule of law. The old guard—the people who, like Thomas, committed their career to free and fair elections—are witnessing their life’s work being undone. They are watching the rise of Trump-mimicking candidates in this year’s midterm elections and wondering if anything can stop the collapse of our most essential institution. “This election,” Thomas said, “feels like a last stand.”The irony is that America’s voting system is far more advanced and secure than it was just two decades ago.The 2000 election was a catalyst for reform. Mass confusion surrounding the showdown between Al Gore and George W. Bush in Florida—butterfly ballots, punch cards, hanging chads—demonstrated that murky processes and obsolete technology could undermine public confidence in the system. Recognizing the threat, Congress passed a law to help local administrators modernize their voting machines and better train their workers and volunteers. Elections officials from around the country began collaborating on best practices. Several states introduced wholesale changes to their systems that allowed ballots to be cast more easily, tracked more accurately, and counted more efficiently.There were hiccups, but the results were overwhelmingly positive. One study conducted by MIT and Caltech showed that the number of “lost” votes—ballots that because of some combination of clerical rejection and human error went unrecorded—had been cut in half from 2000 to 2004. Florida, once synonymous with electoral dysfunction, now has arguably the most efficient vote-reporting program in the U.S.At the same time, the machinations that Americans observed—poll workers studying ballots through a magnifying glass, teams of party lawyers and CNN camera crews looking on—bred a public skepticism that never quite went away. In the years following Bush v. Gore, the number of cases of election litigation soared. The small chorus of congressional Democrats who objected to the certification of Bush’s 2000 victory swelled to several dozen following the president’s reelection in 2004, with 31 House Democrats (and one Democratic senator) voting to effectively disenfranchise the people of Ohio. Republicans could not return the favor in 2008—Obama’s margin of victory was too wide—so they sought to delegitimize his presidency with talk of birth certificates and mass voter fraud, introducing measures to restrict voting access despite never producing evidence that cheating was taking place at any meaningful scale.Much of this can be attributed to what Richard Hasen, a law professor and an elections expert, has called “the loser’s effect”: Studies have shown that voters report more confidence in our elections after their party or candidate has won. But partisan outcomes are no longer the decisive factor: In October 2020—weeks before Trump lost his bid for reelection—Gallup reported that just 44 percent of Republicans trusted that votes would be cast and counted accurately, “a record low for either party.”This isn’t entirely surprising, given Trump’s crusade to undermine our democratic institutions, which began well before he was ever elected. In 2012, he called Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney “a total sham,” adding: “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty.” In early 2016, after losing the Iowa caucus to Ted Cruz, Trump called the chair of the Iowa GOP and pressured him to disavow the result; when that failed, he took to Twitter, denouncing the “fraud” in Iowa and calling for a new election to be held.By the time November 3, 2020, arrived, Trump had already constructed his elaborate narrative of a rigged election. Republican leaders did little to keep their voters from falling for the president’s deception. In fact, most of them enabled and even participated in it. What began as a fringe movement after Bush v. Gore has spread into the GOP mainstream: Polls continue to show that more than half of all Republican voters believe that the 2020 election was stolen.They are acting on Trump’s lies, flooding into local party offices, demanding to be stationed on the front lines of the next election so they can prevent it from being stolen. They have nominated scores of candidates who deny the legitimacy of Biden’s victory; seven are running to become the chief elections official in their state. Several of these Republicans—Mark Finchem in Arizona, Kristina Karamo in Michigan—are hinting at administrative actions that would reverse decades of progress in making elections more transparent and accessible, in turn leaving our system more vulnerable.The great threat is no longer machines malfunctioning or ballots being spoiled. It is the actual theft of an election; it is the brazen abuse of power that requires not only bad actors in high places but the tacit consent of the voters who put them there.This makes for a terrifying scenario in 2024—but first, a crucial test in 2022.In August, when Michigan held its primary elections, all eyes were on the Republican race for governor. It had been a volatile contest; two of the perceived front-runners had been disqualified for failing to reach signature thresholds. Most of the remaining candidates were champions of Trump’s Big Lie, but none more so than Ryan Kelley, who participated in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol and was arrested this past June by the FBI on misdemeanor charges. (Kelley pleaded not guilty in July.)When the returns came in and Kelley lost, he refused to concede. Instead, he called for a “publicly supervised hand recount to uphold election integrity.” But Kelley had a problem: He had finished in fourth place, capturing just 15 percent of the vote and losing to the Republican nominee by 25 points.It was a similar story in another closely watched Michigan race. State Senator Lana Theis, a Republican who’d co-written a committee report debunking Trump’s voter-fraud allegations after the 2020 election, defeated a MAGA conspiracy theorist, Mike Detmer, by 15 points in their primary contest. Detmer’s response? “When we have full, independent, unfettered forensic audits of 2020 and 2022 I’ll consider the results,” he wrote on his Facebook page. This pattern has played out in races all across the country, with sore Republican losers doing their best Trump impressions, alleging fraud to explain a drubbing at the ballot box.“This gives me real hope,” Thomas told me in early September. “Because people understand, when there’s a margin like that, you lost. And if you’re going to insist you didn’t lose, well, now people are going to be skeptical of what you’ve been telling them all along. Is the sky really falling? You can only tell a lie so many times before people stop listening to you.”His optimism struck me as misplaced. For one thing, these were just primary elections. Tudor Dixon, the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in Michigan, is herself a 2020 conspiracy theorist. In fact, all three Republicans on top of the statewide ticket this fall—Dixon, as well as the nominees for attorney general and secretary of state—have claimed that Democrats stole the election. Michigan’s GOP lawmakers have not allowed changes to vote-processing laws despite the chaos of 2020. In the event of close Democratic victories in November, we can expect another “red mirage,” in which the Republican nominee jumps out to a big lead soon after the polls close, only to fall behind as the backlog of absentee ballots is counted. The conspiracy theories will practically spread themselves.Sensing my skepticism, Thomas told me there was additional cause for hope. Two years ago, the Republican volunteers who monitored the vote-counting in Detroit on behalf of the party were completely out of their depth; most had never worked an election, and thus confused standard protocols for what they swore in affidavits were violations of the law. Following the grassroots outcry of November 2020, the Michigan GOP recruited hordes of new volunteers who have since received enhanced training. Thomas says his first encounter with this new class of Republican poll watchers came this summer, on primary day in Detroit, where he was once again tasked with overseeing the count. “It was night and day from 2020. They were respectful,” he said. “There were no issues.”Hours after I finished speaking with Thomas, CNN published a report exposing a Zoom training seminar in which Republican leaders in Wayne County, Michigan—home to Detroit—instructed poll watchers to ignore election rules and smuggle in pens, paper, and cellphones to document Democratic cheating. That seminar was held on August 1—the day before Michigan’s primary.I want to believe our system of self-government is durable enough to withstand all of this; I want to believe Thomas, that everything will be all right. But as we spoke, it struck me that, despite his expertise, and despite his ringside seat to the unraveling of our democracy, Thomas is like millions of other Americans who can’t quite bring themselves to face what’s happening. Like so many of them, he clings to fleeting hints of a return to normalcy and ignores the flood of evidence suggesting it will not come. He still trusts a system that is actively being sabotaged.Thomas has never belonged to a party. He remains proudly nonpartisan. But he acknowledges what must happen in 2022 for America to swerve off the road to national calamity. The Republicans who have made election denying the centerpiece of their campaign must lose, and lose badly. They will cry fraud and demand recounts and refuse to concede. They will throw tantrums sufficient to draw attention to their margins of defeat. At that point, Thomas says, maybe a critical mass of GOP voters—the very people who supported these candidates in the first place—will finally realize that they’ve been duped. Maybe they will abandon the lies and choose a different path before it is too late.But based on the number of candidates who sold a lie to earn their spot on the November ballot, in Michigan and beyond, I fear it may already be.This article appears in the November 2022 print edition with the headline “Bad Losers.”
When Fetal Rights Are More Important Than Democracy
The anti-abortion movement has long loved to profess its love for democracy. Clarke Forsythe of Americans United for Life consistently called on the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade and put questions about abortion “back into voters’ hands—where they belong.” The National Catholic Register proclaimed the day Roe was overturned “a wonderful day for democracy.”But now democracy may not look so hot to anti-abortion activists: In the months since Roe was overturned, voters in Kansas, a deeply conservative state, decisively rejected a proposal to undo state constitutional abortion rights, and many expect the result to be the same when voters confront ballot initiatives in key states such as Michigan. Fueled by rage about the reversal of abortion rights, Democrats have nearly eliminated Republicans’ advantage in voter registration and have turned what appeared to be a landslide loss in the 2022 midterms into a potential nail-biter. In many red states, politicians scared of a backlash are backpedaling on total abortion bans, while Senate candidates such as Blake Masters are busy scrubbing their websites and changing their positions on issues like fetal personhood laws, which would allow abortion to be prosecuted as murder. The anti-abortion movement faces a question: How does it feel about democracy now?[Jerusalem Demsas: The abortion policy most Americans want]In the past, the movement’s affection for democracy was more than lip service: Many abortion opponents believed that most Americans would oppose legal abortion if they understood what it really involved. But true democratic values require accepting outcomes even when you disagree with them. Following Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the decision this past summer that overturned Roe, a deeper truth is emerging: For those who believe that abortion is the senseless murder of unborn children, why would you leave the question of those children’s survival up to voters? When the anti-abortion movement mobilized in the ’60s, its leaders mobilized to defeat narrow reforms to abortion bans allowing the procedure in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormality, or health threats. This effort did not immediately pay off: States with both Republican and Democratic majorities began changing their laws. By the early ’70s, John Willke, a physician and one of the movement’s early leaders, hoped to reverse this trend with abortion slide shows.Willke’s presentations won over new recruits and created a new belief in the growing movement: People supported abortion without knowing what it really was. Anti-abortion groups sought to air graphic ads about abortion. They fought against the Federal Communications Commission’s fairness doctrine, which required broadcasters to air both sides of controversial issues (meaning pro-abortion-rights groups would have had the chance to put on commercials of their own), and against pro-abortion-rights groups who argued that these ads qualified as indecent and had to be aired when children wouldn’t see them. But there was always a tension between the movement’s confidence in the public and how it defined its cause—as a fight for fetal rights that deserved protection regardless of what a voting majority wanted.Even after Roe, many in the anti-abortion movement saw democracy as a boon, not a hindrance. After 1973, the movement spent a decade pushing a constitutional amendment recognizing fetal personhood and banning abortion. True, a constitutional amendment would take the abortion issue out of popular politics—most likely for good. But even believing that an amendment could pass required real faith in voters. Then, as now, polling showed that a clear majority of Americans supported abortion rights under at least some circumstances. To pass an amendment, the anti-abortion movement would have to transform popular opinion, build tremendous support, and win over a supermajority in Congress and in the states.Even after sweeping Republican victories in 1980, however, there weren’t enough votes for a ban, and anti-abortion leaders turned to Plan B: a fight to reshape the Supreme Court and ensure that Roe was overturned—not by the public’s will but by judicial fiat. By the mid-’80s, anti-abortion leaders, who had not until then complained much about judicial overreach, began describing Roe as the ultimate act of judicial overreach and calling for the return of the abortion issue to the American people.This new obsession with the judiciary was strategic. It created a new alliance between abortion opponents and the emerging conservative legal movement, led by the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society had been forced to work with the anti-abortion movement, but the relationship had not always been warm. A focus on the judiciary changed that: While Republicans and elite conservative lawyers did not agree on abortion in the ’80s and ’90s, they mostly shared a hatred of what they perceived to be the abuses of the liberal Supreme Court. Anti-abortion leaders believed that they had found a way to have it all: The American people would support criminalizing abortion at the state level if the Supreme Court deemed that the procedure was not protected by the constitution and gave the anti-abortion movement the chance at a fair fight.By the early ’90s, the cracks in the movement’s support for democracy had started to show. In 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, when a Supreme Court with six Republican nominees refused to reverse Roe, many attributed the decision to save abortion rights to the fact that the American people did not want Roe reversed. Casey forced the movement once again to confront a difficult question: What would the movement do if a solid majority of Americans really did support legal abortion?[David Frum: Roe is the new Prohibition]As the ’90s continued, anti-abortion groups proposed an answer: identifying Supreme Court nominees who did not care what the public wanted. To gain more influence over the Republican Party and force the selection of a different kind of judge, anti-abortion groups no longer relied on the idea that Americans would oppose abortion if they understood it. By the 2000s, prominent groups also plunged into the fight to deregulate campaign spending, helping GOP candidates launch super PACs and outspend their rivals. Anti-abortion lawyers worked on redistricting and gerrymandering and stoked fears about voter fraud. All of this meant that elections were less likely to reflect what ordinary voters really wanted—and more likely to reflect the will of the major donors, social movements, and party leaders who had changed the rules of the game.After Donald Trump’s election and Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, states began pushing out new abortion bans, many of them more sweeping than voters preferred, at least as measured by polls. Anti-abortion legislators and activists cheered this effort. What mattered to them was maximizing protection for fetal life, not whether the public agreed with it. It did not matter whether Americans wanted Roe preserved if the Court’s conservatives disagreed. The movement began asking the Court to decide that abortion itself was unconstitutional—an effort that has only gained momentum after Dobbs.The anti-abortion movement now is fragmented, as groups that traditionally dictated strategy are falling out of favor and new, more absolutist organizations such as Students for Life (which condemns chemical contraceptives, rape and incest exceptions, and even life-of-the-mother exceptions) are vying for supremacy. Nowadays, those bidding for control of the movement don’t talk much about creating a popular majority. True, some anti-abortion leaders still say that it’s morally acceptable to allow for some abortions when a patient is dying, or even to vote for abortion bans that stop short of criminalizing every procedure because “lawmaking is the art of the possible.” But now, democracy is either an obstacle that the movement has to live with or, for others, an inconvenience that they no longer can afford.
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