THURSDAY, MAY 12, 2022
What the vice president said: We continue to apologize for our lack of focus in the past few weeks. Medical issues involving our entire staff have dragged our attention away.
(We hope to be back on track soon.)
Even as we apologize, the anthropology lessons continue in the wider discourse. Rather, those lessons emerge from the general absence—the general lack—of a functioning national discourse.
The impending reversal of Roe v. Wade will involve a major upheaval in American life. Will we, the American people (such as we are) be able to conduct a serious discourse and negotiation as this episode unfolds?
Will members of our embattled red and blue tribes be able to speak to each other?
The evidence suggests that the answer those questions is no. Indeed, experts say that our attempts at conducting a national discourse broke down long ago.
At this site, we favor abortion rights. We also favor respect for Others. This brings us to the most striking piece of videotape we saw on cable last night.
Democrats had just engineered a 49-51 loss in the Senate. The proposal which was voted down would have written a version of Roe into federal law.
Vice President Harris had presided over that Senate vote. When she emerged, she took one question from the press.
Early in last evening's Last Word, Lawrence O'Donnell played the full videotape of what the vice president said. To see the official White House transcript, you can just click here:
QUESTION (5/11/22): Madam Vice President, what does this vote mean? And what is your message to women and childbearing people in America about what’s next?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Yeah, so, I just presided over the Women’s Health Protective Act vote. And sadly, the Senate failed to stand in defense of a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.
And let’s be clear, the majority of the American people believe in defending a woman’s right, her choice to decide what happens to her own body. And this vote clearly suggests that the Senate is not where the majority of Americans are on this issue.
It also makes clear that a priority for all who care about this issue—a priority should be to elect pro-choice leaders at the local, the state, and the federal level, because what we are seeing around this country are extremist Republican leaders who are seeking to criminalize and punish women for making decisions about their own body.
That presentation is hardly unique to Vice President Harris. The messaging involved in that statement isn't something Harris dreamed up.
That said, we were struck by the unyielding tribal repetition involved in the vice president's statement. At the beginning, middle and end of her statement, she repeated the verbal framework with which our blue tribe addresses this matter:
Within the framework of our tribe, we want to give each woman the right to "decide what happens to her own body." That's the way we frame this matter—and we leave the matter right there.
In the course of speaking that way, we disappear the fundamental beliefs of the Others—of the rival red tribe. For better or worse, The Others believe that another body and another life are involved in this matter—the life of an "unborn child."
That isn't our own fundamental view, but it's the view of the Others. And the Others have the same ownership stake in the society that we do.
That doesn't mean that the Others are right—but it's hard to prove that the Others are "wrong." Routinely, though, our tribe proceeds as Harris did, acting as if the Others, and their views, aren't even there.
Citizens, can we talk?
As a general matter, very few people would want to interfere with a woman's "right to decide what happens to her own body." When our tribe frames the matter that way, we make it sound like we are supporting the most obvious right in the world.
Elsewhere, though, in the other tribe, a different view of the matter prevails. Our neighbors and friends in the other tribe believe that a second body and life are involved—and as the Alito draft opinion has shown, the Others haven't abandoned that belief in the course of the past forty-nine years.
Here's what the experts have told us:
At times of tribal war, we human beings divide into membership / identity groups. We begin to otherize those in the rival tribe.
We come to believe that our views, and only our views, are worth considering or mentioning. We may even start to act as if the Others are less than human.
They may start to seem like cockroaches. Their views aren't worthy of mention.
Our American nation, such as it is, has been dividing into tribal groups for a great many years at this point. A great deal of The Crazy is now involved—and just for the record, a great deal of that Crazy, down through the years, has come from the people our tribe admires in the mainstream press.
"Now we're involved in a great civil war," as President Lincoln once said. The way our own blue tribe discusses this matter tends to leave no way out.
As the Court prepares to overturn Roe, we're facing a very difficult challenge. At present, The Crazy is widespread in the red tribe. If we want to be honest for once, our blue tribe, such as it is, isn't necessarily a whole lot better.
That said, we the people have fundamentally different ways of understanding the topic at hand. "We must not be enemies," Lincoln once advised. "We are not enemies, but friends."
"We must not be enemies," Lincoln said. Disconsolate experts, trailing tears, describe that as a type of response for which we aren't hard-wired.
We recommend respect for Others. We'd favor a "pro-choice" codification, but the Others are our fellow citizens. By the basic rules of the game, their views will have to be considered too.
Yesterday afternoon, our tribe achieved its latest win, by a 49-51 count. We're skilled at producing such victories, less impressive at everything else.
What President Lincoln said: Lincoln closed his first inaugural address in the manner shown:
LINCOLN (3/4/61): I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
It didn't turn out the way he hoped. Our bonds of affection, such as they are, are under a great strain again.