Tag Archives: U.S. Constitution

Living in Weimar 1: On the Brink


Laurie and Debbie say:

bill of rights

We’ve been talking to each other, and to our close friends, for several months now about how much Donald Trump frightens us, and about just how dangerous we think he is to the United States and the world. Laurie started our catch-phrase for this, which is “living in Weimar.” The Weimar Republic was the unofficial name of the German Reich from 1918 through 1933: the period when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, which was also a period when activists and artists were making great strides toward equality and positive social change. Living in Weimar means, to us, living in a time when vicious, dangerous ideas are powerful, when terrifying threats loom, and when taking action can change history very significantly for the better. (If you Google Weimar now, the first entries after the basic historical links are about the 2016 U.S. election.)

This week, as the Republican National Convention progresses in Cleveland, Ohio, our fears are being demonstrated. The Republican Party has adopted its most reactionary platform in decades–in some cases, the most reactionary positions it has ever held. The platform:

takes a strict, traditionalist view of the family and child rearing, bars military women from combat, describes coal as a “clean” energy source and declares pornography a “public health crisis.”

… the document … amounts to a rightward lurch even from the party’s hard-line platform in 2012 — especially as it addresses gay men, lesbians and transgender people.

In direct contravention of the principle of separation of church and state, the platform “demands that lawmakers use religion as a guide when legislating, stipulating ‘that man-made law must be consistent with God-given, natural rights.’”

And in keeping with that, the Republican Party has also declared itself to be above the U.S. Constitution, a document that has weathered crises for 230 years:

The Platform does not simply interpret the First Amendment in ways that are agreeable to conservatives and anathema to liberals, it proclaims that the Republican interpretation of the First Amendment is impervious even to a new constitutional amendment that repudiates this interpretation! If Congress were to propose, and the states were to ratify, a constitutional amendment overruling the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the Republican Party’s position is that this amendment would be null and void.

In that context, we are not just looking at a president who might launch nuclear weapons if someone criticizes the size of his hands. We’re looking at a genuine American revolution, one which Donald Trump may not even care about, and which he is nonetheless poised to lead. And yet, many people still seem to see Trump as some sort of a fluke who got this far but cannot possibly get any further.

In this context, we are grateful to Hannah Koslowska at Quartz for locating the New York Times’ very first article about Adolf Hitler: what the dangers of living in Weimar looked like from across the ocean in 1922. The headline was “New Popular Idol Rises in Bavaria: Hitler Credited with Extraordinary Powers of Swaying Crowds to His Will.

Several reliable well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch messes of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.

A sophisticated politician credited Hitler with peculiar political cleverness for laying emphasis and over-emphasis on anti-Semitism, saying: “You can’t expect the masses to understand or appreciate your final real aims. You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism. It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you really are leading them.”

Donald Trump is not Hitler. As Harold Meyerson says in an excellent article at The American Prospect, which we will discuss more in future articles about living in Weimar:

I’m neither equating Donald Trump with Hitler nor saying he’s fascist in the classic sense. Trump has no organized private army of thugs to attack and intimidate his rivals, as both Hitler and Mussolini did. But Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and nationalist appeals; his division of the nation into valorous and victimized native-born whites and menacing non-white interlopers; his constant employment of some Big Lies and many Little ones; and his scant regard for civil liberties make him the closest thing to a fascist of any major party presidential nominee in our history.

Trump is a demagogue; he’s thrilled to whip crowds into a frenzy of hatred; and he only cares about his own power. He doesn’t have to be Hitler to be terrifying. And we don’t have to be living in the actual Weimar to be terrified. The key thing, however, is to turn terror not into paralysis, but into action. As in Weimar, this is a time when really positive possibilities for social change and cultural shifts exist along with the threats, which makes it a time when we all need to do what we can to make it happen.

Privacy Is Not a Patriarchal Value

Laurie and Debbie say:

In reflecting on the issues of Sarah Palin’s family, Amanda at Pandagon writes about privacy and autonomy.

I find it interesting how the McCain/Palin campaign tried to shut down the P.R. disaster that is Bristol Palin’s pregnancy by calling for privacy, which was, just short of their invocation of “choice”, about hiding behind feminist values to assault feminism itself, since they wish you and your family have neither privacy nor choice when it comes to management of your life. But what I find especially interesting is that “privacy” was not actually a feminist value until it had to be in order to get reproductive rights established. Which isn’t to say that I’m against respecting people’s privacy, but that rooting reproductive rights in the value of privacy instead of autonomy and self-determination has actually created some massive problems for us.

Privacy is a double-edged sword. Outside of its use by feminists to get what we want (reproductive rights) without scaring people by arguing for women’s equality, privacy is generally a patriarchal value. It shields rapists and wife-beaters. The sense that women are the private property of men is still more ingrained in our society than the idea that uteruses are the private property of women.

We respectfully disagree. The very nature of “patriarchy” involves the right to know the business of everyone under the control of the patriarch. “Private property” is not even close to being the same thing as privacy; in fact, privacy is the thing that no “property,” be it slaves, wives or children as property, or pets, ever gets to have.

The rape and assault issues reflect the complexities of privacy, not who supports it. Everyone wants to be able to shield the things they are ashamed of, guilty about, or would get in trouble for, from the public eye. We believe that when those are facts that society has a right to know–such as who is being hurt behind closed doors, who is stealing from our common resources, who is lying about our safety–those facts should be immune from privacy. There will always be disagreements about where that line lies: patriarchs or not, we’re likely to take our own best interests into account in where we draw it.

Yes, “privacy” can be used as a protective device for parents who molest their children, or for date rapists. It can also be used by marginalized individuals and groups, and everyone else, to protect ourselves from the prying eyes of the state, their employers, or random people on the Internet. If privacy was a value of the patriarchy, would the patriarchal Bush administration be constantly inventing new ways to invade it? Would Sun Microsystems CEO have said as early as 1999, “You have zero privacy. Get over it.”?

While we were writing this post, Laurie said “privacy is the big issue of the first part of the 21st century.” In a sense, it’s the new issue–the one that we haven’t been fighting out for centuries. A world where your potential employer can find out about your high-school indiscretions, your neighbors can review your arrest record, a department-store employee can steal your identity, and a stolen or misplaced laptop can open you up to financial or medical disaster is a whole new world. We mostly read about the people who can’t cope or have been caught unawares–sad and very true stories. We also see a lot of people learning new strategies to protect their privacy, and/or to draw intricate lines between identities so that some things about them never become public.

Amanda goes on to discuss some legal history.

Only after men got a right to sexual privacy spelled out in Griswold did the Supreme Court extend it to women in Eisenstadt and Roe. It’s very fashionable to say Roe was badly decided, but rarely do I see such critics (usually male critics) argue that it should have been rooted in the belief that women have an equal right to our bodily autonomy. Which is really the only argument that I think would have actually help lift the debate out of the muck it’s in. Men have a right to father an actual child who is a living, breathing person with a birth certificate and then refuse to give that child a kidney if it needs one to survive. Surely women have a right not to be forced to donate our bodies to people who aren’t even people yet.

The public conversation around reproductive rights in the United States over the last thirty years has absolutely not been a conversation about privacy. Feminists consistently demand and discuss women’s autonomy and our rights to our own bodies. The common language, of course, is “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” Intense anti-abortion activists and intense pro-abortion advocates alike don’t discuss this as a privacy issue, and neither does the media, or people on the street. But we thought we’d also take a look at Amanda’s legal/constitutional arguments:

Griswold, which permitted married couples to use contraception, protected couples (perhaps it had to do so to protect men, but nonetheless the result was arguably more useful to the women who would bear the children) based on a simple right of privacy. Eisenstadt, which extended the right of contraception to unmarried couples, extends those rights on the basis of equal protection. And while Roe did legalize abortion using the right of privacy, reading the opinion makes it clear that they were using the word “privacy” in a very technical way which is not what we mean when we use the word in daily speech:

The opinion of the Roe Court, written by Justice Harry Blackmun, declined to adopt the district court’s Ninth Amendment rationale, and instead asserted that the “right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” … Thus, the Roe majority rested its opinion squarely on the Constitution’s due process clause.

For those of you who haven’t memorized the Constitution, the Ninth Amendment is kind of a catchall to the Bill of Rights, saying that this list of rights should not “deny or disparage” other rights. The key piece of the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave citizenship rights to former slaves, is “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” And “due process” is the theory that says that you can’t deprive people of some rights just because you have given them other rights.

Therefore, Roe rests on the principle of citizenship rights, “personal liberty and restrictions on state action,” not really on what we mean when we say privacy.

It is the case that a father can refuse to give a child a kidney; so can a mother. That’s not a man’s right, it’s a parent’s right. Children are among the most marginalized groups in our society, and we certainly don’t seem to believe in their right to any privacy at all.

It would be nice to believe that a different legal foundation for Roe would have gotten us out of the reproductive rights mess, but it’s hard for us to see how that could have worked. Meanwhile, trusting the patriarchy to protect your privacy doesn’t seem to be a very good strategy.