For all the power the right wing is about to hand her, though, Barrett has indeed chosen a self-limiting ideology, and not just because of her views on Roe. Conservative women aren’t interested solely in abolishing abortion, or in limiting the scope of modern gender equality laws. Schlafly was an anti-communist who belonged to the John Birch Society before she ever campaigned against the ERA. Her anti-feminism comprised one strand of a comprehensively dangerous ideology. The women who serve the Trump administration aren’t much different, and neither is Barrett. A Supreme Court justice with right-wing perspectives on labor, the environment, immigration, and criminal justice can harm women from all backgrounds in all aspects of their lives. That is the intention, and not the accidental byproduct, of constitutional originalism. As embraced by jurists like Barrett and her old boss, Antonin Scalia, originalism is its own dogma; the extension of a political theology committed to an older and more exclusionary version of America.
Barrett understands all that. She’s exactly as intelligent as her advocates say, and she’s made all her choices with a sound mind. Her reward is power. If she’s confirmed by the Senate, she’ll be able to finish what Schlafly once started. She could help lock in Trump for another four years. She’ll be able to deal democracy and yes, the feminist movement the blows the Christian right has dreamed of landing for years.
Feminism shouldn’t be any less ruthless. There are several explanations for the right’s out-maneuvering of the women’s movement. One is the preponderance of a choose-your-choice feminism that had more in common with a branding campaign than it did with real politics. But another is the movement’s reliance on a Democratic Party that has only ever been intermittently committed to the progress of women. Schlafly and her housewives helped remake the GOP. Feminists must do the same to the party of Joe Biden. No compromise on abortion. No compromise on trans rights. No compromise on matters of economic justice, like a living wage and paid leave. If that sounds too risky, remember the stakes, and something else, too. Public opinion is not on the side of the conservative movement. The future is there for feminists, and the left, to win.
Many rich tax cheats will tell the IRS they are broke while hiding their true wealth elsewhere. But Donald Trump isn’t just a tax cheat pretending to be broke for the feds. He appears to actually be broke. He inherited money from his father, squandered it on failed casino investments, offloaded the losses onto creditors, and then remade himself as a personal brand machine selling the rights to his name. He played a fake billionaire on TV and made significant money from doing that. Remarkably, adopting a fake reality TV show persona for public entertainment value may be the closest thing to honest work Trump has ever done. But rather than being content to invest those proceeds wisely, he went on another foolish real estate spending spree. His properties old and new are losing ridiculous amounts of money–he has lost a shocking $315 million dollars in the last 20 years at his golf courses alone.
One fact stands out far above all the others in its staggering implications: Donald Trump is personally responsible for $421 million worth of loans coming due in the next few years. Not his business. Him. Personally. He has no means of repaying them. He already refinanced his few profitable properties, and sold off most of his stocks to stay afloat. He appears short on liquidity. And we still don’t know to whom he owes the money.
I have generally been skeptical of the more grandiose Trump-is-a-puppet theories. However, this idea that he is on the hook to a bunch of different creditors—any of whom might come calling at any moment—seems much more credible to me.
Truly none of this is happening. It’s like being in one of those old iMax surround theaters watching a movie of a roller coaster or hang gliding or parachuting off the side of a mountain. You’re gripping your seat because you’re being inundated with sound and visual stimuli. It feels totally real. But yet … none of it’s real. You’re just sitting in a theater near some mall in the suburbs. None it is real.
I know you know that … sort of. But again, think how much in this climate of stress and confusion and specters of irresolvable disputes simply isn’t real. Just entirely made up.
That doesn’t mean everything is fine. This false drama and lying is all meant to set the stage for things that are very real. Certainly not to justify – but even for those of us who are gripping on to the sinews of our democracy with every strength, it creates a sense of forward motion, inevitability, disorder. But the reality check is still helpful, critical, necessary. Because none of it is really. It’s a storm of drama, completely fictive, to set the stage for an unpopular President to reject the results of an election that ends his presidency.
Our era is drenched in narrative. From the beguiling flame spiral of neoliberalism’s end of ‘grand narratives’, to Trump’s three and four word (lock her up / maga) death cult ultra-short stories of destruction, to our helpless fascination with the far right’s ability to govern by unverified sound-bite, to the fact that every shitty little marketer on the Internet now calls themselves a ‘storyteller’; story has eaten the world.
Our preferred form of storytelling is so obsessed with endings that we’re convinced we’re ring-side at the biggest, baddest, worst ending ever – that of the centuries of Reason and their faithful but unfortunately carbon-emitting Engines of Progress. We love endings, revere protagonists, and not so secretly long for their mutual culmination in a fiery end of glorious and gorgeously terminal self-actualisation. Our whole mode of future-imagining is a death cult. We literally cannot imagine the world after us.
I think there is a lot to this idea. There are all sorts of stories we can tell about the random sequence of events around us. Some of those stories can be helpful, others less so.
The problems arise when we take these stories and convince ourselves that they are true—or that there is a one-to-one mapping between the story and the real world—rather than constructs that can be picked up and discarded as their usefulness waxes and wanes.
The refusal by those with power to fully stand up to Trump’s combination of bullying, stupidity, incompetence, and insanity is one of the most striking aspect of his reign. It will puzzle historians for centuries (assuming humans survive). Yes, there was impeachment, some court cases, a few indictments, and there have been millions of appalled words written.
But the obvious conclusions — that every minute he is in office, Trump is a danger to the entire world and must leave immediately — is rarely voiced by anyone with influence. Weirdly, the failure to openly call for his stepping down continues despite widespread whispered consensus among the powerful and influential that the situation is very dangerous.
This is the very definition of moral cowardice.