“We’ll Show’em at the Ballot Box”: The Mifepristone Mess and the Dismal Judas Goat Dems

Photograph Source: fir0002 flagstaffotos [at] gmail.com – GFDL 1.2

Judas Goat definition: A goat trained to lead other goats to a place of slaughter.

– YourDictionary.com

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

― Frederick Douglass, 1857

Liberal media talking heads’ role in life seems to be enable the full right-wing takeover of the nation by keeping the people off the streets and steering their legitimate anger at fascist outrage into the killing confines of America’s right-tiled Minority Rule electoral politics.  Red states could set up internment camps for LGBT folks, taking wrecking balls to all their public libraries, hold public book burnings, outlaw non-Christian religious displays, imprison liberal and left intellectuals, shutter their public schools and universities, and strip women of voting rights and MSNBC and CNN hosts and guests would say “well, this really going to hurt the Republican Party in the ballot box 2024.”

Okay, I’m exaggerating. But not as much you might think.

“Those Children Will Grow Up and Vote One Day”

Last Friday, MSNBC’s Joy Reid ran a segment taking down the racist Republi-fascist pigs who briefly expelled two Black representatives from the Tennessee state legislature – one (Justin Jones from Nashville) and one (Justin Person) from Memphis – for leading a peaceful protest within the legislative chamber for gun reform after yet another mass school shooting. Reid was passionate when it came to denouncing the outrageous action but lame on how folks should respond. All she could muster on the second question was to say that “someday the children protesting this action will grow up and vote the Republicans out.”

No call for masses to take to the streets of Nashville and Memphis, the two cities that had just seen tens of thousands of their voters disenfranchised in the state assembly. Just “someday these children will grow up and vote” the right-wing party out of power.

She had nothing to say about how “the children” would do that under within the killing confines of the reigning Minority Rule regime created by right-wing racist and partisan gerrymandering on top of right-wing racist and partisan racist voter suppression, ubiquitous right-wing dark money, and the stocking of the courts system with  judges far to the right of the citizenry.

Let me paraphrase the counsel: someday over the rainbow, when we get everybody registered and determined to vote, things will be better. The kids’ll show’em at the ballot box.

It was the standard electoralist church talk of the sheep-dogging, Judas Goat kind that cannot fathom the existence of any other kind of politics than bourgeois electoral politics – this no matter how tilted and degraded those politics become.

Who’s Sitting in the White House vs. Who’s Sitting in the Streets

Which is ironic coming from an avowedly/purportedly progressive Black commentator (and Ukraine War enthusaist) reflecting on (among other things) the city – Memphis, Tennessee – where the great Civil Rights, antiwar, and social justice leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was executed one year to the day after giving a speech denouncing the US-imperialist crucifixion of Southeast Asia. King rebuffed liberal and New Left efforts to draft him for a presidential run in 1968.  because he agreed with something the radical historian Howard Zinn used to say: “it’s not about who’s sitting in the White House; it’s about who’s sitting in the streets.”

“The dispossessed of this nation – the poor, both White and Negro – live in a cruelly unjust society,” King said in 1967. “They must organize a revolution” that deploys “mass civil disobedience” to “transmute the deep rage of the ghetto into a constructive and creative force” to “dislocate the functioning of society.”

That was not exactly a call to the ballot box, with hope for some change maybe when today’s pro-gun control grade schoolers are registered voters.

Not Rising Up Against the Christian Fascist War on Abortion/Women, I: Dobbs

I was reminded by Joy Reid’s comment of how Democrats and their “pro-choice” NGO and “repro” allies responded to the Christian Fascist Supreme Court’s well-telegraphed shredding of women’s half-century constitutional right to an abortion in late 2021 and the first half of 2022. They rebuffed the militant new organization Rise up for Abortion Rights’ (RU4AR) clarion call for Kingian/Mario Savioian “mass civil disobedience” to disrupt business as usual in a nation where two-thirds of the populace supports women’s right to an abortion.  Before the ruling, they expressed childish disbelief that Trump’s Handmaid Court would actually kill Roe v. Wade. Some of them cynically looked forward to the terrible Dobbs v Jackson decision (June 24, 2022) on the grounds that it would work to their advantage in the fall 2022 mid-term elections, which many Democrats decided to call “Roevember.” After the ruling they worked to exploit the verdict to raise funds for abortion service providers and for Democratic candidates who saw Dobbs as their ticket to electoral success. Along the way, “choice” forces chimed in other reasons for not organizing a mass uprising:

+ “They can’t kill abortion rights because we have the abortion pill(s)” – a reference to the abortion medicatins mifepristone and misoprostol.

+ “The blue [Democratic-run] abortion states still have abortion rights under Dobbs.  Those jurisdictions will be heroic abortion sanctuary states whose laws and service providers will  save pregnant people in “red” that ban or severely restrict abortion after the Dobbs ruling.

+  “Worry not: we’ll take up the legal and political struggle at the state level.”

+ “And after the mid-terms we’ll get Congress to pass a bill codifying Roe v. Wade as a national law! We promise!”

(Along with these capitulation arguments came a series of disturbing neo-McCarthy-ite COINTELPRO-like liberal and “repro” attacks on RU4AR for rejecting these arguments and calling for massive protests and disruption.).

On Unjust Suffering

How’ did all that surrender work for the reproductive freedoms of women, girls, and transgender people? The women-hating Republi-fascists took back control of the US House of Representatives, pre-empting any chance of Congress passing “a bill codifying Roe as national law” – though here we should add that talk of that happening should never have been taken seriously given the impossibility of getting the legislation (the Women’s Health Protection Act) through the absurdly mal-apportioned and filibusted US Senate, where the nation’s most reactionary regions and states are grossly over-represented and 60 votes are required to pass most bills.

The blue states and pro-choice NGOs in blue states have proven predictably incapable of adequately addressing the sexist public health crisis unfolding in the growing number of states where women and girls are being forced to: go septic as they carry dead fetuses; give birth to their rapists’ child; risk death in a nation with a shamefully high mortality rate; forego careers, education, and creative pursuits – to lose freedom and opportunity – thanks to unwanted pregnancies and births; remain under the thumb of abusers since they cannot afford trips out of state to get abortions; experience painful miscarriages without access to medication that is used in abortions; give birth to children they can’t afford.

Not Rising Up Against the Fascist Assault on Women/Abortion, II: Kacsmaryk and the Fifth Circuit

As if all this just unjust suffering created by the Dobbs decision and concentrated most particularly in the nation’s most right-wing states wasn’t bad enough, a specially handpicked Christian fascist judge in the federal courts system moved last week to cripple medication abortion nationwide. In an openly political and revanchist ruling issued on the day marking the purported martyrdom of the Christian messiah (Good Friday), the Texas-based, Trump-appointed district judge Matthew Kacsmaryk “ordered” the reversal of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA)’s approval of the highly safe and effective abortion pill mifepristone. The ruling was meant to effectively pull mifepristone, which is used in half of all US abortions, from the market.

Kacsmaryk’s ruling is based on thoroughly false, fake-scientific allegations about mifepristone’s safety and defied the six-year statute of limitations on challenges to FDA decisions. It ignored the anti-abortion plaintiffs’ lack of standing and flouted the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs returning abortion law “to the states.” It is a brazen assault not only on women and girls but also on science, public health, democracy (two thirds of the nation’s citizens have long backed women’s abortion rights) and the regulatory state. It elevates medieval misery and misogyny over reason, modernity, women’s liberation, and the common good. It does all this in explicit service to the theocratic doctrine of fetal personhood – an archaic dogma that elevates the rights of small fetal cell clusters over the freedom, opportunity, desires, and dreams of fully formed female and transgender humans.

If the ruling is backed by the US Supreme Court, a single far-right arch-reactionary among the nation’s 673  district federal judges will have been absurdly granted the power to trump the regulatory power and science-based judgement of the FDA. There is no precedent for such a dark possibility.

Very late last night, the far-right Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that the abortion pill mifepristone can remain technically and temporarily available on the market until the case is heard in full.  A Fifth Circuit appellate panel said the FDA’s approval of the drug could stand because too much time had passed for the anti-abortion plaintiffs to make a challenge. The panel also factored in the federal government’s concern that the sudden removal of a long-approved medication from pharmacy shelves would bring significant negative consequences for public health (no shit!).

But this decision is nothing for abortion rights supporters to celebrate. The panel ruled that the Christian fascist mifepristone opponents who brought their revanchist case to Kacsmaryk’s court can legitimately challenge previous federal government changes that increased pregnant  peoples’ access to mifepristone. Those 2016 changes included expanding the approved use of the drug from 7 to 10 weeks into pregnancy, allowing prescription by health care providers other than doctors, and permitting mifepristone to be mailed to patients instead of requiring it to be picked up in person from a health care provider.

The Fifth Circuit panel has chillingly agreed with the plaintiffs that the archaic 1873 Comstock Act prohibits the mailing of abortion drugs.

And it has restored an older draconian requirement that mifepristone can’t be prescribed until an abortion-seeker/-needer has made three (!) octor visits.

These are crippling restrictions, most especially but not at all exclusively for people seeking to end pregnancies in “red” states that have banned or severely restricted abortions.

At the same time, the panel accepted some of mifepristone opponents’ false claims about the drug’s safety.  It bought into the plaintiffs’ absurd judicial standing claim and falsely referred to a fetus or embryo as “an unborn child.”

Kacsmaryk clearly overreached on the statute of limitations and federal regulatory power, but the national-level assault on abortion rights has been significantly upheld. “This action by the 5th Circuit,” says American Medical Association President and MD Jack Resnick, “would still favor ideology & pseudoscience over facts, harm patients, interfere with the patient-physician relationship, jeopardize public health, and establish dangerous precedent letting judges override FDA expertise.” It is a devastating attack on reproductive freedom.

The ongoing Kacsmaryk case should put to sleep any remaining doubts that the Christian fascist women-hating right seeks to ban abortion nationwide, not just in red states, and to take away abortion pills.

“This Is Really Going to Hurt the Republicans in 2024” 

This is another clarion call for mass action, the Latin America-inspired uprising that RU4AR has been heroically trying to spark since the very minute the Supreme Court took up Dobbs. The obvious demand remains the same: “ABORTION ON DEMAND AND WITHOUT APOLOGY” because “WITHOYUT THIS BASIC RIGHT WOMEN CAN’T BE FREE.”

“Power,” Frederick Douglass said in 1857, “concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”

The recent break with quiet submission and the making of strident demands for gun reform by thousands of children and citizens and three militant state legislators (two of whom are young Black products of the Black Lives social movement) in Nashville is certainly part of why the governor of “deep red” Tennessee just agreed to tighten background checks for gun purchasers.

Look for no such direct action and demand-making from the Democrats and their establishment “choice” allies and agents in response to the mifepristone mess that Kacsmaryk’s ruling has created. Confronting and fighting power is NOT what the dismal, dollar-drenched  Hollow Resistance Dems and their nonprofit satellites are about.  On MSNBC and CNN the last few days, I have been watching one Democratic politico and talking head after another say the usual thing: “This is really going to hurt the Republicans at the ballot box in 2024.”  Same it ever was, straight out of what Zinn once called “Election Madness”: the “belie[f] that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of …[major party electoral] mediocrities who have already been chosen for us [by the ruling class].”

“As one would expect,” a distinguished US historian writes me, “the Biden administration rests on the supposed norms of bourgeois ‘democracy,’ and will wait for court decisions. While the administration dithers in absurd institutionalism, real women suffer, and a few will likely die. But…but I have received dozens of pearl-clutching emails from Democrats, right and center, lamenting the [Kacsmaryk] decision…and asking for money.”

Indeed. Ever since the spring of 2022, I’ve been noting in my email inbox an insult regularly added to the injury of political surrender on abortion rights by the inauthentic opposition party and their “pro-choice” NGO allies including above all Planned Parenthood and NARAL:

“This right-wing war on abortion is terrible! Please send us money so that we can pretend to fight back with failing top-down legal strategies and tepid electoral politics. Help us keep people off the streets and quiescent.  Help us keep the masses deaf to the counsel of Frederick Douglass.   Help us contain and quell and misdirect the fury of women and their allies by channeling popular anger into the killing confines of a Minority Rule legal and political order. Trust this system even as it ruins the lives of untold millions of women and girls.  Send money now!”

The “pearl-clutching emails” will continue after last night’s Fifth Circuit ruling. What else is new? Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

The Constitutional Killing Floor  

Will the full or (more likely) partial upholding of Kacsmaryk’s vicious ruling really let We the People “stick it to the [Republi-fascist] man” at the holy US ballot box? Not likely under the US constitutional system of right-tilted Minority Rule. The neofascist Amerikaner Republicans have state-legislative and US House districts savagely gerrymandered to their advantage across the nation (Nashville, Tennessee went 65% for Biden and is not represented by a single Democrat in the US House thanks to gerrymandering!).  They’ve got draconian voter suppression measures and practices working for their authoritarian, post-parliamentary side in numerous states. They continue to be favored by the openly undemocratic presidential Electoral College, which absurdly reduces presidential elections to a handful of contested states and significantly exaggerates the political weight of the nation’s most reactionary states and regions. They are absurdly over-represented in the absurdly powerful and malapportioned US Senate (which approves federal Court appointments), where every state gets two representatives regardless of population size (the Democrats are far more vulnerable than the Republicans in the 2024 Senate election line up than the Republicans, so that they are likely to lose their slim majority there).  It’s a two-party system wherein presidential elections have become coin-flips, making the chances for a second fascist Trump or first fascist Ron DeSantis administration (the latter is arguably more dangerous) a very real possibility.  The Supreme Court may rule this summer on a case (Moore v. Harper) that could let “red” (try brown) state legislatures cancel the popular presidential vote in their jurisdictions

Thirty Second Joe’s “Roots” Trip

Where’s Joe? After repeatedly and faux-passionately promising “to sign a bill codifying Roe v. Wade as national law” following the not-so “Roevember” midterm elections, the “devout” Catholic president gave a mere 30 seconds to the abortion issue in his 2023 State of the Union Address last February. In the wake of the Kacsmaryk ruling, the Biden administration – headed by a president who planned to nominate a Republi-fascist abortion opponent to a lifetime appointment as a federal judge in Kentucky a day before the Dobbs decision (!) – rejected calls for it to simply ignore the decision.  It claimed that doing so would set a dangerous precedent of the executive branch defying the judicial branch.  Never mind that the federal courts have been significantly taken over by medieval, women-hating Christian fascists and that the Trump administration regularly defied judicial rulings.

In the wake of the grotesque Kacsmaryk ruling, Biden has taken a “homecoming” tour to connect with his “roots” in Ireland, visiting a country where his beloved church has a long and ongoing history of shaming and abusing pregnant women and girls. He is going to a Catholic cathedral he claims a distant relative helped build in the 1840s. Nice. His church has poured millions of dollars into a half-century campaign to undo women’s right to an abortion – this in defiance of majority support for abortion rights among not only the entire US population but among US Catholics.  While too touchy-feely Joe blathers about his Irish maternal grandfather Ambrose Finnegan (“he’d say Joey, the best drop of blood in you is Irish”) and has his underlings explain that “the law is on our [women’s] side,” American women and girls are being prepped for a new level of unjust suffering nationwide.

For this and other reasons, the deeply conservative, strikebreaking president Joe “Sleeping Car” Biden may very well hand the White House back to the women-hating fascist and likely serial rapist Donald Trump or gift it to the arguably worse fascist Ron DeSantis in 2024-25. Then begins The Handmaid’s Tale for real.

It’s good that people voted the fascist Trump out of office in 2020, but on abortion as with many other issues, Zinn’s counsel holds:

“Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. But before and after those two minutes…our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice… Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

An earlier version of this essay appeared on The Paul Street Report.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).