When I was an undergrad at Temple, I was asked to create an illustration for an article about abortion to appear in the first issue of the Philadelphia Free Press, the city’s first “underground” newspaper. Hard to believe, this was before Roe vs. Wade.
I had not yet had an abortion; that would come years later. But I knew what was at stake. My mother had told me about coat-hanger abortions performed in hotel rooms. It seemed to me that the choice was clear. Women’s reproductive rights could not, should not, be legislated by government. Separation of church and state was sacred, and the voices wishing to ban abortion had a distinctly religious overtone.
I viewed their opposition to abortion (and birth control) as the last vestiges of patriarchy, an attempt by religious fanatics to keep women barefoot and pregnant, chained to the stove and out of the workforce. My illustration for the Free Press article showed three women covering their eyes, ears, and mouth, imitating the postures of the three monkeys: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.
If anyone had told me then that reproductive rights, voting rights, civil rights, and the very fabric of our constitutional democracy would be at risk a half century later, I would’ve laughed. Yet here we are, again, at the very same tipping point, poised to take a giant step back into the Dark Ages, into an Orwellian state in which the populace is controlled by propaganda, denial of the truth, and historic revisionism.
We got a taste of it during the election. We were told Barack Obama “founded ISIS,” Hillary Clinton was “the worst secretary of state ever,” and that in Donald Trump’s first 100 days, he will “build that wall.”
It was funny because so many of us never dreamed that this reality-TV buffoon with three wives, a penchant for slapping his name on things, and no political experience could possibly win. And, god forbid, even if he won, surely he would drop the sleazy namecalling and 3 a.m. Twitter tirades. He would become “presidential.” But here we are, standing at the precipice, peering into the abyss, wondering how we will keep our balance and our freedoms.
I, for one, do not believe that Trump won because he correctly identified with “workers'” concerns. Since when does any Republican champion the rights of labor over bosses? If anyone sent jobs to China, it was the union-busting GOP. No, what Trump correctly identified was the seething fury in conservative Christian radio, TV, and websites. Otherwise known as the “alt-right,” a rebranding of white supremacists without the swastika tattoos and Nazi armbands.
These are the same extremists who wanted to ban abortion in the late 1960s, more recently persuaded Texas to wage war with Planned Parenthood, and just passed legislation in Ohio to force women to go out of state if their pregnancy is over five months, even in the case of incest or rape.
If you have never read an alt-right website, it’s like Cliff’s Notes for “Mein Kampf.” Race matters! Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, and gays are the enemy! They are conspiring to take your jobs, your women, your guns! Trump did not have to say these things verbatim. He spoke them in code provided by his wing-man Steve Bannon, the former publisher of Breitbart and the first to coin the term “alt-right.” It doesn’t help that alt is German for “old.”
Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America great again,” is another alt-right code for returning to a time when white Christian men ruled the land. Business owners had the right to refuse to serve blacks, Hispanics, Jews, and gays. Hell, being gay was a crime. Blacks were not allowed to vote. Pregnant women stayed pregnant. If a woman worked, she was a teacher, nurse, or waitress. Back then, there was no such thing as domestic violence: If a man beat his wife or kids, the police didn’t get involved. Those were the days!
So, when Trump tells crowds he will “bring back Christmas,” this is more than a jolly wink to the alt-right. This is a pledge to undo the separation of church and state, including: voting rights, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and reproductive rights. You want to plunk a plaster baby Jesus on the lawn of your statehouse? Go right ahead. And while you’re at it, you can refuse the right to serve whomever you please.
We are told Trump is “pragmatic.” That he is really a New Yorker at heart and doesn’t share the alt-right’s draconian social issues. But looking at the cabinet of predominantly old white military men and captains of industry he has created, I am not so sure. It feels a lot like 1968.