Through my membership in the Theodore Roosevelt Association, I have had the pleasure of corresponding with James Strock, one of the TR Association’s advisory board members. He hosts a blog on the Substack platform named “The Next Nationalism”, which also promotes TR’s philosophy in the present age. I can heartily recommend his well-written articles and thought-provoking podcast interviews.
One of his recent posts combines beautiful writing and a sharp perspective to deliver a biting assessment of the state of our current politics. However, it also points out that we have been here before as a nation and always overcame similar internal crises through deepening our commitment to our democratic values and our own national community. It is a long piece and, at the same time, the best summary of what is wrong with current American politics and why American nationalism is the cure.
I have not previously commented on social issues like abortion because they are so divisive in a world where national unity is a key element of strategic strength. Personally, I am a practicing Roman Catholic and am pro-life on the issue. However, as an attorney, it has been heartbreaking to see the division over this issue corrupt the judicial nominating process. The branch of the federal government once called “the least dangerous” now mirrors our divisions instead of healing them.
The Supreme Court’s Dobbs opinion feeds this polarization by punting a fundamental human rights issue to the vagaries of federal, state and local politics. It overrules Roe v. Wade on the theory that the right to an abortion and indeed, the question of when life begins, is not deeply rooted in the concept of American due process and human rights and thus protected by the 14th Amendment. The majority opinion rules it is thus “time to heed the Constitution” and return these issues to the states.
Herein lies the one concept on which pro-life and pro-choice activists can both oppose; namely, that the question of when human life is entitled to protection should be allowed to differ from state to state. This is a fundamental national value enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and protected by the due process clause of the Constitution. Instead, the definition of this right will now be subject to the whims of state legislatures, which can change the definition after each election. At the same time, pro-choice advocates are pushing a federal stature legalizing abortion nationwide even though it also could be repealed by a subsequent Congress. Many states will continue to offer liberal abortion services and structures are now being developed to allow women from anti-abortion states to travel to those states to obtain one. In the end, the rate of abortions may change little because of this opinion.
The Constitution provides a nationalist solution to this dangerous political chaos – a constitutional amendment creating a national standard. If the pro-life movement had put its energy since Roe into evangelizing for such an amendment instead of trying to reshape the courts, we might now have one that bans abortion nationwide. Conversely, the pro-choice movement also could propose a constitutional amendment overruling Dobbs and legalizing abortion nationwide. The adoption of either amendment would require supermajorities at both the federal and state levels. Thus, the eventual solution would have to be supported by a broad consensus achieved through an open democratic process rather than judicial fiat. Each would clearly involve a period of intense debate, but the eventual solution would have more legitimacy in the eyes of the American people.
As Theodore Roosevelt says above, the Constitution was designed to insure that, in the end, the American people always had the last word. The constitutional amendment process is an integral part of the checks-and-balances system designed to insure it reflects the fundamental values of the American people. It has been used several times in the past to overrule Supreme Court rulings. If the issue of abortion must be addressed through the democratic process as suggested by the Supreme Court’s opinion, the two sides should concentrate on building the support necessary to propose and adopt an amendment that reflects their position. This is the best way to achieve a resolution of the issue in a way that also preserves our unity in the long run.
The string of horrifying mass shootings in Uvalde Texas, and elsewhere shines a uncomfortable light on our domestic policy failures in America. Propagandists of the left and right will blame the availability of guns, inadequate school security, social media or other convenient bogeymen.. They all will be right, but for the wrong reasons. Their shallow debate ignores even more intractable socioeconomic causes.
Theodore Roosevelt was a gun enthusiast and avid hunter. However, he also believed that every right comes with corresponding responsibilities . People should learn how shoot to build a disciplined character. Those without such character should not be allowed to own firearms. To the extent we can identify those individuals before they acquire a gun, I believe TR would have favored it and other controls to insure guns were used responsibly. Thus, background checks probably would not have bothered him as well as other limits on ownership.
However, there was more going on here than the use of a gun for an evil purpose. The school shooter in Uvalde had suffered from bullying at school due to a speech impediment as well as other apparent nonconformities (see article). He also apparently came from a difficult family life. Many mass shooters come from equally traumatic backgrounds, as this article points out. Thus, when we talk about school safety, it is past time to also talk about protecting vulnerable adolescents in large impersonal school environments. . It is also past time to ensure that they have access to the mental health resources and family support they need.
The COVID pandemic has strained the fabric of our families and the entire nation. Heinous acts like shootings are the results of a downward cycle of despair and anger. If we truly wish to reduce their incidence and preserve our basic rights, it will require meeting our responsibilities by accepting limitations on our own freedom and the expenditure of money and social policies necessary to combat the underlying causes of such despair and anger.