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Behold, the New GOP Culture Wars

The Republican Party's message is that those who are not either straight, white, cisgender men, or in service of white supremacist patriarchy, had better fall in line or face prohibition and the threats of violence.
Bedminster, NJ – Aug. 14, 2022: Demonstrators rally during a ‘Stand with Trump’ event following an FBI search at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. Photo by Ben Von Klemperer/Shutterstock.

Republicans are resorting to their age-old tactic of manufactured moral outrage to distract from the fact that they have no economic agenda other than to enrich the already wealthy. It would be laughable if their culture wars didn’t have a deadly impact on people’s lives. From attacks on the right to an abortion, to the right to be transgender, to the right to study accurate history, conservative attacks on vulnerable populations have reached a fever pitch. And it’s destroying the nation.

As if overturning Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court in 2022 wasn’t enough, 20 GOP state attorneys general are now targeting pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS for fulfilling mail orders of the abortion drug mifepristone. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a federal agency, in January expanded availability of the drug across the country. The abortion pill was relatively unknown some years ago but is now used in more than half of all abortions nationwide, likely in response to the rapidly disappearing access to surgical abortions. Now, as they go after mail-order abortion pills, Republicans are showing just how hell-bent they are on ensuring that the bodies of women (and transgender men) remain glorified baby incubators.

Republicans claim that in addition to protecting the life of a collection of fetal cells that they are determined to personify, they are working in the interests of women’s health. Missouri’s Attorney General Andrew Bailey explained his opposition to the abortion pill in a written statement, saying he was merely “protecting the health of women and their unborn children.”

However, not only are abortion pills safer than penicillin or Viagra, but going through pregnancy and childbirth is far more dangerous to women’s health than aborting a fetus. According to a New York Times report on one study of the effects of abortion restrictions on women, “Women who were denied an abortion and gave birth reported more chronic headaches or migraines, joint pain and gestational hypertension compared with those who had an abortion.” Furthermore, “They also reported more life-threatening complications like eclampsia and postpartum hemorrhage, and burdens that included higher exposure to domestic violence and increased poverty.” (It is a wonder that some of us choose to have children at all.)

The GOP’s war on transgender people has also gained steam. Just as Republicans are determined to control the bodies of people who want to terminate pregnancies, they are battling the right of transgender people to transition via surgeries, hormone supplements, or other gender-affirming medical treatments. It’s a shocking attack on people’s right to be who they want and need to be—one that targets young people in particular.

Again, the right wing uses concerns over health as cover for its attacks on human rights. For example, GOP lawmakers in Texas have introduced 35 anti-LGBTQ bills, three of which would view medical care as child abuse. But, even though the vast majority of the anti-LGBTQ bills that are introduced fail to become law, according to the Trevor Project, the debate itself is deeply traumatizing for young people. The organization found that “86% of transgender and nonbinary youth say recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health.” It has further encouraged bullying, and the risk of suicide.

Writing in the Nation, Amy Littlefield and Heron Greenesmith point out how “The right is deploying tactics against trans rights that are eerily similar to those mounted against abortion rights over the past five decades.” It’s the same Republican playbook over and over: claim that attacks on vulnerable people are in their own best interests to distract from the fact that the party has no actual plan to make people’s lives truly better.

Like the attacks on abortion and transgender rights, Republicans are also so worried about the supposed harm to students of American history that their third major battlefront is educational courses that question white supremacy and its impact. Claiming they are fighting a college-level academic approach to history called critical race theory, GOP leaders such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are busy banning books and classes at all levels of education. DeSantis’s latest assault is a ban on a new AP-level high school African American studies coursethat the College Board spent years devising and is set to pilot in 60 schools across the country.

The pushback by DeSantis and his allies has already yielded results. The College Board seemingly capitulated and sanitized the AP course, paring back mentions of Black feminism, queer theory, and the Black Lives Matter movement and replacing it with a new section on Black conservatism.

The move came at the same time that congressional Republicans took aim at Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN), unceremoniously stripping her of membership in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy justified his ousting of Omar from the committee over her alleged antisemitism because she has criticized the state of Israel. Never mind that criticism of Israel is not equivalent to racist attacks on Jews; two of the GOP’s own representatives, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), whose antisemitism is well documented, are now poised to regain their committee seats.

In a speech on the House floor, Omar rightly pointed out that the Republican attack was about “who gets to be an American.” She called out the GOP for its earlier culture war aimed at the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, and for spreading rumors that he was a secret Muslim and not a natural born U.S. citizen.

The message that emerges from the conservative party is that those who are not either straight, white, cisgender men, or in service of white supremacist patriarchy, had better fall in line or face prohibition and the threats of violence.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are busy readying their pitchforks over the federal government’s debt, hoping to extract austerity measures in exchange for their support to raise the debt ceiling. According to the Washington Post, “the party has focused its attention on slimming down federal health care, education, science and labor programs, perhaps by billions of dollars.” And, some have “pitched a deeper examination of entitlements,” which is a euphemistic way of saying they want cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Aggressively bombarding women, transgender people, Black people, immigrants, and people of color over their bodily autonomy and their gender and racial identity is a tactic that Republicans hope will keep conservative voters loyal to the GOP and lets them off the hook on regressive economic policies. It’s a classic bait and switch—one that we ought not to fall for.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Sonali Kolhatkar, Independent Media Institute

Sonali Kolhatkar, Independent Media Institute

Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

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