For every finger you point, three fingers point at you.
Republicans, who like to style themselves as the pro-life party, have long labeled Democrats, on the basis of their support for abortion and euthanasia, the Party of Death. Republican self-righteousness is wholly groundless, however, because Republican policies kill not just embryos, fetuses, and the terminally ill, but thriving human beings, including both children and adults.
The figures, which are deeply distressing, cover five areas: reproductive health, the AHCA, inequality, the environment, and war.
There were an estimated 926,200 abortions in the U.S. in 2014 (the latest year for which statistics are available), equivalent to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44, 12% fewer than in 2011. Globally the rate was 56m. That’s a lot. But Republican claims to being pro-life are seriously undermined by the following numbers, all of which refer to deaths of living human beings.
President Trump has just signed an order reinstating the so-called Mexico City policy, which stipulates that family planning funds cannot go to foreign aid groups that ever discuss abortion. This cuts off global access to birth control, as well as cancer screenings, for tens of millions of women. It’s estimated that as a result, “thousands of impoverished, vulnerable women will die.” Journalist Nicholas Kristof, who has an outstanding record documenting the sufferings of women and young girls in Africa and the Middle East, notes that “this is a ‘pro-death’ approach that actually increases abortions, as well as deaths among women…. in poor countries, the most dangerous thing a woman can do is become pregnant.” In a recent New York Times column he writes:
When women and girls don’t have access to family planning and reproductive health care, they’re more likely to suffer pelvic organ prolapses, in which the bladder, uterus or bowel may protrude from the vagina. Or they suffer a fistula, a childbirth injury that leaves them leaking urine or feces, stinking and ostracized, and sometimes unable to walk. Women with prolapses or fistulas sit in their huts, humiliated, wondering if they are cursed, waiting to die.
The Marie Stopes organization, which provides birth control and reproductive care globally, and which claims to have averted 4.8 million unsafe abortions in 2016, estimates that the funding cutoff will result in an additional 21,700 women dying in pregnancy or childbirth.
Also axed by the Trump administration is the U.S. contribution to the UN organization for family planning and reproductive health, UNFPA. The agency ensures access to contraception and maternal and child health services, and fights against gender violence, child marriage, and female genital mutilation in more than 150 countries worldwide. The State Department nevertheless claims, falsely, that UNFPA was actively involved in coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization in China. In reality, birth control provided by the UNFPA averted more than 3.7 million abortions last year alone, something a supposedly pro-life administration should surely support, not undermine. The British medical journal The Lancet called the defunding move “misogyny,” characterizing it as a “direct attack on women’s lives and rights.”
Misogyny does indeed seem an apt description for what Republicans are currently engaged in regarding women’s reproductive health. During a recent US health-care debate, for example, in a remark that takes one’s breath away, Illinois Republican representative John Shimkus asked why men should have to pay for prenatal care. In a similar show of hostility to women’s health concerns, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has seen fit to appoint 13 men but no women to the working party tasked with writing a new health-care act.
The current House AHCA would also defund Planned Parenthood, which supplies reproductive advice, prenatal care, and contraceptives on a global scale. African countries will be particularly hard hit. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth kill a quarter-million African women each year.
The efforts currently underway in Congress, spearheaded by Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, to use the AHCA to defund Planned Parenthood would also eliminate the services it provides in the U.S. Such efforts would include blocking Medicaid recipients from getting care at Planned Parenthood health centers, as well as broader moves which would disproportionately target people with low incomes, people living in rural communities, and people of color. Planned Parenthood estimates that 2.5 million people a year would lose access to birth control, cancer screenings, STD tests and other services if Republicans succeed in shutting down the organization. The potentially catastrophic effect of such a move can already be seen in Texas, where pregnancy-related deaths doubled after the state stopped reimbursing Planned Parenthood.
More broadly it seems clear, as the latest version of the AHCA makes its way through Congress, that millions of Americans (the non-partisan CBO put the number as high as 24m) will lose all healthcare coverage. Others will face unaffordable premiums that are slated to rise by as much as 500%. The inevitable outcome will be hundreds of thousands of preventable premature deaths, not to mention greatly increased suffering by those who aren’t able to receive adequate medical or pharmaceutical care. As is typically the case, most of the burden will fall on the poor, the old, and people of color, or in other words, those who are most defenseless.
Still, for any Republicans who might begin to waver in their support for the current pro-death campaign, there are exculpatory words from neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Carson noted recently that poverty was “really more of a choice than anything else.” Naturally, it follows that the poor don’t really deserve healthcare support, since they chose their position in society.
If there is one truth about health and wellbeing that persists over time, it’s that the poorer you are, the worse the care you receive. Of course, if with Ben Carson and a majority of Republicans you believe that “if you’re poor it’s your fault,” then clearly the poor are no more deserving of special treatment than the billionaires in Trump’s cabinet. Fortunately, most decent people with even a sliver of empathy for those worse off than themselves reject such manifestly self-serving hypocrisy.
There is good reason, then, to be alarmed about not just the significantly reduced services that the projected AHCA portends, but also the various ways in which economists from both the left and the right forecast that the Republicans’ proposed tax reform would hurt the bottom 25% or so of earners. Counterintuitively, for example, the kind of tax cut Trump is proposing is unlikely to foster growth and could even harm the economy. This is because unlike periods of real downturn (such as after the Great Recession), an economy that, as now, is nearing full employment simply cannot go faster—it’s approaching its internal “speed limit.” Yet absurd increases in growth—Trump has suggested figures as high as 5%—have been used to justify cuts in care that will mainly fall on the poor. Furthermore, Trumponomics will almost certainly increase inequality directly, leaving the poor still more vulnerable to premature death.
An even greater source of Republican pro-death policies is denial of climate change. Rejecting overwhelming scientific evidence that the current highly dangerous increases in global warming are caused by preventable human sources of pollution such as the burning of carbon-based fuels, Trump has found broad party support for a whole slew of ill-advised policies, including supporting efforts to revive the coal industry, loosening restrictions on automobile and power station emissions, increasing offshore drilling, and threatening to withdraw U.S. support for the historic 2015 Paris climate accords.
The inevitable outcome of these moves will be to significantly exacerbate an already highly precarious situation with regard to global warming. Take a predicted rise in sea levels of 2-4 feet by 2100. Let’s ignore the fact that Miami will lose a large part of its shoreline property. The people currently paying millions of dollars for beachfront condos will certainly have the financial resources to move elsewhere in plenty of time. But what about the poor in Bangladesh? It’s predicted that up to 10 million current inhabitants would be forced to flee low-lying coastland, creating one of the largest and most dangerous refugee crises of the century. Hundreds of thousands would likely perish from the many hardships refugees are forced to endure, including hunger, disease, lack of shelter, and possibly conflict with neighboring countries such as Myanmar and India.
This same situation is likely to be duplicated in Africa and the Middle East. Temperatures exceeding 140F were recorded in Saudi Arabia last year, a trend that, if it continues, will make large parts of the Middle East uninhabitable. In Africa, a significant number of refugees headed for Europe are escaping not terrorism or war, but drought, famine, crop failures, and other outcomes of a warming Earth.
Most climate scientists are already concerned that we may be about to pass a point of no return at which it would become impossible to restore the status quo ante. But if current and projected Republican environmental policies were to remain in place for even a decade, they would likely trigger a cascading series of crises (e.g., other countries following the U.S. lead) that could only result in catastrophic disaster. Millions would die prematurely, and millions more would be forced to lead lives of unrelieved poverty and suffering.
War, and Nuclear War
If war kills, then admittedly not all of the resulting deaths can be blamed on the Republicans. It was a Democratic president who, rightly or wrongly, dropped atomic weapons that killed 100,000 Japanese. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson oversaw the conduct of the Vietnam war, which killed over 50,000 Americans and countless more North and South Vietnamese. However, in all these actions, they could rely on the full support of House and Senate Republicans.
The Iraq war, initiated by President Bush in March 2003 and reluctantly supported by some but not all Democrats, killed over 5,000 American soldiers, but as many as 600,000 Iraqis (estimates vary), including civilians as well as combatants. In Syria, in a war essentially triggered by the aftermath of the Iraq war, as many as 470,000 civilians have died thus far, and up to 4,700,000 refugees have been forced to flee their homes, with no end in sight.
By far the greatest danger, however, stems not from another conflict involving a heavy contingent of boots on the ground, but rather from one in which tactical nuclear weapons are used. President Trump has already made it clear that nothing is off the table in regard to dealing with North Korea, should it continue to develop nuclear weapons and ICBMs with which to launch them. Similarly, there’s already talk of a scenario in which a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities might prove tempting.
Most scientists who study nuclear war agree that even a “limited” nuclear war would inevitably escalate quickly into a wider super-power conflict. China would be unlikely to stand idly by if North Korea were attacked, and the Russians would probably come to the aid of Iran.
If the foregoing represents a deeply disturbing state of affairs, there’s nothing terribly new about it. As far back as the aftermath of the Civil War, those on the right caviled that government support was going to help the undeserving (i.e., slaves, the poor and landless, and other unworthies). What is alarming is the sheer intensity of the current assault on the health, wellbeing, and lives of women, the poor, and in Franz Fanon’s phrase, the wretched of the earth. This seems to be directly related to the Republican party’s alarming drift to the right, which began well before Donald Trump showed up.
It’s interesting to ask what motivates Republicans to be so callously indifferent to the misery, human degradation, and widespread death on a global scale that their policies entail. The answer isn’t complicated. Paying attention to the virtually unanswerable ethical arguments against their policies would require seriously reconsidering or even giving up political dogmas to which they are irrevocably committed.
The first of these is to ensure the loyalty of their fundamentalist Christian base (a solid 11% of voters) by adopting extreme anti-abortion and anti-birth control positions. Pure electoral self-interest also appears to underlie the possibility of Trump’s starting a tactical nuclear war as a way of drumming up patriotic feeling.
As for the remaining issues, they relate directly or indirectly to the bedrock Republican commitment to reward the investor class at the expense of virtually everyone else. Much climate science denial, for example, is grounded in the desire to boost the investment-intensive oil, gas, and coal industries. Correspondingly, current tax “reform” plans are (possibly erroneously) aimed at producing a rapid burst of growth that would significantly accelerate the current Trump-inspired rise in stocks while favoring the 1% with a nearly trillion dollar tax cut. One reason why Republicans are still anxiously pressing forward in the Senate with a third attempt to pass the AHCA is because the projected savings it would produce from cuts to Medicaid, etc., would be used to fund such a cut for the wealthy.
In sum, for the sake of rewarding religious bigotry and the greed of an ultra-narrow investor class, Republicans focus their legislative efforts on policies that, domestically and globally, cause the death of millions. To even begin to justify such policies is already to have lost your last shred of human decency. There is only one word for this political agenda. It’s evil.