Anti-abortion, pro-gun laws aren’t progressive but are they strictly anti-democratic?



“What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds”
– Will Rogers

The other day Ed Luce, the Financial Times’s US editor, warned that US democracy (paywall) was “still in the danger zone”. He listed the usual things that democracy-minded Americans and the wider world worry about:

** The grip of the “big lie” about the 2020 “stolen election”

** The laws being passed in Arizona and Georgia to seize control of their electoral college returns

** The discernible “pattern” in which Democratic cities would be deprived of voting outlets whole voting becomes easier in Republican-leaning rural areas

Mr Luce also mentioned the laws being passed in Texas to limit abortion as well as to remove the need for any gun licences. And finally, he noted the results of a recent poll for the conservative American Enterprise Institute. It found that 56 per cent of Republicans supported the use of force to “protect the traditional American way of life”.

All of the above are decidedly worrying, as well as a doleful reflection on the state of America and its politics today.

But do they constitute a danger to democracy?

Laws limiting abortion are about anti-progressive values. So are looser gun laws, which in themselves reflect a kind of maniacal devotion to a mythologised idea of the American frontier spirit. Anti-abortion and pro-gun laws are not anti-democratic unless they go against the popular will of the people they affect.

Do these anti-abortion and pro-gun laws go against the will of the people? I’m not so sure. Mr Luce rightly observes that Texas governor Greg Abbott wants to enact laws that have long been on his donors’ wish list. “There was no grassroots clamour in Texas to make buying firearms simpler or voting harder,” he writes.

That’s a good point. But those anti-progressive laws will, in the 2022 midterms, be up for democratic comment at the ballot box. If those measures are not the people’s will, they can vote out politicians who weren’t listening or leading in the way they wanted. Considering that voting is being made easier in Republican-leaning areas, enfranchised citizens (Republican or not) can let their leaders know what they think of the laws they pass. Of course, it goes without saying that it is  anti-democratic to limit voting outlets (and timings etc) in Democratic cities, but these anti-democratic measures can’t be conflated with anti-progressive ones.

As I have said many times before, all too often people describe democracy as if it were interchangeable with truth, justice and virtue. In actual fact, democracy was only ever meant to provide enfranchised citizens one thing — the right to help guide their destiny. What democracy cannot guarantee is the virtuousness or justice of the choices offered to the people and their motivations when they choose from among them. If, as in India, enfranchised citizens vote for a Hindu nationalist party (as they did in 2014 and 2019), they are engaged in a democratic exercise. Their chosen political party does not follow norms to do with justice, truth and virtue but Indians still have democratic choice available to them. It’s just that the democratic will can sometimes skew increasingly illiberal.