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The Post-Dobbs Abortion Fight

Why we need to learn that when we defend abortion rights, we’re defending democracy.

July 4th Protest in front of the US Supreme Court.,Victoria Pickering

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that explicitly stated that no constitutional right to abortion exists in this country. In that instant, the legal acknowledgement that women have control over their own bodies ended. This decision also marked one of the only times in our history that the highest court in the land rescinded—rather than expanded—a right. That day—50 years in the making—marks an inflection point in our politics, in the polarization of our country, and in the prognosis of our democracy.

The decision produced predictable shock across the country. Anti-choice leaders wept with joy and took victory laps in the press. Abortion rights supporters took to the streets in rage and vowed to get their revenge at the polls. Democratic lawmakers condemned the decision, many standing arm in arm with activists in the street. But elected Republicans were more muted in their approval; they focused on affirming the process the Court’s majority undertook to get to its decision and sticking close to talking points that emphasized states being now free to decide for themselves (though many women suddenly were not). Most of them stopped well short of a full-throated embrace of the substance of the decision. That daylight between many GOP elected officials and their movement’s leaders and base was a noticeable indication that the politics were more complex for them than they wanted to admit.

Six weeks after Dobbs, the GOP’s reticence was proven prescient when Kansas voters soundly rejected a ballot measure that would have paved the way to banning abortion in that deep-red state. It was now clear that the Democrats had a potent election issue on their hands and that the Republican overreach on abortion had finally penetrated the national consciousness. The rest of the election cycle is well-documented history. Abortion supporters ran the table on ballot measures in 2022, with victories from California to Kentucky. And the historic performance of Democrats in the midterm elections cemented the understanding that abortion was a winning issue for them. In exit polling, about three in ten voters said abortion was their top issue, and about six in ten said they were “dissatisfied or angry” about Dobbs.

If the electoral response to Dobbs made public opinion on this issue crystal clear, it also forcefully raised the question of how a right so popular could have been in such mortal jeopardy in the first place. And the answer to this mystery portends not only what’s next for women and reproductive rights but for the promise of American democracy. Because for decades, an ascendant radical right has cannily gambled that abortion is an effective Trojan horse for their agenda to maintain a tight grip on economic, social, and political power for predominantly white Christian men. This scheme proved attractive to leaders of a GOP looking for new levers of power; but then, over time, the radical right subsumed the traditional GOP. For their part, Democrats failed to recognize the anti-abortion strategy as a harbinger of a broader attack. They treated abortion as one issue among many, and often as a handy bargaining chip in cross-aisle negotiations. While they almost certainly believed this approach to be in service of the democratic process, it actually enabled the dismantling of democracy itself. Our ability to fight the growing threat of authoritarian impulses on the right relies on our ability to understand the history of their strategy and where we go from here.

The Lost History of Anti-Abortion Politics

In the early 1970s, the New Right—the regressive, populist, religious wing of conservatism led by figures like Phyllis Schlafly and Paul Weyrich—was obsessively focused on obstructing the changes that were reshaping power in American society. The civil rights era had given way to the Black Power movement. Mandatory school desegregation was eroding the grip that white fundamentalist churches had on their congregants. The anti-war movement had infused American youth culture with an appreciation for drugs and rock and roll, tools of Satan in the eyes of many religious leaders. The Stonewall uprising of 1969 led to the first gay pride marches in the early 1970s. And worst of all in these conservatives’ eyes, advocates for sexual liberation had ridden the coattails of the women’s rights movement, aided by the widespread availability of the pill in the mid-1960s and the Supreme Court decisions in 1965 and 1972 that liberalized birth control. Now women could have consequence-free sex, and they were demanding power in relationships and in the workplace. These leaders were shaken. Their own power was under assault, and so was the previously unchallenged idea that those who had risen to the top through the existing social order—read: white, predominantly Christian men—had an implicit right to rule over issues of family, politics, and commerce. The moral order that they found sacrosanct was crumbling in a way that invoked Biblical battles in their collective mindset.

When the architects of a politically emergent radical right wing landed on abortion as a political issue in a pivotal conference call of their leadership in the late 1970s, they were searching for an efficient proxy for their ultimate war against the forces pushing the country toward a multiracial, pluralistic democracy. Despite prolific revisionist history, evangelical leaders had no real issue with Roe v. Wade when it was handed down in 1973. W.A. Criswell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and uncontested leader of the early megachurch movement, put out a statement lauding the decision. “I have always felt,” the prominent lead pastor of First Baptist Dallas (Texas) wrote, “that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

Then came the 1980 election. Through its advancement of Ronald Reagan’s successful bid for President that year, the New Right was able to convince Republicans that railing against abortion to rally their religious base in a broader moral crusade against a descent into godlessness could win elections. At the same time, conservatives were building the organization that would soon be known for advancing deeply conservative judges throughout the American courts. In the years after the Federalist Society formed in 1982, its members claimed to be issue agnostic, instead focusing on advancing legal theories of “originalism” and “textualism.” However, by the 2000s, it was next to impossible to find a Federalist Society jurist not staunchly opposed to abortion rights and much of the rest of the progressive agenda.

Meanwhile, Democrats were also busy making sense of the new order. Many in the party had notoriously opposed racial integration all through the South, and some were resistant to women’s equality as well. But political realities compelled them to adapt. In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Republicans had adopted the Southern Strategy, using racial animus to win over Southern white voters. After Schlafly effectively defeated the Equal Rights Amendment, Democrats became the party of choice for equal rights. Democrats, some more enthusiastically than others, accepted that their path toward electoral competitiveness lay in embracing the societal changes underway.

It was at this precise moment, however, that the Republicans embarked on a 12-year run of executive power. For much of that time, they also dominated the Senate, which meant that Democrats were largely locked out of governing despite persistent majorities in the House. To make matters worse, Reagan was a master of the bully pulpit, waging a misogynistic and racialized war against abortion, welfare, and countless other artifacts of hard-won social progress from the previous two decades. In the wilderness and struggling to come up with a coherent message in the face of the New Right and Reagan, Democrats remained committed to their grab bag of issues as they saw them; but they saw their political future linked even more to moderation or “triangulation,” as the Democratic strategy of the 1990s came to be known.

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Despite this, by the mid-1990s, the battle lines were firmly drawn. Democrats were the pro-choice party, and Republicans had effectively rebranded as “pro-life.” Two days after Bill Clinton took office for his first term as President, he theatrically lifted the executive orders limiting abortion imposed by the two prior Administrations; he went on to pursue a broad agenda of triangulation to fight the mounting culture wars. Democrats in Congress continued to negotiate with their counterparts for a middle ground that would never be found. Instead, the next quarter-century was dominated by an increasingly radical GOP mounting legal and legislative attacks on reproductive rights, efforts that were punctuated by bouts of violence and political terrorism targeting abortion providers and clinic staff when change did not come fast enough. All of this was just a precursor of what was to come.

The Perils of One-Sided Democracy

Amidst this struggle, the country had reached a tipping point. As the New Right took over the GOP, the party itself became less invested in the continued working of democracy. Its leaders turned to consolidating power through new means: maintaining a highly engaged, zealous base; suppressing civic engagement through voting restrictions; and endlessly vilifying their opponents.

Abortion hit all of these goals. Long-standing societal stigma against talking about sex—specifically, women’s sexuality outside of the strictures of motherhood—helped Republicans depress resistance to their efforts. The rise of right-wing media throughout this era, including talk radio and the establishment of Fox News, created an asymmetry in the public discourse that the Democrats were not prepared for.

Their reaction was to quietly pursue negotiations toward common ground on reproductive rights while focusing public airtime on issues they felt were better suited for public discourse. This was reflective of their broader orientation toward advancing the progressive frontier on the issues that served the interests of the messy coalition they depended on to get a majority of votes. That orientation is laudable in principle; after all, social progress is an ever-evolving quest, requiring consistent incremental steps toward the goal of universal equality in the eyes of the law. But in practice, this too often blinded them to the unyielding approach that the New Right’s holy war had introduced to the Republican Party. Even after Democrats began to absorb the new reality, they were often paralyzed with indecision over what to do about it; meeting the GOP in kind would be to admit democracy was not working.

In order to call the strategy out for what it was, Democrats would have had to surmount their own discomfort, and yet this issue—which in their minds was in constant competition with others for their attention and resources—was never deemed important enough to be worth getting over that discomfort. So, most Democrats continued to think of the abortion rights issue as a necessary concession to an interest group in their coalition rather than the strategic underpinning of an unyielding political opposition. The GOP gamble paid off, and American women and American democracy are paying for it now.

For years, the GOP has made steady progress in curtailing reproductive rights—bans on government funding for poor women to access abortion, debilitating waiting periods for women who ask for the procedure, invasive and medically unnecessary ultrasound laws. At the same time, they have used abortion as a trigger to stall or block key pieces of legislation. In the Obama era, Democratic leadership tried to preempt a long public battle over the Affordable Care Act by accepting an exclusion on abortion coverage demanded, in part, by some of their own members. The Republicans still claimed incorrectly that loopholes in the bill allowed for abortion coverage and nearly derailed the act’s passage, which was their goal in the first place.

From a political perspective, Republicans were delighted to force Democrats to cede ground on abortion for nothing in return, to the growing frustration of the latter party’s rank and file. And ultimately, the constant skirmishes over abortion obscured the fact that the GOP was waging a far more sinister war—one against liberal democracy as a whole—and building an army for a final showdown that would have dire consequences.

First They Came for Abortion, Then Democracy

Democracy has always been an aspiration as much as a governing system. It is both the vision of an unending march toward a more just world and a functioning, participatory system that creates binding rules for mass adoption. Almost all adherents of democracy as a form of governance speak in the same breath of its frailty and the dearth of reasonable alternatives. To retain the confidence of those it seeks to govern, a democracy must deliver on the promise of progress and the need for stability, ideals often in tension with each other. To manage that tension, leaders have to respect the systems and structures of government but also the rules of engagement—a set of spoken and unspoken norms that guide participants toward constructive participation.

This is not and has never been easy, but it has become a uniquely one-sided effort since the New Right captured the GOP. Instead of pursuing the hard work of persuasion, public debate, and incremental change that is the bedrock of democracy, they set about attacking the base assumptions and norms that are the pillars of its operations. Paul Weyrich—often heralded as the godfather of the New Right movement, co-founder of stalwart right-wing institutions including the Heritage Foundation and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—once proudly proclaimed: “We are different from previous generations of conservatives…. We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country.” He went on to say to a crowd at a 1980 religious right gathering: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

ALEC served as an early and effective arm of this ideology. Through the 1980s and ‘90s, the organization mostly focused on attacking the regulatory state—on reducing the power of government by weakening the institutions that make it effective. But it also promoted the New Right’s vision of heteronormative white supremacy through policy papers opposing divestment from South Africa under apartheid and a full-throated attack on LGBTQ rights in a memo that erroneously stated that pedophilia was commonly associated with being gay. After Obama took office in 2009, ALEC shifted many of its resources into advancing voter suppression laws, dropping all pretense of a belief in full civic engagement. Right-wing media outlets churned out stories about attempted voter fraud, most of which proved false. Republicans led the charge to prioritize prosecution of these cases while also undertaking steps to gerrymander districts so as to insulate themselves from political competition and accountability. The combined effect of these efforts was material, in that fewer people were able to vote and those votes counted less. But it was also psychological. Fewer people will make the effort to vote if they believe that action doesn’t result in impact. In 2016, the United States ranked thirty-first out of 35 democratic nations in voter participation.

Of course, Donald Trump was infamous for busting norms. Imposing an explicit litmus test on his Supreme Court nominees that required they be committed to overturning Roe was one more indication that he saw a political priority in shoring up an extreme and vitriolic base over assuring all Americans that he was committed to a stable and continuous culture of governance.

Still, arguably the most flagrant recent example of violating norms happened in preparation for the 2016 election, not in the wake of it, and had nothing to do with Trump. In late February 2016, Mitch McConnell took an unprecedented move when he announced his refusal to move forward President Obama’s nominee to fill deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat. Blatantly disregarding well-documented history, McConnell claimed that confirming a sitting President’s nominee during an election year would undercut the ability of the voting populace to decide the direction of the Court.

McConnell gambled on both the confusion and the complacency of the Democrats, and both proved savvy bets. Many Democratic leaders appeared to wait for McConnell’s blatant lie to spark sufficient public outrage to force him to back down. When that failed to materialize, they reasoned that Hillary Clinton’s election was a foregone conclusion. Whispers in the halls of Congress and along K Street were that she might even nominate someone more progressive than Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland. One way or another, Democrats believed that mass participation would save them from this extraordinary act by the opposition. It never came. Progressives had no real history of mobilizing around the courts the way the right did. Trump won, and McConnell’s historic coup was made complete when he publicly reversed his prior claim about election-year nominees as he rushed to confirm Amy Coney Barrett in the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death just weeks before the 2020 election put the White House in Joe Biden’s hands.

Meanwhile, the Court itself was getting ready to break significant norms, starting with the fundamental idea that precedent matters in its ability to make its decisions binding. When Dobbs came down, even Chief Justice John Roberts expressed concern about the decision due to his fellow justices’ disregard for stare decisis (previous decisions by the Court) in their evisceration of Roe. “Surely we should adhere closely to principles of judicial restraint here, where the broader path the Court chooses entails repudiating a constitutional right we have not only previously recognized, but also expressly reaffirmed applying the doctrine of stare decisis,” he wrote in his concurrence. Clearly the chief justice preferred an incrementalist approach more consistent with democratic principle.

But Justice Samuel Alito brushed any concerns aside in his opinion, writing that the Court is free to decide as it likes and, further, should be insulated from public opinion. Far from being solely about abortion, the decision demonstrated a full embrace by the majority of an anti-democratic approach to what they believed was a morally correct view of how the country must be governed. As New York Times columnist Ezra Klein wrote in the immediate aftermath: “America’s age of norms is over. This is the age of power.”

Gender Oppression and the Rise of Authoritarianism

Reproductive oppression and authoritarianism have always been inextricably linked. In the last decade, the United States has joined Poland, Brazil, and Hungary as nations where the ascendance of strongman leaders and anti-democratic parties has gone hand in hand with a crackdown on reproductive rights. But rather than these trends naturally evolving in parallel, the deeply welded connection was central to the New Right’s plan to consolidate power in the United States. To say that today’s right is anti-abortion and anti-democracy is both accurate and incomplete. The truth is that these two elements of their worldview are inseparable now and must be addressed as one.

Perhaps nothing defines the present moment as clearly as a gathering in New York City late last year. In early December, hundreds of people filed into a ballroom in Manhattan, dressed in formal attire for a night out at the New York Young Republican Club. The attendees were a who’s who of the far-right wing. Speakers included Donald Trump Jr. and Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Far-right activist Jack Posobiec—best known for promoting a 2016 conspiracy theory about a supposed pedophile ring in the basement of a pizzeria involving Hillary Clinton, which ended in a man firing a gun inside the restaurant—spoke from the stage. Over cocktails, Steve Bannon mingled with three incoming Republican congressmen, including George Santos of New York. Peter Brimelow, who founded the anti-immigration website VDare, was there, as were members of European far-right parties. From the dais, NYYRC president Gavin Wax proclaimed to thunderous applause:

We want to cross the Rubicon. We want total war. We must be prepared to do battle in every arena. In the media. In the courtroom. At the ballot box. And in the streets. 

In her own speech, Marjorie Taylor Greene joked that if she had been in charge of the January 6 insurrection, it would have been armed and successful. The crowd was buoyant as they seemingly celebrated democracy’s descent into divinely ordained civil war.

The fact that the attendees were all virulently anti-abortion would merit no notice. That credential has long been the price of entry to the Republican Party. Greene has claimed that abortion is the work of Satan whispering into women’s ears. During his campaign, Santos compared abortion to slavery, describing them as similarly “barbaric.” Brimelow’s VDare website is full of claims about the supposed “great replacement” orchestrated by the left—an alleged white genocide that some have invoked to justify draconian anti-abortion laws. But perhaps no one demonstrates the convergence of apocalyptic rhetoric and anti-abortion sentiment better than Posobiec, who claimed last year that arguments in support of abortion rights are a precursor to the left’s “transhumanist agenda,” where God’s will is replaced by a nihilistic worship of machine science. Another right-wing commentator picked up these comments, excoriating the sinister worldview purportedly underlying defenses of abortion as “an abomination against the creation” and “a lie against the Creator.”

The themes of holy wars and mortal threats to the divinely ordained way of life are not new; in fact, they are the exact themes that gave rise to the New Right. But the new generation of far-right leaders has grown increasingly brazen in broadcasting them. The Big Lie that the election was stolen from Trump in 2020 metastasized in many Americans’ minds, and right-wing outlets, led by Fox News, amped up the rhetoric about an inevitable showdown between “good patriots” and those stealing the soul of the country. Still, abortion’s integral role in this narrative has long been overlooked by pundits and politicians.

Trump’s election reignited the innate connection between the white nationalist groups and the more respectable anti-abortion movement. Leading white supremacist group Patriot Front openly commanded members to attend the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, to look for new recruits. The anti-immigration sentiment that was the bedrock of Trump’s campaign provided social permission for right-wing candidates to ground anti-abortion efforts in the idea that white people are being replaced in America. Now-defeated Republican Iowa Congressman Steve King said in 2017: “You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies. You’ve got to keep your birth rate up, and that you need to teach your children your values.” And in June 2022, Illinois Representative Mary Miller responded to the fall of Roe by calling the decision a “victory for white life” at a rally with Trump. (Miller’s campaign later stated that she meant to say “victory for right to life.”) And when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, it was easy to spot known clinic protestors and avowed anti-abortion activists among the crowd. It’s imperative to understand these forces as one and the same in order to effectively combat them.

In September 2021, roughly a year after the contentious election and the assault on the Capitol, the Public Religion Research Institute conducted a poll. The results were sobering. Republicans stand alone in believing that God has given America a “special role in human history.” White evangelicals, as the driving force in that party, believe this most fervently. They also believe that this special role is under threat. A majority of Republicans say that the American culture and way of life have changed for the worse since the 1950s, and 57 percent of white evangelicals believe that the United States should be made up mostly of people who follow the Christian faith. White evangelicals are the religious group most likely to believe political violence might be necessary to save the country. While these sentiments have probably always been present in this demographic, what has changed is their grip on our governing system. The idea of an impending righteous war—grounded in apocalyptic narratives native to fundamentalists—has become inextricably linked with the future of our nation.

Preparing for the Future

Savvy Republican leaders and operatives understand their conundrum. The 2022 elections were proof that they had alienated too many of the voters they need for durable majorities, and yet, their work on abortion is not done. Their base demands a nationwide ban, which was the clear message at the 2023 March for Life. One of the first bills put to the floor of the House after the GOP reclaimed their majority was an anti-abortion bill. All this despite the clear signs they are on the wrong side of the electorate. It’s this needle they seek to thread as they advance toward the crucial presidential election in 2024.

In red states, advocates are demanding increasingly authoritarian measures to enforce existing laws. Leaders are publicly demanding jail time for violations of abortion bans already on the books and ramping up efforts to restrict the distribution of abortion pills that make self-managed abortion safe and hard to track.

“Everyone who is trafficking these pills should be in jail for trafficking,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. She claims to be in talks with multiple Republican governors about this topic. Such a claim by the head of the most politically influential anti-abortion group in America, combined with news about investigations and scores of new restrictions and bans, could have a chilling effect on the number of people seeking abortion, due to fear of prosecution.

Where fear doesn’t suffice, mandating silence might. A Texas state lawmaker recently introduced legislation that would compel internet providers to block access to websites that distribute pills and information about abortion and abortion medication, a level of censorship more associated with the government of China than our own. Anti-abortion activists invoke the Comstock Act to prohibit sending abortion pills through the federal mail system, an initiative explicitly designed to override abortion protections in blue states. Still others are seeking to curtail travel out of state to access abortion, a measure acknowledged as unconstitutional even by some abortion foes. Conservatives could also pass laws restricting the work of abortion funds that help people obtain reproductive care, or requiring them to hand over information to the government.

What all of these proposals have in common is an acknowledgement that state legislators don’t expect voluntary compliance and are willing to sacrifice democratic principles to get their way. They hope to instill not just fear and silence, but the sense that resistance is futile, especially as they gear up for the rest of the war that was always endemic to their goals. As Justice Clarence Thomas reminds us in his concurrence on Dobbs, abortion is the beginning of this front, not the end:

…in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including GriswoldLawrence, and Obergefell [decisions affirming the rights to privacy regarding contraception, to consensual sexual activity between people of the same sex, and to gay marriage]. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,” we have a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents.

But Jonathan Mitchell, an anti-abortion lawyer involved in crafting state abortion bans, acknowledged the tension between “true believers” and transactional politicians when he said, “Especially after this election, a lot of Republicans will want to change the subject, and going after abortion pills is not the way to change the subject.”

And therein lies the key to a counterstrategy moving forward. The midterms offered definitive examples of how Democrats can regain command of the narrative and start the process of restoring rights and reinvesting trust into the slow, plodding work of democracy.

First, break the silence and call the GOP’s bluff. It took the fall of Roe for Democrats to harness the power of abortion, but this election season saw them go all in. By mid-September, Democrats had spent $124 million on television ads referencing abortion, almost 20 times their spending on such ads in all of 2018. In the first five months of the year, which included the month after the draft of the Dobbs decision was leaked, Democrats’ spending on Facebook ads dwarfed Republicans’ spending by 14 to one. Meanwhile, most Republican and right-leaning groups spent little to zero. UC Berkeley political communications professor Dan Schnur observed, “It’s pretty clear that Republicans don’t want to talk about this.”

Second, don’t shy away from the issues, but run on the values. Whether through candidate elections or ballot measures, trust in the majorities that want to advance our causes but appeal to their higher-order interests. The campaign against the Kansas ballot measure called itself Kansans for Constitutional Freedom for a reason, and the group’s ads were just as likely to stress the personal violation of “government mandates” as they were the right to abortion. California Governor Gavin Newsom rented billboards in red states with pro-choice messages, some of which included the Bible verse “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.” (Mark 12:31), asserting that reproductive rights have a grounding in faith.

Third, drive home that this is not a question of winning on an issue but rather of competing worldviews that lead to dramatically different destinations. Josh Shapiro wove it all together beautifully in his closing arguments to his victorious campaign to become Pennsylvania’s new governor. Speaking of his Republican opponent, he said:

This guy loves to talk a good game about freedom, right? Let me tell you something. It’s not freedom to tell women what they’re allowed to do with their bodies. That’s not freedom. It’s not freedom to tell our children what books they are allowed to read. It’s not freedom when [Doug Mastriano] gets to decide who you’re allowed to marry. I say, love is love.

It’s not freedom to say, you can work a 40-hour workweek, but you can’t be a member of a union. That’s not freedom. And it sure as hell isn’t freedom to say, you can go vote, but he gets to pick the winner. That’s not freedom. That’s not freedom.

But you know what? You know what we’re for? We’re for real freedom. And let me tell you what real freedom is. Real freedom is when you see that young child in north Philly and you see the potential in her so you invest in her public school. That’s real freedom. That’s real freedom. Real freedom comes when we invest in that young child’s neighborhood to make sure it’s safe so she gets to her eighteenth birthday. That’s real freedom.

Finally, we must always remember that our theory of change requires participation from the majority, while theirs depends on the masses opting out. We cannot afford to mimic their apocalyptic language, no matter how tempting it is. Congressman Barney Frank once said, “When you tell your supporters that nothing has gotten better, and that any concessions you’ve received are mere tokenism, you take away their incentive to stay mobilized.”

“It’s a slow, iterative process on the ground in building [reproductive rights] up,” Alicia Ely Yamin, the senior fellow on global health and rights at Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center, told Foreign Policy. “On the other hand, tearing them down seems quite easy.” The same can be said for democracy. So claiming victory for incremental change—fighting for perfection, but accepting progress—is instrumental to keeping the majorities involved for the long haul.

The good news is that there’s good news. Voters in swing states roundly rejected election deniers running for positions that would have given them authority over elections. These issues didn’t just fire up the Democratic base; they were widely repellent. Calculations of turnout in key counties in Arizona and Nevada showed an advantage for Republicans, but election-denying candidates were defeated in pivotal races in both of those states.

“This was the year liberal democracy fought back,” blared the headline of the Financial Times’s Janan Ganesh’s post-election column, exulting in not just the rejection of Trumpism but also the election results in Brazil and France. Ganesh could have celebrated, too, the emergence of pro-democracy movements in China and Iran. But his final line should bear equal weight. “There is little reason to be complacent, and even less to be magnanimous.” Our future hinges on these lessons.

Ilyse Hogue is an author, a social change practitioner, and a former leader of multiple progressive organizations, including NARAL Pro-Choice America.

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