Opinion

Post-Roe, herding ourselves over politics will do nothing but further hurt us

July 1, 2022 3:33 am
Abortion-rights activist Jamie McIntyre reacts to the ruling that overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Abortion-rights activist Jamie McIntyre reacts to the ruling that overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

The reaction to the Supreme Court stripping away a constitutional right to abortion has spurred many apocalyptic forecasts for the country. Most vivid, of course, is the fear that the United States will become a version of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” with a slave-class of women forced to bear children for a ruling class. 

One senator has provided a frank and opportunistic vision. 

Josh Hawley, the Missouri senator who went to high school on the Missouri-Kansas state line, provided a second dystopia in his comments to the Kansas City Star’s Daniel Desrochers in reaction to Roe v. Wade being overturned. 

However, what I see as dystopia, Hawley apparently sees as an improved country.

He told Desrochers in a June 24 piece

“I would predict that the effect is going to be that more and more red states are going to become more red, purple states are going to become red and the blue states are going to get a lot bluer,” Hawley said. “And I would look for Republicans as a result of this to extend their strength in the Electoral College. And that’s very good news.” 

The senator also told the reporter that as a result of these changes, social and fiscal conservatives would no longer have to work together.

Hawley’s “very good news” envisions an already politically segregated America becoming even more polarized across state lines. Your liberal uncle and your conservative cousin would move to different states, your family geographically herded into places corresponding to each household’s politics.

Former gold medal swimmer Crissy Perham told Slate’s “Hang Up and Listen” podcast this week that many elite young female athletes will likely select universities for their athletic careers based on status of abortion rights in the state where they might study and compete.

“This is absolutely going to be considered for some people in their future choices,” Perham said. “Why would you want to go to a state that doesn’t let you have body autonomy, especially being an athlete? Is it a deal breaker? For some people it’s going to be a deal breaker. For some people, maybe they will be, like, ‘Great, that’s absolutely where I want to go.’ And that’s great for them too.”

In Kansas, of course, the fork in the road — whether it would become a refuge for those supporting abortion rights or an additional state in the region limiting reproductive rights — is nearly here.

– Eric Thomas

In Kansas, of course, the fork in the road — whether it would become a refuge for those supporting abortion rights or an additional state in the region limiting reproductive rights — is nearly here. With an Aug. 2 vote on whether to remove the right to an abortion from the Kansas Constitution, Kansas will have an even starker identity as a place to live — or not to live — corresponding on your red vs. blue allegiance.

Americans already experienced a similar political migration, and recently.

The Big Sort,” Bill Bishop’s 2009 book, described how Americans had been clustering in more comfortable and homogeneous communities over the previous 30 years. Millions of families, by moving to neighborhoods that matched their politics, created ZIP codes of increasing sameness.

“ ‘The Big Sort,’ then, is not simply about political partisanship, about how Americans vote every couple of years,” Bishop wrote. “It is a division in what they value, in how they worship, and in what they expect out of life.”

The motivations might seem picayune. Perhaps an off-handed comment about nationalized health care during a block party, hot dogs in hand, nudged a conservative homeowner to a more Republican suburb. Maybe the stance of a school board member made a liberal parent move to a more Democratic-voting subdivision. Bishop’s research describes how most moving trucks deliver us closer to a calmer bath of lukewarm political uniformity.

“When people move, they also make choices about who their neighbors will be and who will share their new lives,” Bishop wrote. “Those are now political decisions, and they are having a profound effect on the nation’s public life.”

If Hawley’s prediction comes true, we will be living with even more of those effects. If we read “The Handmaid’s Tale” as cautionary fiction, then how should we consider “The Big Sort,” when we are on the brink of another bigger sort?

Revisiting what Bishop found early this century reveals what a replay of the “Big Sort” would look like: “balkanized communities,” “growing intolerance,” and “bitter choices between ways of life.”

Bishop writes that during “The Big Sort” that “Democrats and Republicans in Congress became more ideological, less moderate, and more partisan.” Indeed, Hawley was a product of this environment: a divisive Republican first elected to the Senate in 2018. His website announces that “Joe Biden and his liberal mob are coming after me.”

Like any study in polarization, “The Big Sort” uses a sobering benchmark for how divided we are: the American Civil War. 

Bishop writes, “The country was polarized during the Civil War, but compared to those times, our own (2004) circumstances didn’t appear dire.” Nearly two decades later, we seem awfully diligent about edging closer to that threshold each day. Regardless, “The Big Sort,” despite its name, describes a micro-sort compared with what we would experience if Americans follow through on politically segregating by state. Bishop saw us separating ourselves in smaller units, such as precincts and neighborhoods. A post-Roe America could find us divided into more strictly bordered and even adversarial units: states.

For this reason, we might be staggering on the brink of “The Big Big Sort,” a migration to states that sanction our personal politics, specifically on reproductive rights. While particular politicians might welcome that world, the rest of us should brace ourselves.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.

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