October 3, 2021
Yesterday, people rallied at more than 600 marches across the country to demonstrate their opposition to Texas’s new restrictions on abortion rights.
Today, the Washington Post broke the story that the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) obtained more than 11.9 million financial records including emails, spreadsheets, contracts, and so on, that reveal a vast international network of financial schemes to hide money from taxation, investigators, creditors, and citizens. The trove is named the Pandora Papers, after the Greek myth of Pandora, who opened a container and released a host of evils upon the world.
The two stories are not unrelated.
Today’s Republican Party would like to end government oversight of wealthy individuals, but such oversight is actually popular. So, to win elections, officials have turned to ginning up their voting base.
That base is fired up by causes they have been taught to see as imperative to make America a free, virtuous country, as it was in their imagined past and as they want it to be again. Since 1972, when President Richard Nixon threw the issue of abortion on the table to attract Catholic Democrats to his standard after the 1970 Kent State shooting cut into his support, Republican politicians have called for an end to the constitutional right to reproductive rights.
Decades of gerrymandering and voter suppression mean that today’s Republicans are less worried about winning moderates to their standard than they are about firing up their base. So today’s Republicans are becoming more and more extreme. The recent Texas abortion bill, the so-called “heartbeat bill,” bans abortion six weeks into a pregnancy—before many women even know they’re pregnant—and it makes no exception for rape or incest.
To make it hard to challenge the new law, the Texas legislature left its enforcement up to individual citizens, leaving no state entity for opponents to sue. The law went into effect on September 1, after the Supreme Court declined to stop it.
But while extremists who back the current Republican Party applaud what is essentially the outlawing of abortion, most Americans don’t like it. According to a new Monmouth poll, only 11% of Americans think abortion should always be illegal. Sixty-two percent want the Roe v. Wade decision to stand; only 29% want it overturned. The Texas law is especially unpopular. Seventy percent of Americans oppose turning the enforcement of the act over to vigilantes, and 81%, including 67% of Republicans, oppose the bill’s provision awarding $10,000 to anyone who wins a suit against someone helping a woman obtain an abortion.
Crucially, Democrats (77%) and Independents (61%) say they have heard a lot about the new Texas law, while only 47% of Republicans say they have.
Republicans have fired up their base, but at the cost of alienating women and their allies who did not truly think that abortion rights were in danger. Those people were in the streets yesterday, illustrating their determination to reclaim a government that listens to what the majority wants.
And that’s where the second story comes in.
A government that answered to a majority rather than an extremist minority would crack down on the growing global elite uncovered by the journalists who pored over the Pandora Papers, an elite that has managed to hide its wealth in offshore accounts (meaning any accounts away from their country of citizenship) thanks to deregulation and lack of oversight.
The internet and a global economy have permitted the rise of a global elite that, as the Pandora Papers reveal, often overlaps with criminality. In January 2011, when he was the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III gave a landmark speech in which he explained how globalization and technology had created “iron triangles” of “organized criminals, corrupt government officials, and business leaders” who were “motivated by money, not ideology.”
The United States government has the power and the ability to take on this anti-democratic global elite. Since he took office, Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, have made it clear that they consider our foreign policy and our democracy to go hand in hand.
In a speech to the State Department on February 4, Biden said that he would put “America’s most cherished democratic values” back at the center of American diplomacy, “defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”
Domestic policy, Biden said, was central to foreign policy. “We will compete from a position of strength by building back better at home,” he said. “When we…rally the nations of the world to defend democracy globally, to push back…authoritarianism’s advance, we’ll be a much more credible partner because of these efforts to shore up our own foundations.”
Those marching yesterday for women’s lives and their constitutional right to abortion were not commenting on the secret web of global finance that lets autocrats hide the enormous wealth they have taken from their people. But they were indeed commenting on governance, in particular whether a majority of the people, or a minority kept in power by passionate extremists, should run our country.