Kengor Writes . . .
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and the executive director of The Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College, in Grove City, Pennsylvania. These essays are republished from The Institute for Faith and Freedom, an online publication of Grove City College, and The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is the author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004); The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007); The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007); and The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012).
What Reversing Roe Really Means
Throughout the 2015-16 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, I urged conservatives not to nominate Donald Trump. When November 2016 arrived, I did not vote for Donald Trump. Of course, I most certainly didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. I wrote in the name of another Republican instead.
One of my chief concerns was that I could not imagine that Donald Trump, a lifelong pro-choice, playboy, billionaire, obnoxious New Yorker, truly had become pro-life, and would nominate pro-life justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. I had additional issues with Trump, but that one really stood out. When Trump produced a list of pro-life judges he promised to appoint, I didn’t trust him.
In turn, many pro-life conservatives urged me to nonetheless vote for the lesser of two evils when it came to abortion. The Supreme Court — plus countless other court appointments at other levels — hung in the balance. If Hillary Clinton were elected, we would lose the courts for at least another entire generation. You would never reverse Roe v. Wade and its companion case of insanity, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Pro-lifers insisted on voting to save the court.
In that respect, they stand vindicated. I still had much I didn’t like about Trump, but the man proceeded to govern as the best pro-life president the country ever had. It was astonishing, and I was shocked every step of the way, but it is indisputably true. A pro-life colleague of mine who loathes Donald Trump insists that Trump did what he did for pro-lifers strictly for political expediency. Even if that were the case (for the sake of argument), it is undeniable that Trump became the most effective pro-life president ever, including more so than my buddy Ronald Reagan.
Most critical and most obvious, of course, were Trump’s three Supreme Court picks: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. They gave us this reversal of Roe and Casey. Had Hillary Clinton been president, we would’ve gotten three more like Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (even as RBG knew and candidly admitted how flawed Roe was). (For the record, Reagan gave us Sandra Day O’Connor, the hugely disappointing Anthony Kennedy, and just one outstanding pro-life pick — Antonin Scalia.) Hillary Clinton quickly came forward after the Dobbs announcement to denounce a new “day of infamy” for America.
That said, what does this decision overturning Roe really mean?
First and foremost, it affirms what numerous constitutional scholars — including many liberal scholars and even the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg — always knew, namely: Roe v. Wade had no basis in the U.S. Constitution. Roe was a constitutional absurdity. It was never constitutional. I heard one news anchor on Fox News report that the Dobbs decision “eliminated the constitutional right to abortion.” No. There never was a constitutional right to abortion. That’s the whole point.
Roe was preposterously based on a “right” to an abortion invented and extended from a so-called “penumbra” or “shadow” of a “right to privacy” lurking somewhere in the arcane recesses of the Constitution. In fact, neither abortion nor even the word “privacy” are mentioned in the Constitution— no, not one time — even as the rights and protection of “life” is mentioned three times (in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments).
Yes, shocking but true.
One can certainly argue that when the framers mentioned life, they were not thinking of abortion. No doubt that is correct. But still, a pro-lifer looking for a right to “life” in the Constitution clearly has a little more to grab on to than a pro-choicer looking for a right to abortion or even “privacy.”
Roe v. Wade is a legal absurdity that any jurist not jaded by ideology would concede was utterly without foundation in the U.S. Constitution. The reality is that the Constitution is silent on abortion, which is why the federal government should never have enshrined it. It should have been left to the states. This was something that Judge Robert Bork tried to explain to Senators Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy and feminists and liberals everywhere over 30 years ago, and for which he was called everything from a misogynist to a gargoyle.
And so, abortion now goes to the states. What does that mean?
Despite the hyperbole and hysteria, this certainly does not mean an end to abortion. Not at all. You will now see the emergence of abortion states — the abortion states of America. Already leading the charge at the state level are the likes of New York’s new pro-choice governor, Kathy Hochul, and Governor Gavin Newsom of California.
Vigorously supported by President Joe Biden, Hochul and Newsom are militantly committed to battling the efforts of states like Mississippi and Texas and others to limit abortions to the time of the unborn child’s heartbeat. The Texas action outraged Biden, who has promised to throw the “whole of government” against it. The bill infuriated Govs. Hochul and Newsom, who have responded by offering their states as destination centers for women nationwide to come for abortions.
“Abortion access is safe in New York,” Hochul ensures voters. “To the women of Texas, I want to say I am with you. Lady Liberty is here to welcome you with open arms.” She vows: “We will help you find a way to New York.”
As for Gavin Newsom, he vows to make California a “reproductive freedom state.” “These are dark days,” says a dire Newsom.
What’s happening with states like California and New York is something that many of us have long expected. Which states will be the dominant abortion states? Figuring that out isn’t rocket science. The answer is simple and predictable: Go to political maps of presidential elections and look at the blue states vs. red states; that is, Democrat states vs. Republican states. The firmly Democrat states, especially on the West Coast and in the Northeast, will become America’s abortion states. They will roll out the red carpet.
For states like New York and California, this process has already begun. The governors there are eager to fly the Roe flag as premier destination centers for abortion.
That sad reality ought to give some measure of comfort to pro-choice forces. They should be immensely satisfied with that they got from Roe. They got themselves nearly 50 years of legalized abortion. They threw open wide the doors to abortion “clinics” in every state. This long, insidious period was protracted enough to get them to a crucial hump they needed, namely: chemical abortions, abortions by pill, do-it-yourself-at-home abortions. This was symbolized by the group of young pro-abortion women who stood outside the Supreme Court a few months ago and en masse swallowed down abortion pills.
From here on, countless abortions will be done that way — as well as in the abortion states.
Pro-choicers: your “choice” will have plenty of options, including altogether new ones.
As for pro-lifers, they should nonetheless celebrate this achievement. Roe v. Wade was a monstrous injustice that produced over 60 million abortions of unborn children. It was a colossal sin and a dark stain on America.
1776 and Slavery
Many progressives today are eager to redefine America not as starting in 1776, which is literally when the very title “United States of America” began, but in the year 1619, before Plymouth Rock and before John Winthrop and the Arabella arrived upon our shores. They instead want to define the nation by slavery and racism. So much so that The New York Times’ 1619 Project dates America that way, defining the country’s start by the year 1619, with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Virginia that year.
But that is not the heart of America. Americans should look back at their Founding as based on the principles of 1776 — that uniquely great achievement for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that was the Declaration of Independence. These were principles for all of humanity, though they would indeed take decades to fully implement for all Americans, both black and white. Their full achievement would require to nothing less than a Civil War.
Mobs today target statues of everyone from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to (curiously) Union generals like Ulysses S. Grant, who defeated the Confederacy before battling the KKK, and even Abraham Lincoln, and (most bizarre of all) Frederick Douglass, the brave black abolitionist.
Let us not argue, however, with this historical reality: The United States of America, as our Founders conceived it, started in 1776.
But what about those same Founders and the undeniable evil of slavery? Well, that is a subject that is indeed far more troubling and complicated.
A full accounting must acknowledge first what the American Founders said about slavery, and what they did. Consider these testimonies:
“Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature,” said Benjamin Franklin in a November 1789 speech demanding its “very extirpation.” In his February 3, 1790 petition to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, which he wrote as president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, Franklin urged that they
“. . . devise means for removing this Inconsistency from the Character of the American People, that you will promote mercy and Justice towards this distressed Race, & that you will Step to the very verge of the Powers vested in you for discouraging every Species of Traffick in the Persons of our fellow men.”
Franklin’s closest ally at the Founding was John Adams.
“Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States,”
he urged in a June 8, 1819 letter. “I have, throughout my life, held the practice of slavery in . . . abhorrence.”
So many of the Founders felt this way. In fact, nearly all the most influential Founders felt that way. Professor Thomas G. West put it categorically: “Every leading Founder acknowledged that slavery was wrong.” He noted that
“. . . even those who defended slavery knew well that blacks are human beings. Hardly anyone claimed that slavery is right in principle. Each of the leading Founders acknowledged its wrongness.”
Indeed, as Alexander Hamilton put it, blacks were “men, by the laws of God and nature.” Regardless that “laws of certain states . . . give an ownership in the service of Negroes as personal property.” The law might say one thing, but it did not supersede the eternal reality of the laws of nature and of nature’s God — i.e., natural law and Biblical law.
John Jay, an author of The Federalist Papers and the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, has been called “America’s Wilberforce.” Jay in 1785 organized and became the first president of the New York Manumission Society. That March, he wrote to fellow abolitionist and founder Dr. Benjamin Rush:
“I wish to see all unjust and unnecessary discriminations everywhere abolished, and that the time may soon come when all our inhabitants of every color and denomination shall be free and equal partners in our political liberty.”
But what about the likes of George Washington, our nation’s first president, who owned slaves? Well, he likewise knew it was wrong.
In an April 12, 1786 letter to Robert Morris, Washington said of slavery: “There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it.”
In an August 4, 1797 letter to Lawrence Lewis, he affirmed: “I wish from my soul that the legislature of this State could see a policy of the gradual Abolition of Slavery.”
And yet, in maintaining his farm and property, Washington relied on a mass of 316 slaves, of which 143 were in his possession entirely. Washington kept the slaves not because he felt it was right for one man to own another, but because he viewed them as a necessary evil to maintain his farm. It could not exist without them. It would go bankrupt, dry up, and wither away. Was this purely self-serving by Washington? Yes, most definitely. And he knew it.
The situation tore not only at Washington’s wallet but his conscience. He knew that slavery was wrong, but like so many of the Founders who owned slaves (including Thomas Jefferson), he felt he personally could not financially extricate himself from the situation. He plainly could not accept the catastrophic financial cost of setting them free. The devil had him by the tail.
As stated by Thomas Jefferson, “We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” And yet, said Jefferson, “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.” The key — the overwhelming task — was how to make that happen, especially peacefully. That was the problem. And to be sure, it would never happen peacefully.
It would take Abraham Lincoln — and an actual Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation — to fully extend that equality principle to every single American, including black Americans. It could not be extended in 1776, least of all because southern states would have seceded from the very American republic being conceived at the time. Certain southern states plainly said they would not ratify the Constitution if it undermined the slave system. The Founders might have found themselves in a civil war amongst themselves in July 1776 rather than a unified revolution to break free from the British. The abolition of slavery in 1776 was not possible. The very principles launched by 1776 and stated in the Declaration of Independence, and the subsequent Bill of Rights and Constitution, would have never gotten off the ground to begin with.
Abolishing slavery in America, as in every country, would not happen overnight. It took much time and pain. This was an evil, and eradicating the evil would not be simple. In America, it required blood to be spilled at a level (the Civil War) unprecedented in its history. No other war, including World War I and II combined, saw the loss of so many American lives. For its original sin, America would suffer terribly.
Looking back, however, we must credit the farsighted and noble ideas of 1776. They set forth a proposition — that all men are created equal — that would abolish within America’s borders a nefarious practice that had existed worldwide for thousands of years.
And yet, that laudable reality seems lost to the modern mind, or at least resisted by those with an ideological agenda to reframe America and the American Founding as something that it was not — as something altogether sinister and misbegotten.
To be sure, there is obvious ugliness in America’s historical record with race. Slavery is really America’s original sin, though not original to America alone. As for America’s Founders, they were torn about slavery and how to end it. That lack of clarity tore at the nation, almost permanently ripping it asunder a century later. Fortunately, great men like Abraham Lincoln found a way to keep the nation together and end the abomination that was slavery, ensuring that that nation, so conceived in liberty, should not perish from the face of the earth.
Ukraine’s Freedom Fighter
“Two visions of the world remain locked in dispute,” said President Ronald Reagan in July 1983.
“The first believes all men are created equal by a loving God who has blessed us with freedom. Abraham Lincoln spoke for us. . . . The second vision believes that religion is opium for the masses. It believes that eternal principles like truth, liberty, and democracy have no meaning beyond the whim of the state. And Lenin spoke for them.”
Reagan said that on July 19, 1983, in remarks at an official ceremony marking Captive Nations Week. Captive Nations Week had begun in July 1959 via an official Act of Congress, Public Law 86-90, supported by President Dwight Eisenhower, and was resurrected with a vengeance under Reagan in the 1980s as he sought to re-moralize the Cold War. The law set aside a week every July to designate and honor the unfortunate nations suffocating under the jackboot of Soviet and international Communism. Among them was Ukraine.
I thought of that Reagan statement yesterday, July 19, 2022, nearly four decades later to the day, as I sat in a packed room at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and Museum in Washington, D.C., I was there as a lecturer in a national seminar for teachers learning about the tragic history of Communism. Fortuitously, my two days at the foundation and museum coincided with a visit from the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, whose husband and countrymen and countrywomen have bravely battled for eternal principles like truth, liberty, and democracy against the calculations of brooding men from Vladimir Lenin to Vladimir Putin.
Zelenska is in Washington this week, speaking at the State Department and to Congress. In between, she visited the Victims of Communism to pay homage to the people of her country and other nations crushed by Soviet Communism. Among those peoples, few suffered like her fellow Ukrainians. In the 1930s, Stalin unleashed a famine on the population that killed anywhere from 5-10 million. The horrors of Holodomor are hard to surpass in the history of human rights abuses.
While touring the Victims of Communism Museum, Zelenska paused to accept the organization’s Dissident Human Rights Award, which was presented to her by VOC staff and founders Andrew Bremberg, Ed Feulner, Elizabeth Spalding, and Lee Edwards, the latter of whom has worked tirelessly and nobly in the decades since the end of the Cold War to establish in our nation’s capital this crucial memorial to the estimated 100 million-plus Communist victims. (Dr. Edwards is also the author of Freedom’s College, an excellent history of Grove City College.) This week is once again Captive Nations Week, and who better to be on hand to accept that award than the first lady of the Ukraine? Her nation, right now in 2022, is battling to avoid again becoming a captive nation to yet another Kremlin thug, former KGB lieutenant colonel and reigning Russian despot for life, Vladimir Putin.
“Communism is just another form of totalitarianism,” noted Zelenska, speaking in her native tongue through a translator. “That is exactly what Ukraine is facing today.” She accepted the award “in the name of every Ukrainian man and woman fighting Russian aggression today,” including their would-be “enslavement” and Russia’s denial of basic freedoms and human rights.
Zelenska observed that modern Russia’s aggression against Ukraine shows that “the 20th century is repeating itself in the worst and ugliest forms.” She told the story of a mayor in a town near Kiev who was shot and killed by Russian troops for the crime of distributing food and medicine to his residents.
It indeed sounds like the 20th century is repeating itself in the worst and ugliest forms, at least for Russia’s neighbor. That was something that Stalin’s goons would have done as well. No country ever shot dissidents like the USSR.
“In certain places,” said Zelenska, “the darkness has never faded away.” The despots now find more sophisticated weapons to use and ways to exploit social media. Whatever the means, the results continue: the people of Ukraine remain victims of Russia’s brutal rulers.
To this day, in certain places like Ukraine, what Ronald Reagan said on July 19, 1983, remains eerily similar to what Olena Zelenska said on July 19, 2022: Two visions of the world remain locked in dispute. The first believes in the blessings of freedom bestowed by a God who creates all men and women equal; the other vision believes that eternal principles like truth, liberty, and democracy have no meaning beyond the whim of the state. Lenin spoke for the latter; Lincoln and Reagan and Olena Zelenska spoke for the former. *