I just saw a comment from a friend describing another comment as “self-induced terror.” I think that hits the nail on the head regarding some of the postings and comments I am seeing in my Facebook feed (clearly non-scientific, purely anecdotal evidence). I’ve seen otherwise reasonable people scream in fear that gay marriage, access to abortion, minority rights, etc. are all going to be limited at best and destroyed at worst, with the worst case usually winning out in terms of what “will” happen.
Teaching college students about the basics of our political system makes me aware, perhaps more than most, of the gaps in their education when they arrive as freshmen. High schools no longer require or often even offer civics classes, so many students do not have even a basic knowledge of how the system actually functions. They are ripe for those whose purpose is to disseminate inaccurate or misleading information. One glaring misunderstanding concerns the role and power of the Supreme Court. The Court is an appellate court which means that it hears cases on appeal from a lower court. Original jurisdiction covers arguments between states, between citizens and government, and the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress and Executive Orders issued by the President. The Court cannot simply decide to overturn previous decisions on a whim. The cries of “Roe v. Wade is gone!” are woefully ignorant and a nasty bit of fear-mongering. Roe v. Wade is the law of the land; even the conservative justices will tell you that (even if they also tell you that they don’t like it).
Gay marriage is also not threatened. Like it or not, the Court ruled that same-sex marriage is protected under the 14th Amendment. And, while the conservative justices on the Court argued that this was a broad interpretation of the due process clause, they are not primed to overturn it; the decision was five to four and the four will abide by the decision. In addition to the 14th Amendment argument, the full faith and credit clause protects same-sex marriage as it requires states to recognize marriages performed in other states as legal and valid. Finally, the social culture of our country has shifted enough that most people support the idea of same-sex marriage on the basis that it’s really not their problem who somebody else marries. Those that are opposed to it on religious grounds are entitled to believe that, and the 1st Amendment guarantees them the right to their own religious beliefs. That belief does not mean they are homophobic and calling them that serves no purpose and does not persuade anybody that you are interested in any kind of reasonable discussion of issues (nor does deliberately provoking a negative response by asking Christian-owned bakeries and pizza joints to make food for weddings knowing they will refuse).
Minority rights in general are also not threatened. The 15th Amendment, originally aimed at insuring African-Americans had the right to vote, states the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” This covers all citizens regardless of race or ethnicity and cannot be changed by law; the 19th Amendment did the same for women.
So, remember, the Supreme Court justices cannot simply show up for work one day and say “Hey, it’s Tuesday…time to overturn rulings we don’t like!”
Yes, of course, there are individuals who are determined to make this country subservient to their twisted world views. The best course of action against those groups and individuals is to allow them to be heard (free speech is hardest when it’s speech you disagree with, but that is when the concept is the most important) and allow everybody to know exactly what they stand for; that usually significantly lowers their appeal. The saying “sunshine is the best disinfectant” is very true; you cannot fight what you do not know about, and if you suppress ideas and thoughts, they are not noticed and worse, you make them more attractive to the disaffected in society.
In the end, name-calling is not a persuasive argument whether in politics or any other topic. The willingness to thoughtfully engage with ideas that may be anathema to you is a sign of maturity and intelligence. As difficult as it may be, try to engage those you do not understand. Around the world, the arrogance and condescension of political and cultural elites towards ordinary people is becoming clearer; Brexit, the vote against the Colombian peace plan, and the US election are the response of the ordinary people. In this country, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are both symptoms of a great disillusionment with current political elites and actors and the attitudes of those elites and actors towards the great majority of voters on both sides of the political spectrum; Trump and Sanders are not the causes of that disaffection. We would all do well to attempt to understand the causes and then move to fix the source of them.