By Ella Gonzalez
New York, New York
These days, it seems as if the news cycle is dominated unceasingly by a rotation of each Republican “bill of the moment.” Abortion, critical race theory, LGBTQIA+ rights, and more, have all had their time in the spotlight, only to fizzle out as emboldened red-state governors and legislators push more stringent restrictions upon their constituents. These issues constitute the so-called ‘culture war’, a cluster of topics in which divisions are sharply split according to progressive versus conservative beliefs.
A major advance in this culture war was Governor Abbot’s signing of the Texas ‘Heartbeat’ Abortion Bill in September 2022, which allowed citizens to sue abortion providers or those who facilitate an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. This law was intended to sidestep the legal axioms of Roe v. Wade by placing the burden of enforcement on private citizens rather than government officials. Indeed, the Supreme Court denied an emergency request by the Biden administration to block its execution, citing the unprecedented method of enforcement.
Though Abbot was simply trying to score a political victory against the left, the law established a dangerous precedent. In mobilizing the population to report their fellow citizens for infringements of the law, with the promise of a monetary reward, Texas resorts to a tactic all too reminiscent of those used by authoritarian regimes. Encouraging citizens to assume the duties of the government and forcefully exercise moral discernment over their equals is contrary to the liberal foundation of the United States. Any self-proclaimed defender of limited government ought to recognize this. And yet, given the actions of Republicans following this event, the first assumption is not to be counted on.
A flurry of abortion laws in other states followed Texas’s law, using the same model of enforcement. Idaho passed a six-week ban in March that is mostly similar to the Texas law, while in Tennessee a near-total abortion ban passed both legislative houses. A proposal for a Missouri anti-abortion bill included measures preventing women from obtaining abortions out-of-state, enforced, as expected, by the reporting of fellow citizens. Critics have called this measure unconstitutional, and view it as a concerning over-extension of the state’s power over the citizens under its jurisdiction. An attempt to exercise near-total authority over individuals’ moral decisions, it reflects a desire to impose upon the populace standards for behavior that are based on nothing but values generally associated with the supporters of the politicians who impose them.
Government control of educational institutions has been extending beyond that, however. There’s been much coverage of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, but in the meantime legislators have been coming for education on race as well, with Mississippi’s mid-March ban on Critical Race Theory (CRT) being one such example. A bill introduced in early April in Ohio is similar to Florida’s, but also bans CRT and includes non-public schools accessible through school choice vouchers. Some Republicans in Georgia, however, aimed to institute much more extreme measures; a version of its CRT ban specifically targeted private schools.
This effort undermines both school choice efforts and a critical right commonly praised by the political right: that of parents to have a say in their children’s education. On a more fundamental level, it threatens the right of parents to educate their children without the influence of the government, and encourages further encroachment into education. It’s an assertion of a desire for more complete government control over the education of American children, and is entirely antithetical to the freedom of thought and expression that allow countries to flourish.
No one really likes the culture war, except those who make their livelihoods out of fighting it. Nothing inherent to right-wing economics and limited government either requires, for example, opposition to abortion or precludes tolerance of LGBTQIA+ identities, and vice versa with the Democratic party. Rather, these stances are formed out of political utility and used to mobilize a voting base, as seen with the issue of CRT in schools in the past year’s elections in Virginia and the resulting Republican victories.
To resurrect their party, Republican lawmakers should realize that their duty isn’t to fight progressive cultural values at all—it’s to protect against those who would seek to impose those, or any values, by force upon the populace. To do so otherwise is to invite their own eventual ruin. Republicans must resist the urge to legislate against the changing landscape of American political thought, and stick with the policy that is rooted in clear political values, and can help to ensure a free and just future.