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Mrs. America

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As Sarah Jones observes, Amy Coney Barrett’s forthcoming four decades on the Supreme Court reflect the fact that this is now Phyllis Schlafly’s America:

Consider her out of context, and Amy Coney Barrett looks like a personal and professional success. A wife, a mother of seven, and now maybe a Supreme Court justice, Donald Trump’s new nominee seemingly has it all. Barrett, Trump said while announcing the nomination on Saturday, is a “towering intellect,” an accomplished woman and loving mother who possesses “one of our nation’s most brilliant and gifted legal minds.”

But Barrett is a Trump nominee, so the context is rather damning. Trump’s fleeting interest in female empowerment has always been undermined by his own sexism, and by the policies that he and his party prefer. The Barrett nomination reinforces rather than challenges the rule. As a potential successor to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the conservative Catholic judge serves two primary functions. She’ll excite the Christian right ahead of a presidential election, and she outrages the libs. The reasoning isn’t all that sophisticated: Upset by Barrett’s nomination? You’re the real sexist.

It’s an old trick. Women helped invent it. Barrett is the beneficiary of decades of right-wing activism, much of it carried out by women who not only rejected feminism but sought actively to bring it down low. In her religious conviction and her status as an accomplished but anti-feminist woman, the judge recalls Phyllis Schlafly, who died four years ago this month. Barrett was still a toddler when Schlafly and her militant housewives vanquished the Equal Rights Amendment. But to the left, Barrett is a familiar specter: a traitor to her sex.

We are all living in Schlafly country now. Barrett’s nomination is only the latest evidence. The border separating mainstream conservative politics from the fringe was never all that robust, but in 2020, it is invisible. Schlafly’s far-right, anti-feminist ideology has taken over the Republican Party. It doesn’t yet have the same stranglehold on public opinion. Most Americans think abortion ought to remain legal, and three-quarters even support Schlafly’s old nemesis, the ERA. But the election of Trump is proof that an ideology doesn’t have to be popular to win.

A minority faction governing the majority with increasingly unpopular policies imposed through increasingly undemocratic means is not exactly a formula for democratic stability. And as Denverite observed recently, even the better case scenario of a majority governing an enthonationalist insular minority that doesn’t recognize the majority’s legitimacy to govern isn’t a lot better. We’re headed into a very dark period.

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