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Comstockery

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As Michelle Goldberg reminds us, when Trumpers say things, we should believe them. In this case, they are going to bring back the Comstock Act.

But with Roe overturned, some in Donald Trump’s orbit see a chance to reanimate Comstock, using it to ban medication abortion — and maybe surgical abortion as well — without passing new federal legislation.

The 920-page blueprint for a second Trump administration created by Project 2025, a coalition of conservative organizations, calls for enforcing Comstock’s criminal prohibitions against using the mail — widely understood to include common carriers like UPS and FedEx — to provide or distribute abortion pills. Some MAGA legal minds believe that Comstock could also be wielded to prevent the mail from transporting tools used in surgical abortions. “We don’t need a federal ban when we have Comstock on the books,” Jonathan F. Mitchell, a crusading anti-abortion lawyer who represented Trump before the Supreme Court this year, told Lerer and Dias in February.

Conservatives know this would be enormously unpopular, which is probably why, when they talk about Comstock at all, they often refer to it by its criminal code numbers rather than its common name. (“I think the pro-life groups should keep their mouths shut as much as possible until the election,” said Mitchell.) Democrats, by contrast, need to be doing everything possible to make “Comstock” a household word. That’s why they should champion a bill introduced by Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota on Thursday to overhaul the Comstock Act. And it’s why President Biden would be wise to act on a petition from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression to posthumously pardon one of Comstock’s high-profile victims.

Many were shocked when the Supreme Court overturned Roe two years ago, but as Smith, the former vice president of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, told me, they shouldn’t have been, because the right made no secret of its objectives. There is something similar going on with Comstock. “Believe them when they tell us what they want to do, because they will do it if they’re given half a chance,” she said.

But getting people to believe them is a challenge. A substantial number of voters in swing states don’t even understand the role Trump played in Roe’s demise: According to a New York Times poll released last month, 17 percent of them blame Biden, since the ruling happened during his presidency. In Rolling Stone, Anat Shenker-Osorio, a senior adviser to the progressive Research Collaborative, wrote that in surveys and focus groups, disaffected Democrats and swing voters are appalled when they learn of Project 2025’s agenda, including on abortion. But a mere 21 percent of them think Republicans will actually carry it out it if they take back power. And they wonder, if the danger of Project 2025’s policies is so acute, “why Democrats don’t seem to be speaking out about them or fighting back.”

One thing Trumpism should do for everyone on the left side of fascism is to realize that almost all of our illusions about politics were wrong. For example, remember when liberals and the left used to say that if we could just motivate the public to vote, they would vote for us because our ideas are more popular than those of Republicans. Yeah, about that……..As we now know, when you have record high voting participation rates, the voters come down….almost exactly like everyone who votes all the time.

The enormous bulbous “center” of this country is filled with low-information people who don’t care and see politics as a game that is both inherently corrupt and doesn’t affect them. They also have the memory of a mayfly. So when Republicans take over and implement these policies, the average person will indeed be shocked and outraged. They might even elect Democrats if free and fair elections ever happen in this country again. And that memory will last about 5 months. Then people can get back to whatever the true issue of the day is, which right now is Joe Biden being old and also responsible for TNT losing the NBA and also for the heat wave and also for not unilaterally implementing my personal policy preferences because he didn’t even try.

No, I don’t know what to do about this either. Actually, that’s not quite true. I do know what needs to happen, I just don’t know how to implement it. Basically, left of fascism politics needs to start over at the grassroots level and build the kind of local institutions that used to inoculate people somewhat against this stuff–liberal-leaning churches, social clubs, unions, even bowling allies. Anything to get people off the goddamn internet, on which I write at this moment, making everything worse.

But that actually is the answer.

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