by Emrys Westacott
With the media choosing to pay so much attention to Donald Trump, relatively little attention has been paid to the 2016 Republican Party platform. This is in line with the tedious and reprehensible reduction of political discourse to horse race punditry. But it is a pity, since the prospect of this platform being enacted is every bit as worrying as the prospect of a narcissistic ignoramus like Trump becoming president. For those who don't have the stomach for reading all–or any–of its 54 pages, here are a few of the more disturbing highlights with brief commentary.
1. On prejudice and discrimination
The Platform boldly declares that Republicans “oppose discrimination based on race, sex, religion, creed, disability, or national origin and support statutes to end such discrimination.” Question for 5th graders: What is conspicuous by its absence from this list? That's right: no mention of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. A fair question, then, to ask the authors of the manifesto is: Do you, or do you not, oppose discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation? If you do, why don't you say so? You mention many other kinds of discrimination; so why not this one? If, on the other hand, you don't oppose it, why is this?
A hint of an answer (to the last question, at least) can be found elsewhere. Sexual orientation is mentioned just once in the document, when the authors protest against the attempt by Obama and others “to impose a social and cultural revolution on the American people by wrongly redefining sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and other categories.” This agenda, we are told, “has nothing to do with individual rights.” It seems, then, that freedom from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is not a right that Republicans recognize. And I suppose that's why they don't oppose it.
While we're on the topic of prejudice and discrimination, here's another question for 5th graders. How does the above rejection of discrimination based on religion square with Donald Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the country (a proposal he has not disavowed)?
2. On same-sex marriage
The Platform vehemently opposes the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v Hodges which legalized same-sex marriage across the country. This opposition is stated with admirable clarity. The reasoning behind it, though, is decidedly odd. We are told at the outset that“traditional marriage and family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, is the foundation for a free society.” This is not exactly a self-evident truth. For many, especially women, marriage down the ages has often been a cage in which they were imprisoned against their will and subjected to legalized oppression and brutality.
The claim about traditional marriage also implies that if marriage is defined differently one of the pillars supporting social freedom is removed, or at least damaged. So in all those countries where same-sex marriage has recently been legalized–e.g. Canada, France, South Africa, Spain, Norway, Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden– we are supposed to believe that people's freedom has been diminished, or at least jeopardized. And why? Because all the people in these countries are now free to do something they were not free to do before. Go figure.
The platform looks forward to a Republican president appointing Supreme Court justices who will help overturn the “lawless” ruling in Obergefell when “five unelected lawyers robbed 320 million Americans of their legitimate constitutional authority to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” It's truly hard to make sense of this. The “unelected lawyers” are, of course, supreme court justices who were appointed by the president in accordance with Article II of the US Constitution. But the problem isn't really the fact that they are unelected, or even that they are lawyers. After all, the authors are keen to see other unelected lawyers of their own persuasion step in and reverse Obergefell.
No, the problem is that we've all been robbed of something precious: viz. our “legitimate constitutional authority” to define marriage along traditional lines. Happily, although the platform doesn't mention this, our loss has been compensated by a newly granted “authority” to define marriage along non-traditional lines. And since, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, 57% of Americans now support same-sex marriage while only 37% oppose it, this looks like a pretty good deal.
Really, though: what on earth is meant by that talk about people's “legitimate constitutional authority”? Notice, they don't say people have been robbed of their “right” to define marriage in a certain way. Why not? Because the law can't tell you how to define anything. For all the law cares, you can go around like Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass insisting that words mean whatever you say they mean. No, what “authority to define” means here is the right to have your definition be the one that is recognized by the law and which other people therefore have to live under; in short, it means the right to impose your definition on others. The peculiar thing about this particular kind of “authority to define,” though, is that it only accompanies certain definitions, not others. Which ones? But you know the answer: definitions approved of by the GOP!
3. On abortion
The Republican platform is stringently anti-abortion. Arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection applies to the unborn, it mentions no circumstances–not rape, not incest, not even a threat to the life of the mother–in which abortion might be acceptable. Here, too, the supreme court is condemned, in this case for “striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.” These “commonsense” laws stipulated, for instance, that clinics should have expensive hospital grade facilities of a sort not required for other, more dangerous procedures. The point of the Texas law was transparently to make it much harder for women in Texas to get an abortion. The supreme court noted that the law increased by 7,400% the number of women in Texas who lived more than 200 miles from an abortion clinic.
According to the authors, “Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and wellbeing of women.” This is simply false, if by “studies” is meant “scientifically reputable studies.” The legalization of abortion after Roe v Wade resulted in fewer backstreet abortions by unlicensed practitioners, fewer abortions after the first trimester, and fewer medical complications following the procedure.
4. On gun control
The Republican response to mass shooting such as those at Orlando, San Bernadino, and Newtown is to allow more people to carry guns wherever they go, and to increase the killing capacity of guns that can be legally owned.
Regarding the last point, the platform is frighteningly unequivocal: “We oppose ill-conceived laws that would restrict magazine capacity or ban the sale of the most popular and common modern rifle.” It isn't entirely clear what sort of weapon they are referring to here, but a best guess would be the AR 15 automatic rifle and its clones. The standard magazines for these rifles hold thirty rounds, although some can be fitted with magazines that hold up to 100 rounds. But it seems that even 100 rounds is not enough. The logic seems to be: only if we make it easier for people to buy and carry around semi-automatic rifles with unlimited magazine capacity are we likely to reduce the likelihood of some deranged individual shooting up a night club, an office, a school, or any other heavily populated location. Again, go figure.
5. On energy and the environment
Republican environmental policy rests on an a debatable premise: viz. that “year by year, the environment is improving”: air and waterways are healthier; there is less pollution and ecological degradation. But let's grant that this true, as it perhaps is in at least many parts of the US. Why and how has this progress been achieved? The platform doesn't say. But one explanation is rejected out of hand: it can't have had anything to do with government regulations, particularly not the “regulatory juggernaut” known as the Environmental Protetcion Agency. Possibly the captains of polluting industries just started feeling lots of remorse.
Climate change is mentioned just once. It is not denied, but the tone is suspicious. Information regarding climate change must be based on hard data. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change can't be trusted. The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement are rejected. On principle, if there were a climate change problem–and there probably isn't–the solution cannot lie in any kind of regulation: A Republican president would “forbid the RPA to regulate carbon dioxide.” If there were a problem–and there probably isn't–the solution lies in “giving incentives for human ingenuity and the development of new technologies.” OK, you might be thinking, there's a concession. How about a carbon tax? Many experts advocate this as one obvious way to encourage cleaner technologies. But no. “We oppose any carbon tax.”
Coal, we are told, is not just abundant, reliable, and affordable; it is also clean. Presumably this claim is based on hard data, although not the hard data provided by the US Energy Information Administration, according to which coal emits almost twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas. But “coal is clean” is a good slogan, nicely alliterative. And fit to place alongside George Orwell's “ignorance is knowledge.”
I do not mean to suggest that the issues highlighted here are the most central or important discussed in the Republican platform. Arguably, the philosophical heart of the document is its blanket opposition to redistributing wealth or limiting its power through taxation, regulation, and social programs. But the platform's position on the topics discussed indicates its doctrinaire character as well as the continuing willingness of the Republican leadership to pander to extremism and bigotry.
 See, for instance, Cates, Grimes, and Shultz, “The Public Health Impact of Legal Abortion: 30 Years Later,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Jan/Feb 2004.