The Art of the Bargain

Two groups with powerful political voices have provided a lifeline of support to the Trump presidency. The Pro-life and Pro-gun lobbies have been with him from the beginning, and likely will be there for whoever attempts to follow in his footsteps. While not solely confined to those avowing religious dogma, Pro-life sentiment is largely extolled from a Christian/Evangelical base. And while having little religious pretext to their cause, pro-gun sentiment is often found within the Christian (particularly Evangelical) community (nearly 60% of Evangelicals oppose stricter regulation). To many it seems a conflict; how can one be both Pro-life and Pro-gun? How can one believe in the sanctity of life and not oppose the proliferation of guns? “Quite easily,” is the seeming response of those with a foot in both camps. “Pro-life and pro-gun is not a contradiction,” writes Matt Bowman. The position is echoed in writings by others: Derryck GreenAlexandra Desanctis, and Russell D. Moore.

The “not a contradiction” argument is confidently made, but relies on a dubious approach: gun regulation is complicated and equivocal; Pro-life advocacy is simple and unequivocal. It’s “eyes wide open” with guns and an “eyes wide shut” with abortion.

With eyes wide open, there’s no denial that guns are lethal killing machines (in 2017 there were over 14,000 homicides and nearly 24,000 suicides committed with guns). Yes, it’s an admitted reality, but to see the whole picture, one shouldn’t be tethered to simple statistics. Matt Bowman intones, “Though it’s a cliché, it’s still a literal truth that guns don’t kill people, people do. Or to be more precise, most guns don’t kill people. Someone can own a gun without killing anyone or committing crimes.” So, the reasoning goes, most guns are purchased with absolutely no intent to commit murder or cause bodily harm. But the same can’t be said of abortion. Alexandra Desanctis writes, “Every successful abortion ends an innocent human life. A gun, meanwhile, can be used for ends that aren’t immoral, including self-defense.” In a nutshell, the position is this: most guns are not purchased with intent to end a human life, while every abortion is purchased with intent to end a human life. Conceivably then, one can purchase a gun without the intent to kill, therefore being Pro-life and Pro-gun is not a contradiction. Derryck Green takes it a bit further. Drawing from the words of Jesus, he implies it’s a Christian duty to carry a weapon: “Yet Jesus did encourage his disciples to carry swords (Luke 22:36, 38), plural, for protection and self-defense . . . which can and should be applied to gun ownership.”

“Eyes wide open” allows for a liberated sense of culpability. One can take part in gun proliferation, one can observe the deaths taking place, but one needn’t assume responsibility if personal involvement is without the intent to murder or cause bodily harm. In pro-gun mode, you are responsible for your own actions. What others do is on them, and is not your concern.

The “eyes wide shut” imperative is to accept the current Catholic/Evangelical determination that human life begins at the moment of conception. The determination is unequivocal; no other opinion is valid; there’s nothing else to see. In the words of Russell Moore, further consideration is an implausible annoyance:  “Tut the question of whether the unborn child is a human person bearing all the right to life.” An abortion then can only be seen as a murderous act that Christians must morally and politically oppose. In Pro-life mode, you are responsible for your own actions. What others do is on them, but is also your concern.

So, there seems to be divergent approaches taken. When a Pro-life Christian is in Pro-gun mode, he appears compelled to regulate the conduct of himself only. When he’s in Pro-life mode, he appears compelled to regulate the conduct of everyone.

For Matt Bowman et al., being Pro-life and Pro-gun is not a contradiction. Perhaps then, it’s merely duplicitous. In the Pro-life camp, the preservation of human life is sacrosanct. In the Pro-gun camp, the preservation of unfettered gun rights is sacrosanct, but human life is not. Can one have a foot in both camps and be guileless in either? If quoting scripture, how about consideration of Matthew 6:24? “No man can serve two masters.” Putting a foot inside the Pro-gun camp confers support to the arms industry and all it begets, just as stepping inside a casino confers support to the gaming industry and all it begets (whether one gambles responsibly or not). Is it really possible then, to avow Pro-life principles when stepping into the Pro-gun camp (whether responsibly or not) and abetting the deaths taking place there?

An odd affinity with the Pro-gun crowd is not Pro-life’s strangest affiliation. That distinction should go to its unwavering and unconditional support of the Trump administration. They’ve abided with Trump through all of his assaults on human life. And it’s not been only from outside; much of Trump’s cabinet/staff is (or was) declaratively Pro-life and actively involved in his decision making. Mike Pence, Mark Meadows, William Barr, Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pompeo, Kayleigh McEnany, and Paula White are just some of the avowed Pro-life Christian adherents who acknowledge no contradiction or duplicity in abetting Trump’s endeavors. His immigration policies have caused death and despair, both inside and outside our country. He’s promoted violence against opponents and critics. Most visibly, Trump’s actions (and inaction) are responsible for thousands of unnecessary COVID-19 deaths. Through it all, he’s been blessed with the abiding support of a Pro-life constituency (still evident in 2020 election results). How can it be?

The Pro-life rationalization for its Pro-gun involvement dismisses accountability for all activity other than one’s own. If there’s a Pro-life rationalization for its allegiance to Trump, it probably involves math rather than accountability. While the disregard for human life within the Trump administration is clearly visible; while children (and adults) are dying at our southern border; while thousands are turned away to face violence and death elsewhere; while DACA and asylum-seeking families are torn apart; while thousands of American lives are needlessly sacrificed to COVID each day; while all this is real and clearly visible, for the Pro-life crowd the numbers don’t add up to much; a math based incentive to reappraise isn’t there. It’s merely several hundred thousand human lives lost – maybe half a million, but only just that. The lives lost to Trump’s disregard for humanity doesn’t come close to abortion numbers. If every embryo and fetus is deemed a human life, abortion accounts for up to a million human deaths each year. So, that’s the rationalization, the Devils’ bargain that Pro-life Christians have made with Trump: thousands of human lives traded to promote the full embryonic development of the unborn millions. It makes for good mathematical sense, especially in the abstract, but is it a choice one could humanely make if it were more than a numerical abstraction? Instead of sterile numbers, what if the bargain involved real people; living human beings known and dear to you? If the bargain entangled friends or family, could you still take part in it?

Replace the numbers with real faces. Perhaps your mother is 65 years old, quite alive and healthy. She might be slightly diabetic, but it’s under control. Conceivably, she could have 25 or more years of a robust and enjoyable life still before her. You also have a 17-year-old daughter looking forward to college next fall. She comes to you with an urgent issue: she’s two months pregnant. You both have a deep respect for Pro-life values, but you’re now facing an immediate dilemma and a decision to be made that’s suddenly become too real. As if it’s not already complicated enough, the Devil abruptly appears and presents an untenable yet mandatory choice. If you and your daughter agree to an abortion, your mother’s life will not be taken. If you decide against it; if you refuse the abortion, your mother will die. There’s no way out; you have to decide. Would you consent to your mother’s death and allow the embryo’s continued development, to become a child with its lifetime yet ahead, or would you abort and grant your mother the possibility of 25 more years of enjoyable life? Yes, it’s an impossible situation, but it’s reflective of Pro-life’s bargain made with the Trump administration: to look away from and accept the human atrocities (like sacrificing your mother’s life) in exchange for Pro-life Christian empowerment (like saving your daughter’s embryo). It’s the Devil’s bargain that Pro-life Christians have made with Trump. They’ve tied themselves to “the Devil” and all the inhumanity that the Trump administration begets. It wasn’t a one-off acceptance. If Trump’s disregard for the sanctity of human life came as a post 2016 surprise, it’s had no effect on Pro-life’s continued allegiance. Even after four years of Trump exposure, the Devil’s bargain retains Christian support (80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2020).

It wasn’t forced upon them; the bargain was voluntary. That it was so easily made with one whose inhumanity and disregard for human life is so blatant – and that it still continues, gives rise to suspicion. That so many Pro-life Christians seem to easily immerse themselves in Pro-gun rhetoric furthers the suspicion: Pro-life is not so much about pro-life; it’s not so much about protecting human life. Perhaps Pro-life is most concerned with promoting pro-Christian political empowerment.

Trump saw the Pro-life and Pro-gun blocs for what they were: easy pickings. It was an art of the bargain opportunity – he knew what he wanted and how little he need give to get it. It was just a few bones tossed their way: a call-out; some empowerment, and they jumped at the offering with all the circumspection of hungry chickens thrown the entrails of their own kind. It was so easy for him. He saw them and knew what it would take. It was a little for a lot: the art of the bargain.

Trump’s dalliance with autocratic regimes was visible before he took office. His own efforts to subvert democracy in America have been openly displayed throughout the four years of his presidency. If it was too difficult to recognize during his abbreviated reign, it’s should be impossible to deny or gloss over now. Since his overwhelming election night defeat, Trump and much of his Republican Party have wallowed in vain attempts (thus far) to sabotage electoral results and overturn the democratically expressed will of the American people. Trump and his obliging party are defiantly attempting to upend democracy and gratuitously replace it with autocratic leadership. It’s the Republican Party; it’s not just Trump. When he finally boards the helicopter and is dropped at the resort of his choosing, his Party will still remain. It’s a party shown to be filled with autocratic sycophants; it’s the party of easy pickings. Someone with a loud voice and autocratic yearnings will come along to lead them. Like Trump, that someone will need an initial base of public support. He’ll offer a little something in return: a bargain of sorts.

Vern Loomis lives in the Detroit area and occasionally likes to comment on news and events that interest him in whatever capacity available. Besides Dissident Voice, his other musings can be found at Transcend Media Service, ZNetwork, CounterPunch, The Humanist, and The Apathetic Agnostic. Read other articles by Vern.