The Commons

Readers respond to our December 2019 “How to Stop a Civil War” issue.

The Things We Can’t Face

Caitlin Flanagan reflected in the December issue on what we don’t talk about when we talk about abortion.

I read Caitlin Flanagan’s essay last night; then I read it again. I have never seen my inner tumult laid out in such eloquent prose before.

The badge-wearers, sign-thrusters, and yell-louders on both sides of this fight lost me long ago, though I tip my hat to their sense of urgency. I find myself in a quieter, sadder place that doesn’t marry with slogans. The costliness, the never-to-be for both woman and child, is heartbreaking. Whom shall we value? The answer is easy and impossible. Perhaps we should take a moment and mourn the tragedy of the thing.

Jamie R. Oaks
Chicago, Ill.

I am a Franciscan priest in the Roman Catholic Church who has a professional as well as personal interest in the debate over abortion. In working with pro-life groups, hearing confessions (and sometimes just hurt and anger) from women (and a few men) who have had or facilitated abortions, and trying to simply discuss the issue with friends who are pro-choice, I have long anguished over how to break through both sides and bring the subject from a place of debate to a place of understanding.

Ms. Flanagan’s article has helped me tremendously down that road by articulating the pain that is so raw everywhere abortion is discussed. While many on the pro-life side of the argument are feeling hopeful as the judiciary becomes more conservative, I feel a growing sense of unease. The issues Ms. Flanagan so deftly points out will not be legislated away. Even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, the fight will rage on.

Friar Paul Schloemer
Silver Spring, Md.

Caitlin Flanagan replies:

I’ve never been more surprised—or moved—by the response to an essay I’ve written. I received emails from people on all sides of the abortion debate, each of them interested in having a discussion in which the full range of human emotions and experiences regarding the subject could be considered. Many anti-abortion readers were grateful to see their strongest argument advanced respectfully. And many pro-abortion-rights readers recognized themselves in the voice of a writer who has faced the whole truth about abortion, and made a firmly held decision that the procedure should remain legal.

I want to note that I received letters from readers who experienced—and were surprised by—some sense of sadness and even grief after abortions. That doesn’t mean that they made the wrong decision. Only that we on the side of legal abortion could do a much better job of acknowledging the full and complicated truth about the procedure, which is that for many women, abortion is the better of two bad choices.

Too Much Democracy Is Bad for Democracy

The major American parties have ceded unprecedented power to primary voters, Jonathan Rauch and Ray La Raja wrote in December. It’s a radical experiment—and it’s failing.

Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” So it is disheartening to see the authors of this article support disengagement of the electorate.

If representative democracy is to be successful, then the people must be actively involved in choosing, and holding accountable, their representatives. The answer to our political woes is investment in the education of the citizenry. It is not to tell citizens to become passive players in the government—their government.

Owen Keenan
Langhorne, Pa.

Q & A

In the December issue, “How to Stop a Civil War,” Adam Serwer wrote that the gravest danger to American democracy is the false promise of civility. Graeme Wood wrote about Daniel Miller, the leader of the Texas Nationalist Movement.

Q: Mr. Serwer reprises several partisan tropes. Disenfranchising minority voters and attacking liberal immigration policy certainly are Republican tactics to forestall demographic irrelevance. Aren’t support for Dreamer citizenship, open borders, and minimal deportation likewise Democratic tactics to accelerate demographic dominance? — Derek Ridgley, Nederland, Colo.

A: Whether or not the immigrants in question become reliable Democratic voters is within the Republican Party’s ability to help decide; “open borders” as they existed for white people for most of United States history are not on the table, and deferring the deportation of undocumented immigrants does not make them eligible to cast a ballot in federal elections. Democrats can be held accountable by the electorate for taking unpopular positions on immigration. By disenfranchising rival constituencies, the Republican Party eliminates the ability of the electorate to hold the GOP similarly responsible for its actions. — Adam Serwer

Q: Would an independent Texas issue currency? If so, trying to pay for imported goods with that currency could increase costs for Texans, because sellers would likely demand a premium for a new and untested government’s issuance. — Diana Powe, Beaverton, Ore.

A: Daniel Miller hopes that Texas will issue its own currency, but he says it need not do so immediately upon independence. His “Texit” movement envisions an amicable divorce, and the new country developing monetary policy gradually, if necessary. An independent Texas could at first enter into a currency union with the remaining 49 states, then issue its own currency later, once it established the institutions necessary to manage and back its money supply. As Miller never fails to point out, much smaller economies than Texas (Australia, say) issue their own currency and do just fine. — Graeme Wood

On the Ranch

Courtesy of Anthony Sanchez

I have been reading The Atlantic since my college days, in the late 1950s and ’60s, when it was The Atlantic Monthly. About 10 years ago, I found myself reading too much at the ranch and not doing enough work, so I quit a bunch of subscriptions and narrowed my reading list. But I still kept buying The Atlantic. When I got snowed in last November, I had some time to read, and learned about the contest. My wife, Patsy, took some pictures after the snow melted, but we had no idea what the heck Instagram or a hashtag was. Grandchildren came to the rescue.

— Anthony Sanchez, winner of the 2019 Reading My Atlantic Contest
Carrizozo, N.M.

Behind the Cover

On this month’s cover, we illustrated the ideas behind David Brooks’s feature story by quite literally exploding a nuclear family. The vintage image, which conjures Bazooka Joe comics and mid-century cereal boxes, conveys a mythic familial happiness and nostalgia for the American dream. Today, of course, that family structure and its attendant ideals are long gone for most Americans, and they’re not coming back; a new approach is needed.

Peter Mendelsund, Creative Director
Oliver Munday, Senior Art Director