There is no such thing as a “single issue.”
Single-issue voters everywhere, on either side of the aisle, I’m talking to you. I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear.
There is no such thing as a single issue.
There is no policy that exists in isolation. There is no social or economic issue that occurs in a vacuum. Policy is an ecosystem — not a pipeline. But ecosystems are complex. They require meticulous attention and balance. And most of all, if they are to thrive, they require a nuanced understanding of each input and output, of how each decision echoes off others or is impacted in turn as something else, downriver, changes.
Welcome to murk. Welcome to uncertainty. Welcome to caution and debate and (until this week) the plodding pace of creating legislation. So I get it — the temptation to simplify the whole messy business down to one thing you care about is real. Because if all you care about is trapping the puma because it’s obvious that the puma hunts and kills deer — and damn it, you love those poor, defenseless deer — then it is easy and oh-so-satisfying to rally behind its removal. It requires no extra efforts of thought or interrogation, no self-doubt. Because trapping the puma will protect deer. Save the deer! Stop the puma!
And so the puma is trapped. It is removed. And deer grow populous and spread. And more deer eat more food. And the lack of vegetation is allowing more soil to wash away. And the food grows scarce. And deer are starving. So fences are built to keep rabbits out, since they eat the same food. And the rabbits are forced to relocate to a different area, leaving a population of hawks without a food supply.
And so on.
And where are you, single-issue voter? You are at home. Because you stopped the puma. Good for you. You did it. You feel accomplished and important. You never really thought about rabbits or hawks or soil erosion from all the vegetation being gone. Rabbits and hawks and dirt and plants seem so far away from deer, from that scary, scary puma.
You stopped paying attention because you didn’t give a fuck about the ecosystem.
It’s not like it’s easy to understand — I’ll give you that. It takes reading and patience and listening to a lot of people you disagree with and most of the time, it still gets messed up in ways big or small, and that is hard to come to terms with because it makes efforts feel futile. Understanding the ecosystem means acknowledging that your actions, no matter how well-intentioned, will have real effects. It means acknowledging that those effects will sometimes be negative. It means acknowledging that those negative effects will sometimes, quite literally, destroy people’s lives. It requires looking at yourself in the mirror and really asking, “Can I justify the true cost of this action?”
This is a much harder question — a much more intellectually and emotionally rigorous question — than, “Do I want to stop the puma?”
And here we are.
The March for Life was this weekend, so this particular brand of single-issue voter is top-of-mind. And while I certainly do not presume that all pro-life voters are single-issue voters, Gallup finds that a significant percentage of them — 21% — would only ever vote for a candidate that shares their view. That’s 9% of the total population of the U.S. That’s about 22 million voting-aged Americans.
If you are a single-issue pro-life voter, you have enabled the ban on refugees, signed by this administration on Holocaust Remembrance Day, publicly spitting onto a mass grave. If you had given as much or even any consideration to all the other things your candidate said he was going to do, you may have realized that your goal of protecting and preserving human life would be thwarted at every other angle.
You cannot be “pro-life” and “pro-women and children” and anti-refugee. If you are standing on the side of personhood for zygotes and fetuses to the point where you have voted for this administration on that conviction alone, then you have turned your heart against refugees, immigrants, those in need of healthcare, the environment that sustains us all, and the freedom of information flowing into and out of our government agencies that in very real, very appreciable ways, maintains our confidence in our elected officials to act in our best interests.
So you are not a single-issue voter. You have actually voted for a great many things — things that you may, in fact, not support at all if you cared to imagine what might happen after you stopped the puma. And your lack of consideration for the consequences does not absolve you of responsibility for them, even as you sit at home, satisfied.
(P.S. “Ecosystem” is a metaphor. Pumas are not abortions and fetuses are not deer. Not really sure what rabbits would be in this forced comparison — just don’t try it. It’s rhetorically dishonest.)