The interview of Donald Trump by Chris Matthews became especially notable due to the statement made by the candidate that women who have abortions should be punished – if Roe v. Wade is overturned and abortion is made illegal. There was so much revealed in the exchange that it is difficult to add up all of the points of interest and explore them in terms of importance. This is especially true of the assumptions alternately stated and accepted as established “givens” by each of the men. Not surprisingly, the public failed to notice them, much less call the assumptions into question. (One such assumption was already pointed out in a previous At the Threshold posting: positions taken by the church in its teachings, even core teachings,” are little more than moral “suggestions” for individual behavior – and are increasingly ignored by the individual members.)

An assumption that most obviously should have been challenged concerned the purpose of criminal law and in particular the reason for criminal sanctions. For Mr. Trump and Mr. Matthews the question of criminal behavior was about punishment.

What if the question would have been asked in terms that actually suits the purposes of law: “If abortion becomes illegal should each woman who violates the law be subject to a criminal process for reconciliation with society?” The next question about what that process should be would have been far more interesting than the assumption that it is jail, or some other inconceivable form of punishment, that must be called for: “Given that our society decides that having an abortion is a criminal violation, what would be the appropriate and most effective way to accomplish reconciliation for the sake of the one convicted of guilt and of society?”

The statement that the media and the public found so shocking may have been too juicy for them to get around to examination of anything else. But it is probably more accurate to recognize that most Americans make the same assumption as Mr. Trump.

No wonder, then, that we live in a society that places more people behind bars than any other in the world – ever – and “yet” crime is on the rise and people who are incarcerated too very often prove more prone to criminal behavior when they exit than when they are put away; no wonder citizens returning from jail have such a difficult time merging back into society as productive contributors. No wonder whole segments of our society that have high percentages of their population put away in jails and prisons, and whose children grow up with the very real expectation that this will happen to each of them, “yet” turn out to produce more crime than other communities and subdivisions.

Note that in each case I put quotation marks around the term “yet” because that marks another assumption about prison: if we punish people by putting them in miserable conditions they will change, become docile – or something like that – and others will be deterred from criminal activity. It turns out that we are a foolish people, without the leadership that we need to help us see beyond the assumptions that turn out to be what Dostoyevsky termed “the veryiest of lies by which we live.”

Just look at Trump, the Presidential candidate that sophisticated Americans are having such a hard time taking seriously, and getting more and more frightened that we have to take him seriously. Is it not because he represents the untested assumptions that we have so long accepted, assumptions that trump the truth?

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