Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Please Support Common Dreams This #GivingTuesday

Our coverage of the climate emergency, Covid-19, and rising authoritarianism have intensified over the last two years. But our expenses during the pandemic have gone up as well. This has been one of the toughest years we’ve ever faced. Though our content is free to all, less than 1% of our readers ever make a donation. We're counting on you. Please support independent media today.

Please Help This #GivingTuesday -- Though our content is free to all, less than 1% of our readers give. We’re counting on you. Please help Common Dreams end the year strong.

Trump’s opposite approaches, discouraging masks and other Covid restrictions while seeking government intrusion into the most intimate decisions anyone makes, have become the de facto centerpieces of his campaign. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Trump’s opposite approaches, discouraging masks and other Covid restrictions while seeking government intrusion into the most intimate decisions anyone makes, have become the de facto centerpieces of his campaign. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

The Public, the Personal, and the Utter Hypocrisy of the GOP

It is nonsensical to argue, as do Trump and his allies, that government cannot mandate masks or close businesses during a pandemic but can prevent women from having abortions and same-sex couples from marrying.

Robert Reich

 by RobertReich.org

Trump and many Republicans insist that the decisions whether to wear a mask, go to a bar or gym, or work or attend school during a pandemic should be personal. Government should play no role.

Yet they also insist that what a woman does with her own body or whether same-sex couples can marry should be decided by government.

It’s a tortured, topsy-turvy view of what’s public and what’s private. Yet it’s remarkably prevalent as the pandemic resurges and as the Senate considers Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court.

By contrast, Joe Biden has wisely declared he would do “whatever it takes” to stop the pandemic, including mandating masks and locking down the entire economy if scientists recommend it. “I would shut it down; I would listen to the scientists,” he said.

And Biden wants to protect both abortion and same-sex marriage from government intrusion. In 2012 he memorably declared his support of the latter before even Barack Obama did so.

Trump’s opposite approaches, discouraging masks and other Covid restrictions while seeking government intrusion into the most intimate decisions anyone makes, have become the de facto centerpieces of his campaign.

At his “town hall” on Thursday night, Trump falsely claimed that most people who wear masks contract the virus.

He also criticized governors for ordering lockdowns, adding that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer “wants to be a dictator.“ (He was speaking just one week after state and federal authorities announced they had thwarted an alleged plot to kidnap and possibly kill Whitmer.)

Attorney General William Barr – once again contesting Trump for the most wacky analogy – has called state lockdown orders the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history” since slavery.

Yet at the very same time Trump and his fellow-travelers defend peoples’ freedom to infect others or become infected with Covid-19, they’re inviting government to intrude into the most intimate aspects of personal life.

Trump has promised that the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, establishing a federal right to abortion, will be reversed “because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.”

Much of controversy over Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court hinges on her putative willingness to repeal Roe.

While an appeals court judge, Barrett ruled in favor of a law requiring doctors to inform the parents of any minor seeking an abortion, without exceptions, and also joined a dissenting opinion suggesting that an Indiana state law requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains was constitutional.

A Justice Barrett might also provide the deciding vote for reversing Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court decision protecting same-sex marriage. Only three members of the majority in that case remain on the Court.

Barrett says her views are rooted in the “text” of the Constitution. That’s a worrisome omen given that earlier this month Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito opined that the right to same-sex marriage “is found nowhere in the text” of the Constitution.

What’s public, what’s private, and where should government intervene? The question suffuses the impending election and much else in modern American life.

It is nonsensical to argue, as do Trump and his allies, that government cannot mandate masks or close businesses during a pandemic but can prevent women from having abortions and same-sex couples from marrying.

The underlying issue is the common good, what we owe each other as members of the same society. During wartime, we expect government to intrude on our daily lives for the common good: drafting us into armies, converting our workplaces and businesses, demanding we sacrifice normal pleasures and conveniences.  During a pandemic as grave as this one we should expect no less intrusion, in order that we not expose each other to the risk of contracting the virus.

But we have no right to impose on each other our moral or religious views about when life begins or the nature and meaning of marriage. The common good requires instead that we honor such profoundly personal decisions.

Public or private? We owe it to each other to understand the distinction.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. His book include:  "Aftershock" (2011), "The Work of Nations" (1992), "Beyond Outrage" (2012) and, "Saving Capitalism" (2016). He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, former chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." Reich's newest book is "The Common Good" (2019). He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

New Research Finds Climate Emergency the 'Overwhelming Factor' Behind Australian Bushfires

"It is now clear that human-induced climate change is creating ever more dangerous conditions for fires in Australia."

Andrea Germanos ·


WHO Chief Urges Pandemic Treaty to Avoid Another 'Crisis of Sharing and Solidarity'

"It will all happen again unless you, the nations of the world, can come together to say with one voice: never again."

Julia Conley ·


Iran Says US Must Lift 'Tyrannical and Illegal' Sanctions to Return to Nuclear Deal

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has entered the talks with a strong will and elaborate preparations in order to ensure the removal of unlawful and cruel sanctions."

Jake Johnson ·


2.5 Million Nurses Demand UN Probe Into 'Covid-19 Criminals' Blocking Patent Waiver

The European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, and Singapore "must be investigated for blocking a faster global vaccine rollout leading to the loss of countless lives."

Jake Johnson ·


WHO, South Africa Urge Nations to Lift 'Naive' Omicron Travel Bans

"The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo