It seems almost too obvious to compare the current global climate to any dystopian fiction. 1984, the most famous example of dystopia, gave us the phrase ‘Doublespeak’ which is essentially dismissing unfavourable reporting as ‘Fake News’ but put a little more eloquently. But the recent TV adaptation of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood shows that maybe we should be taking the warnings of dystopian fiction a little more seriously, however impossible the futures they show may seem.
At first, Atwood’s novel may seem completely implausible. The book relies on a fertility crisis and a destruction of the democratic process in the united states, through force, that are beyond comprehension in a country that is supposedly the epitome of democracy and capitalism, The USA. Having a state that has regressed to the extreme side of the Puritan values that the USA was built upon seems impossible, especially when the whole point of the second amendment is to enable the population to revolt against such tyranny and threats to democracy. With the USA seeing itself in the last century as harbingers of democracy, the idea that tyranny could manufacture itself in ‘The Land of the Free’ is shocking.
The current state of the USA is primarily one of division. Trump, a president who feeds both off and into this division, who for the purpose of winning the presidency cloaked himself in the veil of the Republican Party. The way that the Republican Party operate is to argue that the USA is constantly under attack from a morally corrupt, liberal group. They argue that the Democratic party want to erode values that their supporter base holds dear, fundamentally these are values based on Christianity. Broadly, Republicans are against abortion and adhere to the morals of ‘The Christian Right’ embracing a more fundamentalist branch of Christianity than the increasingly moderate flavour that is embraced by more liberal Christians.
‘The Sons of Jacob’ in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ come to power under the guise of religion. The doctrine that they embrace is based upon passages from the Bible, directly using the text for their interpretation. The parallels I am trying to draw are obvious, that Trump’s regime could get away with anything and still have the support of ‘The Christian Right’ as long as it could be biblically justified, which seeing as the bible is an ancient book full of contradictory statements and vague passages, is surprisingly easy. If the government wanted to completely outlaw eating shellfish, then they could as they are directly forbidden in the bible.
But this is not just a dismissal of religion, primarily the major world religions try and encourage people to be well rounded and respectful. It is, however, a warning of the dangers of religion as a tool. The fact that a multiple divorcee and man who has broken so many values in the years before his radicalisation to a despot can be so warmly embraced by a community claiming Christian values is disturbing. It indicates that those who claim to be in the religious right do not really care about the ‘religious’ aspect and care more about their own beliefs, ones that have a tenuous footing in religion.
I suspect the reason why ‘The Religious Right’ foolheartedly follow the Republican Party is due to the two-party system in the USA. With no viable alternative to Trump, then backing the candidate and party which adheres to the values of the right is their only option, as hypocritical as it may seem.
Feeding into the bipartisan model of US Politics is the key to understanding how a ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ like reality could take foot in the USA. Tradition states that it was Philip of Macedonia who coined the term ‘Divide and Rule’, a term that has meanings both literal and interpretive but the idea of ideologically dividing a population in order to consolidate your rule is one straight out of the fascist’s handbook. The divisions that Trump is creating are causing a winning mentality, he even uses the word, in which his supporters feel like they are the winners and his opponents are the losers, regardless of the actual consequences for themselves. It even results in some members of his supporter base calling for fascism and supporting Trump in his attempts to clamour more power as it is the opposite of what his opponents want.
Offred, the protagonist from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is essentially a birthing tool. She is systematically raped in the name of religion and it is justified by ‘The Sons of Jacob’ through religious text. In the current USA, there is no need for the justification through text, all that is needed is the word of Trump that is parroted by Fox News and not challenged by the majority of the Republican Party. Fascism could take hold, not through religious justification, but through people embracing their liberties being taken away. Serena Joy, in the TV series, helps write the legislation that takes away her own rights. She does this in the view that what she is doing is right, because she perceives the status quo as doing as wrong, rather than a reality somewhere in the middle.
Divisions in the political landscape are nothing new. The Democrats and Republicans have always had massive differences in political belief. But divisions being embraced by a president are relatively new. Usually, a president looks to unite a country, but with Trump’s victim mentality and embracing of far-right rhetoric and morals on an unprecedented scale in the modern United States, he is making no attempts to unify, and with his track record on women and race that would be impossible under his leadership anyway. His very election was symptomatic of a division, but he has further added a wedge to that very division.
The chances of Handmaids ever existing in the USA are minimal the idea of women’s rights being eroded under the guise of religion and fascism, however, is not. The guise of religion and a bipartisan political system which encourages winners and losers and mindless following of media and figureheads is a dangerous combination. It is a pessimistic view, that people would rather have the belief that they are winning over their own civil liberties, but Trump’s election proved that some people will willingly turn a blind eye if it helps soothe their neuroses. It is a scary thought that fascism could plant itself in democratic countries, but not one without reason.