Saturday, May 12, 2018
Rearranging the Deck Chairs
Last year the television version of Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale premiered on Hulu showing us a world in which the United States had been replaced by a totalitarian state controlled by religious fanatics. Without giving away any spoilers, the first season was a straight-forward adaptation of the book, which was centered around a character known as “Offred.” A woman who was being kept as a breeding slave for an infertile couple who were one of the elites of the new regime.
Understand Offred was not alone in her suffering, due to pollution and new diseases, infertility had skyrocketed and any fertile woman who ran afoul of that government would be forced into that bondage. Cloaked in a religious ceremony, Offred and these other women known as “Handmaids” suffered through state sanctioned rape once a month by the couples holding them captive in the hope that they would become pregnant and provide them a child. For the rest of the former American population things weren't much better in this new fictional nation called the Republic of Gilead. Just saying the Gilead Elites went full totalitarian is an understatement, so much that after watching the entire first season you wouldn't be faulted for thinking that being granted refugee status in North Korea would be an improvement.
Without spoiling the first season for anyone who hasn't watched it already, it ends exactly as the original novel with Offred being taking away by Gilead's secret police, her future very much uncertain.
Hulu premiered the second season of The Handmaid's Tale about a month ago and if the first four episodes are any indication it's even more of a physiological mind bender of horrific proportions than the first one. Don't get me wrong, the show is brilliant in its writing, acting, and sheer world building, so much that I have actually entertained thoughts of no longer watching it. The Handmaid's Tale is the epitome of the car/train wreck you simply cannot turn away from no matter how much blood, gore, and dead mangled bodies might be on display.
The first season The Handmaid's Tale used flashbacks to explain how the main characters became caught up in a country descending into religious madness. The first couple of episodes of the second season we get a glimpse at the mechanics of how the relatively enlightened United States fell and became the repressive Gilead. Funny thing, the producers and writers didn't to have search far for material to explain the change.
No, they didn't go the “ripped from the headlines” approach as other television dramas regularly do to write their stories. The second season flashbacks do capture the current mood of societal intolerance here in America and only extrapolate it a little to reach totalitarian Gilead. If you doubt me think back to the 2016 campaign when Trump stood on a stage in front an adoring crowd and mocked a disabled reporter. Just a few years before such behavior would have ended any possibility of being elected to the position of dog catcher in a white trash county much less to national office.
Of course I have to bring up the march of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia back in Augusr of 2017. That mass of disgruntled thugs walked through the town screaming slogans from the early days of Nazi Germany and Trump blithely later said their were good people in that crowd after one of them ran over and killed a counter protester. Get pissed off if you want, but Trump isn't that tone deaf or simply ignorant. He's a barely closeted racist who plays his base like the fictional Pied Piper did the rats in the town of Hamelin.
The trouble is that Trump is just a symptom of a larger problem. White folks were all cool and super patriotic about the ideas of America and democracy when they were solely in charge. Then the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's hits and they are forced to actually let African-Americans vote and have a say in the government. Remember the old saying about the government “being of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Well, when you can't vote but are forced into the armed forces in time of war but get lynched when you come back if you dare to buck the good old boy, whites only system there's a huge problem with the basic principles of the country. So white folks grudgingly allowed some reforms that sets the stage for women, other minorities, and eventually the LGBT community to exercise the same human rights guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
But wait a minute, there is a certain segment of white folks who decades later are still seething over the fact they don't totally get their way anymore. For a while they are pushed into the societal background because things are going enough for everyone. But things don't stay that way, the easy economic times here in America fade away and are replaced with a global uncertainty.
This combination of cultural and economic fears feed on each other and became a cancer eating away at the foundations of the country and the very principles we are supposed to cherish. When you have an untapped and growing mass of fear, ignorance, and hate basic human nature literally guarantees there will be those who seek to harness such energy to gain power for themselves.
The basic point I'm trying to make is that a good chunk of the Republican party has abandoned rational civic discourse for a strain of moralistic/religious authoritarianism that can be called Gilead-light. You can trace this descent all the way back to Reagan who said if fascism came to America it would come in the name of liberalism. George H.W. Bush helped things along with his Willie Horton political advertisement, something clearly engineered to stroke the race fears of white Americans. His son, George W. introduced formalized torture into the American mindset with many in power calling it “useful” to national security. A form of reasoning regularly used by the Soviet Union/Russia and Nazi Germany and something America was supposed to be immune. Things move right along to until you have the accusations made against Barrack Obama that he was both a secret Muslim and not born in the United States.
The sad thing is that the insane conspiracies didn't stop with President Obama. There are stupid and gullible people who actually think Democratic Party members were part of a sex/human trafficking ring being ran out of restaurants.
The basic premise of this authoritarian mass being the idea that any differentiation from what they consider accepted norms is unamerican at best and more than likely inherently evil. This extends to those of black and brown skin who don't totally wrap themselves in the flag, to those who suggest other religions have just as much right to practice in this country as Christians, or that making a buck at the expense of health and the environment is wrong. The only thing that scares me more than the current situation surrounding this descent into political madness is that I do not see it getting any better.
Now if someone on the conservative side of American politics has made it this far in my rant/essay, an unlikely event I admit, here's where I go after the Democrats to a certain extent.
Nothing says societal decay more to me that when you have the only true adults in government fighting over ideological purity. While there are many examples of this clusterfrak I could pull from the one that stands out was when you had every Republican presidential candidate of 2016 supporting the idea that every illegal immigrant in this country could be forcibly removed. Instead of Democrats uniting to defeat that barbaric and fascistic idea they instead decided it was time for a civil war over minor differences in party positions.
Quite frankly, the Republican turn toward religious authoritarianism and Democrats seeming ineptitude and self-destructive tendencies has brought me to a conclusion I have been trying to fight. Maybe the era of democratic enlightenment here in America might be over. The broad point being that it seems both sides have abandoned consensus building and compromise. Rational discourse was never a hallmark of American politics but things have become so partisan the radical base of each party constantly threatens to bolt if any compromise on issues is suggested. Every election cycle is now a battle to sweep away the current majority and replace it with their polar opposites. Of course the energy that voted in a new majority can't be sustained while those outside of true power are energized to seek something akin to revenge. The other side is viewed as evil and out to oppress and destroy their enemies.
I'll give backhanded kudos to the Republicans and their Machiavellian handlers, they are masters at stirring up their base and keeping them united. Whereas the Democrats love short-term and unfulfilled crusades and other shiny objects that makes voting something of an option for them. To many Democrats, Hillary wasn't shiny enough so they stayed home or voted third-party figuring there was no way Trump could be as bad as he seemed on the 2016 campaign trail. That Trump now regularly “jokes” about staying in office past the two term limit should be enough for every goddamn Democrat to wake the Hell up is an understatement. But there are clear signs the moderate Democrat/extreme progressive war is heating up again before the 2018 midterms.
What's worse than the political extremes of both parties alternately controlling the national agenda is the segment of Americans who simply never vote. Some of the reasons are easy to explain, we do not make it simple to exercise that right. And honestly, Republicans are constantly engineering ways to make it harder with reduced polling places, shorter hours, and allowing workplace policies that make it easy for bosses to prevent their workers from exercising their voting rights.
That still leaves a huge segment of Americans who are happy with their situation and can't be bothered to vote. They are the ones who could one day wake up and find their country changed beyond all recognition. No, I'm not saying a Republic of Gilead is likely or even possible to a great extent. I will admit though I see the elements of one all around me. Our principles on freedom and good government are regularly betrayed at the expense of convenience and a casual intolerance for those outside our immediate group.
America does have enemies, some real bastards that if given the chance would destroy us as casually as some order a pizza over the phone. But we're already well on our way to destroying the Republic, yes as trite as it may sound we are our own worst enemies. My biggest fear above all else is that we may have already passed the point of no return. That any effort of reform and reconciliation would be as futile as Titanic passengers rearranging the deck chairs after hitting the iceberg.