This week’s terrorist attack on the Washington Capitol Complex by white supremacists is also a dress rehearsal, a stress test. The terrorists came with weapons, body armor, Confederate flags, neo-Nazi regalia, and zip ties to take prisoners. If decisive action is not taken, policy enacted, and lessons learned, in a few years we will see another far more effective decapitation attack on the U.S. Government and more importantly on the institution of democracy itself.
Right now, we progressive are laughing nervously because trump finally lost his social media access with less than two weeks to go in his presidency, and because an idiot tasered himself in the balls while looting the Capitol. And yes, it’s worth a giggle of relief, but we’d better get back to the business of securing democracy pronto.
This was a joint session of Congress, where every elected representative and the Vice President are in one place. The terrorists won’t miss twice.
We’ve spent over six decades trying to convince ourselves that the rise of the Third Reich and the resulting WWII was a perfect storm due to unique conditions that could only happen once. That the next time, we’d know better and Nazis and fascists would never be allowed to rise to power again. Well guess what? Perfect storms do happen more than once.
Ordinary, banal evil flared to the most profound evil humans are capable of back in the 1930s, and ordinary, banal evil people are perfectly comfortable going back there right now. Why should we be surprised that they will recoil at no evil actions? They didn’t then, they don’t now. What should surprise us is that the rest of us–the people who don’t plan on any cruelties and don’t deny the full humanity of refugees, or trans persons, or immigrants, or people of colour, or women–tolerate the banal evil and normalise it and allow it to be part of the common discourse.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. [Don’t let the bastards grind you down.]
— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale.
The rate at which proposed regulation, crafted by the American Far (“Christian”) Right, targets women’s most basic rights has been accelerating over the last several years. Bills that used to be outlandishly unthinkable are now commonplace, what with the Republican Party having wholly embraced the right-wing fringe, especially in its Dominionist flavour.
A protest against proposed draconian restrictions on abortion last week at the Texas legislature was only the most recent to draw parallels with Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel about an ultra-Christian future of gender-regulated servitude, The Handmaid’s Tale.
Of course, the upcoming release of Hulu’s series based on the novel has also brought the book to the forefront of pop culture again, but the novel has been increasingly mentioned in news, streams, threads, and conversations about the Right’s treatment of women.
Earlier this week I was reading about the original critical reception to Atwood’s landmark book. It was darkly funny to learn that some reviewers — like the New York Times’ Mary McCarthy (Feb. 9, 1986) — felt its premise was too unbelievable to be successful:
“Surely the essential element of a cautionary tale is recognition. Surprised recognition, even, enough to administer a shock. We are warned, by seeing our present selves in a distorting mirror, of what we may be turning into if current trends are allowed to continue. That was the effect of ”Nineteen Eighty-Four,” with its scary dating, not 40 years ahead, maybe also of ”Brave New World” and, to some extent, of ”A Clockwork Orange.” “
“It is an effect, for me, almost strikingly missing from Margaret Atwood’s very readable book ”The Handmaid’s Tale,” offered by the publisher as a ”forecast” of what we may have in store for us in the quite near future. A standoff will have been achieved vis-a-vis the Russians, and our own country will be ruled by right-wingers and religious fundamentalists, with males restored to the traditional role of warriors and us females to our ”place” – which, however, will have undergone subdivision into separate sectors, of wives, breeders, servants and so forth, each clothed in the appropriate uniform. A fresh postfeminist approach to future shock, you might say. Yet the book just does not tell me what there is in our present mores that I ought to watch out for unless I want the United States of America to become a slave state something like the Republic of Gilead whose outlines are here sketched out. “
It’s worth reading the entire review, it seems like a point-by-point comment on current news, 32 years after publication. It’s hard to believe these days that McCarthy found A Clockwork Orange’s dystopia more likely than the one in Atwood’s “palely lurid pages.”
[Edit: Here are some very current topics touched on in The Handmaid’s Tale which I jotted the last time I read the book:
Patriarchy and kyriarchy
Rise of religious fundamentalism
Feminist reactions to pornography
“Freedom to” versus “freedom from,” and safety versus liberty
Abortion, contraception, and reproductive choices
Self-determination, ownership of one’s body
Right to take one’s own life
Surveillance and information technology
Sexual orientation and choice
Access to education, knowledge as power
Status of and relationships between U.S. and Russia
Public apathy and the creep of authoritarianism
Televangelists and the Christian media industry
And I bet I missed some.]
Partisanship has been increasing over the past 25 years. The Republican Party now controls the U.S. Presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives, as well as the “trifecta” (governorship + both State congressional houses) in 25 state legislatures, the senate in 12 more states, the house of representatives in six more states, and governorship in eight more states, and soon the ninth and deciding seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The trend is clear, and it is frightening.
Credits: Photo by Nan L. Kirkpatrick, as seen on Vulture.
First, my deepest condolences to all those affected by the terrible murders at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. There is nothing comparable to the chilling, senseless grief left by such an event.
I woke up early this morning and saw the sad news about yet another damn mass shooting, this time targeting a gay bar on Pride Month. And I also was warned by the CNN headline that called it “terrorism” — I knew somewhere in the article I would discover that the shooter had brown skin and might have read the Quran at some point. Reading the article confirmed this, before any names or details had even been released.
A violent crime motivated by homophobia, and reported with blithely oblivious racism.
I went back to bed for several hours, knowing that today would suck.
When I got up for real, I checked the news outlets for details. By then we had a name, Omar Mateen, and selfies for the shooter, some background, and a body count revised horribly upwards.
We learned that Omar Mateen had worked as a licensed security guard and a guard in a juvenile detention center, had a concealed carry permit, and had obtained his assault weapon and handgun legally. But he also had a history of domestic violence — what a great idea to allow him to own firearms!
And a few hours later yet, the media have come up with their narrative: they’re biting hard into the Islamic terrorism meme because Mateen, twenty minutes into his hostage-taking and shooting spree, called 911 to claim his actions were in the name of ISIS/ISIL. Now they’re pulling on tenuous threads to weave a better connection, ignoring the massive amount of information we have that report him as a man with a fixation for wielding authority through force, the kind of man who wants to become a police officer for the wrong reasons and fails, the kind of man who uses domestic violence and destroys his marriage then becomes angry and resentful, a man who got agitated and angry just for seeing two men kiss on television.
But no, let’s confidently talk about connections to Islamic terrorism and not about the painfully ordinary tale of toxic masculinity, homophobia, and ridiculously lax gun laws. And let’s do it in a racist way, because terrorism can only be performed by brown people called Omar, not by white men from Indiana called James.