I read The Handmaid’s Tale this week and anxiously calculated the chances of Atwood’s theocratic/woman-hating coup manifesting in the Donald Duck era.
Atwood’s dystopia sorts women into four classes: Wives (duh), Marthas (domestic servants), Handmaids (pregnancy surrogates for infertile Wives), and Unwomen (“gender traitors” and dissidents). But as Foucault taught us, exceptions to the (gender) rules better enforce the (gender) rules. Though she fears for her life under the brutal regime and is coerced into breaking more and more of its codes, Offred (“Of Fred”) finds herself wresting what pleasure she can out of a system that denies her autonomy, sociality, love. The book is about how much we will give up to stay human.
Thus follows a catalog of qualities our current government may or may not share with Atwood’s Gilead. Which totalitarian, repressive regime wins?
- Coup Style
- Gilead’s coup is nice and old school: a superior military bulked out by conscripted child soldiers taking control of electronic banking and border crossings to transform the socio-economic order overnight. Women’s bank accounts are frozen and their bosses forced to fire them. All assets transfer to the dude next of kin.
- The Trumpocalypse is facilitated entirely by the existing social and political order of an inert, hyperpartisan congressional majority, decades of gerrymandering and racist/sexist othering, and a sensationalist media.
- Points: Tie! Both methods are insidious, both wreak havoc, both kill for political gain (AHCA!! ICE!!!), both disenfranchise about half of us. Trumpocalypse is just slower.
- Gilead uses Christian tradition to rationalize its complete subjugation of women
- Pence uses Christian tradition to rationalize his belief in complete subjugation of women
- Trump doesn’t rationalize
- Points to Gilead! Pence isn’t President yet.
- White Supremacy
- Gilead doesn’t seem to notice race, which is not explicit in the biblical language the book cites. Atwood’s 80s-style buries ethnically marginalized experiences under its stratification by class: Which “unwomen” are working in the toxic waste dumps, do you think? Which women’s eggs are allowed to be surrogates for the elites? She doesn’t (need to) say.
- Trumpocalypse is balls-out pure white supremacy.
- Points to Trumpocalypse!
- Gilead enforces its regime by convincing everyone that it operates a lethal surveillance state. Anyone can be a spy for or against the authorities, and all dissidents are murdered. Friends could get you killed.
- Trumpocalypse won using ninja analytics on the Facebooks and other socials, highly hackable by Putin. We aren’t accustomed to thinking of our online leisure activities as political weapons against us. Friends could get you disenfranchised.
- Points to Gilead!
- Public Education
- Handmaids aren’t allowed to read.
- Trump isn’t able to read.
- Points to Trumpocalypse!
- Health Care
- Gilead finds enough food within its eco-devastation to feed decent grub to the Handmaids, who aren’t allowed to choose what or how much of it they eat. But they’ve killed all the doctors.
- Trumpocalypse includes AHCA, the massive redistribution of wealth from low-income people who need health care to high-income people who don’t. But the doctors will be doing fine.
- Points to Trumpocalpyse!
- Tie! The rapists are always in charge.
- Aestheticization of Violence
- Offred frequently and self-consciously indulges in lyricism as a way to survive Gilead’s horrors. Her descriptions of the Wife’s garden are startling and lovely. Her frequent references to the painterliness of Gilead’s dress codes remind us that fascist regimes have historically relied on modernist aesthetic principles to win popular support. We are comforted by beautiful sameness. Even a line of cheerleaders flipping in unison, or a Beyoncé Formation. The Handmaids’ blinder bonnets are called “wings,” as pure an irony as anything Orwellian. Offred’s surprised dismay at the sight of (outsider) women wearing makeup and short skirts reminds us how easily and frequently we use people’s gender self-presentations as tools for domination.
- Contemporary US white supremacy employs brutally ugly iconography. Pepe? Dick Spencer? Photoshopped Holocaust pics? Those awful photo spreads of KKK enclaves on Slate? Why’s that shit so ugly when so many other racist powers have tried to mask their brutality with beauty?
- Points to Gilead!
Adding up the points, my schema makes the Trumpocalypse even steven with Gilead. Good thing I’m joking, right? Right?