Hulu’s Explosive Show The Handmaid’s Tale Could Be Giving Us A Checklist Of A Religious Takeover
What would it take to make America a fascist state? One of the most popular scenarios explored is the theocratic takeover by the Christian conservative “Sons of Jacob” to create the Republic of Gilead in Hulu’s Emmy Award winning show The Handmaid’s Tale. The second season has just finished, and the show has teased out more information about how a group of Christian fundamentalists was able to take control of the government. Some cultural commentators have drawn parallels between the current Trump administration and the Sons of Jacob. While it seems almost normal to call your political opponents “fascists” or “Nazis,” how accurate are these comparisons?
The most apparent parallel is the control of women in The Handmaid’s Tale. In fact, the control of reproductive rights for women is a central tenet of the fictional Republic of Gilead. Women are forced to reproduce with high-ranking members of the government as a reaction to an infertility crisis created by environmental contamination. While women have not been forced by the government to have children, they are increasingly being told what they can do with their bodies. President Trump was selected with over 80 percent of the white evangelical vote. One of the promises Trump made was to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that made abortion legal in the United States. The selection of Judge Kavanaugh by Trump to the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Kennedy could finally allow Trump to complete his promise. This matches numerous states that have continuously limited windows of opportunity when an abortion can take place or place hurdles designed to deter the procedure altogether.
The model for Trump and evangelicals who support him seems to be countries like El Salvador. In El Salvador all abortion is illegal. Women who have been raped and try to have an abortion have been sentenced to 40 years in prison. There are examples of teenage women being handcuffed by police while bleeding on hospital floors. Would the Republic of Gilead be necessary if the Sons of Jacob got what they wanted in government?
An instrument that allowed the Sons of Jacob to wrest control are their paramilitary forces that quickly seize control of critical installations, slaughter news organizations, and ruthlessly put down civil unrest. While you might think Trump doesn’t have his own security force, you would be wrong. Erik Prince is one of Trump’s top unofficial advisors. He is also in charge of one of the largest private military companies in the world. They are now called Xe. What were they called before? Blackwater. Yes, the infamous Blackwater that has been accused of war crimes by multiple governments and the training of death squads in Saudi Arabia. Prince also believes the West should use military force to enforce Christian traditions and a holy war is inevitable between Islam and Christianity. Part of Trump’s foreign policy has been pushing for the increased use of private military forces in conflict. This does not mean that we are going to see Xe troops gunning down protests like The Handmaid’s Tale. But it does seem scary when a leader has a military force more loyal to him than the government or people.
Erik Prince’s sister, Betsy Devos, is the Secretary of Education. She has been trying to funnel public funding from public schools to private religious schools. She has also been trying to decrease federal protection for LGBTQ students.
The LGBTQ community is another target of the Republic of Gilead in the Handmaid’s Tale. Called “gender traitors” they are viciously killed when discovered. While Trump has said he is “a real friend of the gay community” his policies and appointees have been anything but friendly. Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, has decreased pursuing violent crimes against the LGBTQ community. Trump has tried to eliminate transgender troops in the armed forces. He has supported politicians in elections that have advocated on outlawing homosexuality, eliminating gay marriage, eliminating gay adoption, eliminating spousal rights for gay couples, banning sexual orientation from the list of workplace discrimination, and stopping states from having to recognize gay marriages from other states. With the consolidation of a conservative Supreme Court for decades, it is easy to imagine that some LGBTQ rights being rollbacked or limited.
Are we living in the flashback scenes of the Handmaid’s Tale? Probably not. While Trump has attacked the free press, has access to a private military force, and has appointed religious conservatives in political positions, it is not the beginning of a coup. Why? Because it is not necessary. Conservative Christians voted for Trump, a man with no religious background, interest, or moral compass because they knew he would pass their political agenda. What is the point of taking violent control of the government when they are already doing what you want? The Handmaid’s Tale references that the opening salvo in the Sons of Jacob war on American democracy were separate attacks on the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court. But conservative Christians control the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court. There is no point in biting the hand that feeds you. So America will not become the Republic of Gilead. It can become something more subtle. And that is scary.