Thursday, May 18, 2017

"People in Control in Gilead Aren't 'Really Interested in Religion; They’re Interested in Power'": Notes on Atwood's Dystopian Handmaid's Tale and Today's News

To complement the notes I have just posted about Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, here are some observations from my news-and-commentary reading in the past day or two:

Atwood is also right on point in her understanding of religion as a tool of social control. As she said recently in an interview in Sojourners, the people in control in Gilead aren't "really interested in religion; they’re interested in power. They're not interested in belief or in faith; they’re interested in compliance, and they're using religion as a way to get the compliance, because once you set up a state religion like that … anybody who doesn't agree with you is a heretic.” 
We have only to look at how Trump conflated Christianity with white nationalism and threw in a pinch of opposition to reproductive freedom to see how far someone who is skilled at manipulating religion can get.

The Republican Party has spent the last five decades building a political bomb constructed of racism, greed, sexism, bigotry and white male grievance-mongering. To those ingredients, Republicans have added an extreme partisanship where empirical reality is jettisoned to fit the political whims of reactionary ideologues. Trump simply pressed the trigger to detonate this political bomb.

[Frances] FitzGerald [in The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America], however, mostly hews to the school of thought that sees Graham as somehow more moderate than the Christian Right that emerged in the late 1970s. Graham, she insists, "wasn’t a racist." As evidence, she quotes his banal statement in 1950 that "all men are created equal under God." But while Graham integrated his revivals, he also believed that Martin Luther King Jr. had gone too far with the civil rights movement and should have "put on the brakes a bit." That duality—a sincere denial of racism, accompanied by its thinly euphemized perpetuation—is essential to the Christian Right politics that thrived after Graham withdrew from politics in the 1980s, and forms the evangelical backbone of Trumpism today.

Despite a few signs of slippage, the Republican Party continues to worship Trump like they would a cult leader. It seems bonded to him in a political suicide mission: He holds power, but largely does the party their bidding. For Trump’s voters, he is a hero and a projection of their collective ugliness, anger, ignorance, meanness and bitterness toward "liberals," "elites," nonwhites and the "other" more generally. Because of this, Trump remains remarkably popular among his core voters and Republicans en masse — even when accounting for his extraordinary record of blunders and policy failures during his brief time in the White House. Thus it is highly unlikely that Donald Trump will be impeached, convicted and subsequently removed from office. 
Racism and sexism are the core qualities of the toxic white male identity politics that Trump rode to victory over Hillary Clinton. In many ways, these values continue to protect him. 
Social scientists have shown that white Americans view black people with high levels of suspicion and threat. A significant percentage of white Americans also believe that they are more trustworthy, intelligent and patriotic than black people are. 
The white-supremacist conspiracy theory called "birtherism" that was used by Republicans — and in particular by Donald Trump — to undermine Barack Obama's presidency is one striking example of this phenomenon. 
Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that there is a partisan and gender divide when people assess whether women possess strong leadership skills and are suitable for senior positions of power or authority. 
This shadow hung over the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton was one of the most qualified candidates ever to seek the presidency in the history of the United States. But Clinton was hounded by false and disproved accusations about her mishandling of supposedly classified emails, as well as by the accusation from conservatives — and too many mainstream corporate media outlets — that she was not physically or emotionally strong enough to lead the country. 
As a reactionary backlash against the gains of the civil rights movement, conservatism and racism have effectively become one and the same thing in the United States. In combination with authoritarianism and sexism, an extreme form of right-wing partisanship has smashed expectations about normal politics and now controls the Republican Party. In fact, Republicans are ideologically incapable of divorcing themselves from Trump; he is the distillation of all the values they have represented for 40 years.

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