The Handmaid’s Tale - A Primer

I’m watching the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale, and I encourage everyone who can (it’s on Hulu) to join me.

Here’s the thing: this season spends some time chronicling the first intimations of change in what was, at the beginning, a world we recognize as our own. Suddenly there are more intrusive questions asked, women need a husband’s signature for birth control pills, identification as LGBTQ becomes, not illegal but … problematic.

So – what do we have to look at so far?

1. New gun laws enable people to open carry weapons wherever and whenever they wish, which makes it easier for young white men to accumulate arms and perhaps plan their own “resistance.” These new laws, however, are often forgotten when the carrier is black, Latino, Muslim, or a woman. Somehow there is always an exception to be found somewhere in the back of the lawbooks. Remember who was armed and who was not in Charlottesville.

2. Abortion rights are becoming increasingly curtailed, as states seek to find ways to close clinics and set somewhat arbitrary (20 weeks, date on which fetus might feel pain, heartbeat, who knows?) times after which abortion is illegal. Many of these will be struck down in the courts, but the Republicans, with Trump, are trying to pack many of the federal courts, so it may not be long before those restrictions will impact the lives of women across the country. I would not be surprised to find that states will insist that a woman must have her partner’s permission to take birth control pills, as she does in the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale. I could fill this page with links to the many laws now on the books in several states, but will restrict myself to Planned Parenthood, which has itself been under continuous siege for several years now for the simple reason that it provides services of all sorts to women who do not otherwise have access to them.

3. LGBTQ rights have been under constant attack throughout the first year of the Trump administration, and even though most of them have been upheld in the courts, the efforts persist. Slurs and attacks on this community are greeted with little more than a tsk (and possibly a sly wink of approval) from the White House.

4. Elimination and/or degradation of federal agencies and programs specifically designed to provide all U.S. citizens with quality education, housing, clean air and water – and so many other things that guarantee to even the least of these our neighbors life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Flint, MI water travesty is only one symptom of the damage that can be inflicted upon we the people, in that lead in the water can literally destroy the futures of millions of young people, impoverishing us all and making us all much more likely victims of those who find The Handmaid’s Tale an inspiration in tyranny.

5. Civil rights are under assault every day, from gerrymandering to voter suppression to the imprisonment of young African American males to immigration fear to the underlying threats that many women face both at home and at work. Every day brings another story about a young black man shot down by police for existing while black. Today there was a story about three black women surrounded by police as they packed up to leave their Airb&b – a neighbor assumed they were robbing the house. Another story about young black men accosted outside a department store where they had been shopping for prom clothing. The store had called the police on the assumption that they had been shoplifting. Most of these incidents are resolved quickly, upon learning the truth, but the fact that resolution must be made, that young black or brown people need to provide a reason to be about their own business, is troubling. It is a short step from misunderstanding to tragedy, as we learn when white householders shoot and kill people who are asking for help, and a short step from there to justification and re-institutionalization of extreme prejudice without recourse to reason.

There are recent attacks on net neutrality and rights to privacy that could lead to unforeseen future curtailment of rights. Just yesterday, Mr. Trump broke our word on the world stage by rescinding the Iran deal, scuttling billions of dollars in trade that benefitted U.S. companies and hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of workers. Jobless people denied healthcare and an unpolluted environment, with their power reduced to the right to own a gun, are people who are ready to be used.

How will those of us who don’t fall for it respond?