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Issue #1800      October 25, 2017

Culture & Life

A dystopian future?

When I was a child in the late 1940s, one of the comic books in my collection was set after nuclear war had devastated Earth (a hot topic in the ’40s and ’50s when America’s leaders were belligerently threatening to “nuke” any country that defied their diktat). I remember, the main health consequence of the “atomic war” in the comic was blindness caused by “the flash”.

Since then, of course, we have had an enormous number of dystopian novels, plays, radio plays (remember them?), films and television programs. Some have been basically pessimistic, reflecting the writer’s fears for the future of the human race. Not surprising given the catastrophic nature of the subject. Others however, in fact the majority, choose a dystopian subject as a warning to the rest of us, showing what could happen – or would happen – if vital lessons are not learned.

The Handmaid’s Tale, recently on television, falls into that category. Written in 1985 by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, it is concerned with fascism as a social phenomenon rather than as a cause of nuclear war, but its depiction of a dystopian future is grim indeed. And extremely topical.

Speaking in Frankfurt, where she received this year’s Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, Atwood declared that “it’s a moment of turmoil everywhere” and that with the election of Donald Trump, “It feels the closest to the 1930s of anything that we have had since that time.

“People in Europe saw the United States as a beacon of democracy, freedom, openness, and they did not want to believe that anything like that could ever happen there,” she said. “But now”, she continued, “times have changed, and, unfortunately it becomes more possible to think in those terms.”

The head of the German Book Trade, Heinrich Riethmueller, said the 77-year-old Canadian was receiving the accolade for “political intuition and clairvoyance when it comes to dangerous underlying trends and currents.”

Elisabeth Moss, the star of the television adaptation, said the work had “always been timely. It’s just that now there are actual things happening with women’s reproductive rights in our own country that make me feel like this book is bleeding over into reality.”

The television adaptation, which was awarded eight Emmys, was dubbed by Rolling Stone as “TV’s Most Chilling Trump-Era Series.” And Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood USA, said, “It’s fitting that the author of The Handmaid’s Tale is being honoured at a time when women’s rights are under attack like never before.”

Trump, of course, has constantly shown that he couldn’t care tuppence for women’s rights. Talking of Trump, have you noticed how his debacles have succeeded in making George W Bush look Presidential, a task we once would have said was impossible?

Apparently under the impression that the USA can single-handedly get rid of any international agreements he personally doesn’t like, Trump announced that he will not recertify the agreement that denuclearised Iran in return for international guarantees and economic concessions. But that agreement was signed not only with Iran but with Britain, France and Germany, all of whom, in Bernie Sanders’ words, “continue to support the agreement and have consistently said that it is in their own national security interests.” Even Trump’s own national security team said the Iran deal was working and should be upheld.

“Breaking the Iran agreement would not only free Iran from the limits placed on its nuclear program,” declared Sanders in a statement, “it would irreparably harm America’s ability to negotiate future non-proliferation agreements. Why would any country in the world sign such an agreement with the United States if they knew that a reckless president might simply discard that agreement a few years later?

“It’s up to us to stop this drift toward war. We should listen to what virtually the entire national security community is saying – that this deal is working – and protect it.”

The Trump administration’s debacles continue to pile up, however: their attempt to dismantle Obamacare, thereby denying affordable health care to millions of Americans, was too much even for arch Republican John McCain who publicly refused to support it. Trump’s overtly racist immigration policy combined with his pointed refusal to condemn racist cops killing Black Americans and his very public acceptance of endorsement by the Ku Klux Klan is taking the USA back to the worst days of Jim Crow, to the days before the Civil Rights movement.

His administration’s grossly inadequate response to the hurricane that devastated the US territory of Puerto Rico, even while he boasted of his administration’s success, and his war of words with Puerto Rico’s mayor when she had the temerity to take him up on his false claims exposed him as ill-informed at best and a liar at worst. His clownish performance tossing paper towels to hurricane survivors and attempting to pass off their catastrophe as “not a real” crisis exposed him as a global oaf.

And, as indicated above, his attitude to women’s rights is generally recognised as abysmal. He entered the Presidential race not because he had a serious political agenda, but because he knew it would enhance his business profile and enable him to boost the profits of his assorted resorts, property deals, etc.

No wonder that, as the debacles pile up, a group of US mental health experts recently hosted a dozen “town hall meetings” to publicly canvass the question of whether Trump is merely a moron, or whether he is in fact mentally ill? Claiming that they had a “duty to warn” about the danger Trump poses to the USA, the health professionals were only one more example of the breadth of the appalled reaction to letting a fascist loose in the White House.

On everything from war and peace to protecting the environment or moving the American economy (and hence the world) towards a green, renewable future, Donald Trump is a dangerous, reactionary aberration who is putting us all at risk.

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