Trump and Religious Totalitarianism
Scene from The Handmaid’s Tale
Repeatedly when I read The Handmaid’s Tale, the global best
In The Handmaid’s Tale, the country slides into a totalitarian take-over, and suddenly people become aware of what is happening and try unsuccessfully to flee beyond the borders. Life in the new Republic of Gilead is under the control of tyrants who make sexual slaves of women for the purpose of propagation, and take ownership of their children. What becomes of the women’s husbands is uncertain, but some men become Commanders, who, despite the ostensible biblical puritanism, are encouraged to produce babies with women other than their wives. It is a tiered society, and women are constantly spied upon for disloyalty, such that they can trust no one. If they are found to have violated the rules, they may be tortured, sent to a camp and never heard from again, or hung on a platform before an audience of the other women in the community.
It is a frightening book, in some ways resembling the real totalitarian society in North Korea, where, courageous author Johnson was able to divine in a restricted tour of national sites, parents have to be careful not to say anything uncomplimentary of the Dear Leader or government management of the country. They live in fear that their children will report them and they will be severely punished. Everyone is intensely brainwashed, with signs praising Kim Jong-un posted ubiquitously. It is a reign of terror, which precludes the possibility of revolution.
William Barr with Trump
Reading about life under these authoritarian governments puts one in mind of the direction that the government in our own country has gone in the last three-plus years. President Trump escaped impeachment for his crimes involving collaboration with Russia only because a subservient Republican Senate refused to hold him accountable, and because he appoints toadies whose obsession with power supersedes concern with the Constitution to government posts such as the Justice Department. The authoritarian Attorney General William Barr abandons any pretense of independence by protecting Trump from prosecution.
Trump has fired four inspectors general from their politically neutral posts for investigating nefarious activities or persons favored by the president, the latest being Steve Linick of the State Department, giving as the reason Trump’s lack of “full confidence” in him. Members of Congress have objected strenuously, but government scholar Stanley M. Brand opined that little can be done about it. Trump has violated the Constitution countless times, but the feckless GOP senators, worried that their constituents would punish them at the polls for holding Trump accountable, do nothing.
Stanley M. Brand
Conservative columnist George Will wrote recently about Harvard Professor Adrian Vermeule, who converted to Catholicism in 2016 and is arguing for religious control of our society. In an Atlantic essay, Will notes, Vermeule wrote of a “common-good constitutionalism,” which Will described as “Christian authoritarianism – muscular paternalism, with government enforcing social solidarity for religious reasons.” Will goes on to quote the professor as wanting to remove “libertarian assumptions central to free-speech law and free-speech ideology.” Further, “libertarian conceptions of property rights and economic rights will also have to go, insofar as they bar the state from enforcing duties of community and solidarity in the use and distribution of resources.”
Republic of Gilead, anyone?
Under this common-good constitutionalism, Vermeule wrote, the main aim is “to ensure that the ruler has the power needed to rule well.” Says Will, “He thinks the Constitution, read imaginatively, will permit the transformation of the nation into a confessional state that punishes blasphemy and other departures from state-defined and state-enforced solidarity.”
And, Will continues, “Vermeule is not the only American conservative feeling the allure of tyranny … Some self-styled conservatives today turn their lonely eyes to Viktor Orban, destroyer of Hungary’s democracy” by using COVID-19 as an excuse to become dictator.
“The moral of this story,” Will says, “is that American conservatism, when severed from the Enlightenment and its finest result, the American Founding, becomes spectacularly unreasonable and literally unAmerican.”
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