Handmaids’ Plot to Bring Fascism to America

What does a writer of left-liberal orientation do when he sees that the injustices he railed against all his life no longer exist in the way he feared, if they ever did to the extent he professed, and, if he were honest, he would have to admit that things have been quite good?

Why, make stuff up of course! This accounts for two recent television outpourings, both multipart TV series based on books, the utterly preposterous “Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Margaret Atwood’s tedious and deeply unpleasant novel of the same name from 1985, and the hateful “Plot Against America,” based on Phillip Roth’s sullen, scowling, glowering novel of the same name from 2004.

Feminism has so egregiously exaggerated the idea of women’s oppression, delineated a vision so out of kilter with the reality of women today (and even in the past), that Atwood had to make up a religiously based cultural revolution of fascist and quasi-Nazi character imposed on America by violence. Sheer fantasy is the only avenue available to illustrate all the feminist accusations against “patriarchy” that one doesn’t see as accepted practice in ordinary life but that feminists feverishly insist form the very warp and woof of our lives. 

The film and book manufacture the opportunity to piously rehearse and perversely depict all the male-generated malefactions regarding sex, family, home, children, workplace, and women’s independence that distort the feminist imagination, and to turn women’s capacity to give birth into a weapon of patriarchal tyranny. 

Most of the first season of “Handmaid’s Tale” comes from Atwood’s book. But the series throws in a few malefactions that arise from the Islamic world and conveniently presents them as part of the overarching hyper-patriarchal dystopia she has fashioned. The series also depicts the infertile, cooperating “wives” of the new regime, who must tolerate their husbands impregnating the fertile “handmaids,” as suppressed volcanoes boiling with frustration and hatred, invoking feminist godmother Betty Friedan.

Misidentifying the Target

“The Plot Against America” series is done in the same drearily prosaic, almost anthropological manner as other films made from later Roth novels such as “The Human Stain” and “Indignation.” America on balance has been so good for Jews that Roth has to conjure up a past in which the extremely unlikely election of an anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh to the presidency in 1940 instead of FDR results in intensification of animus against them, as well as government efforts to transfer them from Phillip Roth’s New Jersey to the middle-American heartland. 

There was prejudice, to be sure, and it was hurtful, but it was certainly not official policy. The real America on the whole actually resisted the blandishments of anti-Semitism, of Father Coughlin, and even of the aviator hero Charles Lindbergh, but it’s more gratifying to Roth and the series makers to exaggerate the wounds of the past by creating the United States in the 1940s to look like the bastion of bigotry and injustice the Left desperately needs it to be, complete with Klansmen in their pointy hoods. It almost seems to be Roth’s wish fulfillment; America actually being like that would justify the resentment he evidently could never get past.    

But if anti-Semitism is flaring up in Western countries nowadays, it often takes the guise of anti-Zionism, and often from the Left, as Ruth Wisse points out in Commentary. Referring to Plot the novel, Wisse sees Roth as “stuck in a time warp.”  

As had already been obvious for decades, the new aggression against the Jews originated in the Arab war against the Jewish state and had been couched since the 1960s in the slogans of Soviet anti-Zionism. The Zionism-racism accusation, pushed through by the Soviet-Arab axis at the United Nations, penetrated the United States from the left just as German-Nazi propaganda had once done from the right. The aggression had flipped political sides.

This reversal resulted in the stances and attitudes familiar to us by now—the Palestinians were cast as victims of Jewish oppression and occupation, despite numerous Israeli efforts to arrive at a peaceful solution, and anti-Zionism became a cover for anti-Semitism. 

“Rather than deal with this new threat,” Wisse observes, Roth chose “to take on the familiar Nazi bogeyman and refight the war that American troops had already won. He misidentified the target.” To say the least. 

“Fascists” Everywhere

And, let’s face it, resurgent anti-Semitism is also at least partly due to the rise of radical Islam in our midst since September 11, 2001. Yet in an interview in the Wall Street Journal, the filmmaker David Simon (creator of the riveting multi-season dramatic series, “The Wire”) intends that “Plot” sound warnings about skeptics of Muslim immigration.

“The lie of what Lindbergh is chasing,” Simon remarked in the interview, “is that somehow the Jews won’t be as good Americans as the rest of us. Which is the same thing that’s now being offered with regard to Muslims and people of color—that they’re not quite as American.”

So, anyone concerned that a culture which practices polygamy and veils and subjugates its women (real subjugation, not the fake feminist version) might resist readily assimilating to American values—especially in a time when increasingly belligerent and politically correct multiculturalism encourages them not to—is guilty of bigotry, and, I guess, fascism.

Perhaps Simon is taking his cue from General George Casey, the former U.S. Army chief of staff whose most agitated concern after the shooting at Fort Hood at the hands of a jihadist major was not for the 14 dead and 30 wounded soldiers, but for the possibility that someone somewhere might breathe a word of doubt about the wisdom of “diversity” in present circumstances. Diversity is the template by which everyone in the world has a right to come here, both as an individual and as a member of a culture that must be seen as instantly compatible with America’s universal values, even when it isn’t.

That is, anyone who deviates an iota from the absolute celebration of the universal right of all humanity to be in America, for whatever reason, from whatever cultural background, and in whatever numbers, is, yes, a fascist.

The filmmakers also wished to insinuate parallels between Lindbergh and Donald Trump—America first, supposedly isolationist, liked by ordinary people too dumb to know better, and somehow a persecutor of minorities.

Yes, that Donald Trump, the same president who affirmed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the American embassy there, insisted that the Golan Heights must remain part of Israel, and issued an executive directive emphasizing that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act extends to protect Jewish college students from anti-Semitism, which, by the way, is partly purveyed on campus by activist Muslim students.

Simon elaborated further in another interview, with Mark Golub of the Jewish Broadcasting Service. Simon made clear that the dramatized series is less a tale about Jews per se than an “allegory” for anything Trump has done that offends the progressive take on the absolute rights of all humanity to come to America. 

Efforts to control the border, worry about mass immigration undercutting American workers, alarm at specific problems presented by certain groups—to even think such thoughts is, yes, once again, fascism. America belongs to the world, to all humanity, without question. “That’s not who we are,” is the refrain that repudiates any effort at all to address specific American needs in any situation, rather than the needs of “the other.”

This is what has made it difficult to have a reasonable discussion about problems with mass immigration in recent decades. We are allowed to notice only the good things about immigrants and we are gaslighted about any problems and dangers that a group might present, such as were exemplified not only at Fort Hood, but also in San Bernardino, Boston, and Orlando, not to mention Madrid, Brussels, Manchester, Paris, Nice, and Istanbul.   

If fascism comes to America, it will come from the Left. How do I know that? Because it’s already happening. Perhaps Atwood is seeing that herself since she signed the open letter in Harper’s objecting to cancel culture and its assault on freedom of speech. Perhaps she had taken note when J.K. Rowling, also a signer, was assailed by PC sentinels for daring to affirm the existence of biological womanhood. 

Fantasy entertainment like these dramatic series, although perhaps compelling for some (Plato was right about the corrosive dangers of art), only serves as a distraction from what increasingly tyrannical political correctness and so-called “diversity” are doing to our society, our culture, and our common life. 

And while people occupy themselves in devising and watching these supposedly cautionary tales, our freedoms are being eroded day by day.

About Carol Iannone

Carol Iannone has written on literature, education, and culture for a variety of publications.

Photo: (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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