Rich Lowry, Donald Trump and The Handmaid’s Tale

It’s kind of amazing what Republican politicians are willing to say once they’ve made the decision to retire. For example, Rep. David Reichert of Washington state’s 8th congressional district, recently had some candid things to say about President Trump. The congressman has an interesting background. While serving in the King County sheriff’s department in the 2000’s, he helped track down and arrest the Green River killer. Gary Ridgway was responsible for murdering perhaps as many as ninety women, primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Reichert became a bit of a hero for apprehending him and that launched his political career. It probably also helped him survive in a competitive district through a couple of rough election cycles for Republicans. For whatever reasons, however, Reichert doesn’t want to test 2018 and he recently announced that he won’t seek reelection.

Now that he doesn’t really need to worry about what his right-leaning constituents think, he’s willing to be honest about what he thinks of our president:

Retiring Republican Rep. Dave Reichert said if President Donald Trump had made his 2005 comments about grabbing women in Washington when he was a cop, he would have arrested him.

Reichert was speaking in an interview with Vice News about the difficulty moderate Republicans face.

Reichert, a former sheriff in King County, Washington, said he never endorsed Trump last year. He also said that as a former police officer, Trump’s “Access Hollywood” comments revealed in October resonated with him.

“When somebody says that — you know, those recordings came out regarding sexual assaults,” he said. “If the statute of limitations was still in existence, and he made those comments in King County, and you know it happened in King County, that’s a person that I would have to arrest.”

Reichert said Trump’s comments were “sort of an admission of guilt from him.”

“There was no reasonable explanation for those words,” he said.

I thought about Reichert’s comments when I saw how upset Rich “Starbursts” Lowry is about The Handmaid’s Tale winning eight Emmy awards. What annoyed Lowry more than anything was the perception that the Hulu mini-series based on Margaret Atwood’s best-selling novel of the same name has some added relevancy in the Era of Trump.

Donald Trump, much to his chagrin, never won an Emmy for The Apprentice, but he can now take indirect credit for a clutch of the awards. The Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale won eight Emmys on Sunday night, a sweep fueled, in part, by the widely accepted belief in liberal America that the show tells us something about the Trump era.

For those of you don’t know, the book and the series tell the story of a fundamentalist Christian takeover of the American government in the aftermath of an environmental disaster that causes a widespread loss of fertility for men and women alike. Women who are still able to bear children therefore become key to the future survival of our species, but instead of being treated well they are captured and forced into sexual slavery so they can reproduce as surrogates for infertile couples of the political and religious elite. In some ways, that dystopian fantasy bears little resemblance to contemporary America, but there are reasons that the show resonates particularly strongly in our current political environment.

Lowry claims this resonance is illegitimate and that the show is only relevant “as a statement on the fevered mind of progressives.”

Lowry begins his argument by asserting that it’s an “uncomfortable fact for Christian-fearing feminists, none of the world’s women-hating theocracies are Christian.” He proceeds from there to question the show’s star, Elisabeth Moss, who stated that there are “things happening with women’s reproductive rights in our own country that make me feel like this book is bleeding over into reality.”

She’s all mixed up in the head, because all the GOP wants to do is give women more freedom.

…Republicans want to defund the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, and roll back Obamacare’s contraception mandate. If they succeed, this would mean less government intervention in matters of sexual morality, rather than more.

Somehow, Lowry has forgotten to mention the fact that the Republicans just stole a Supreme Court seat and are now one vote away from criminalizing abortion in every state where they have a legislative majority, which is most of them. He will continue to forget about this:

The progressive mind is unable to process that it has won the culture war in a rout (except for abortion, where conservatives are trying to chip away at our extremely liberal laws at the margins). We live in a country where Christian bakers get harried by government for politely declining to bake cakes for gay weddings, yet progressives still believe we are a few steps away from enslaving women.

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which they are now on the cusp of accomplishing, it won’t be the progressives who have won the culture war. Creating a society where women are sexually assaulted with impunity and compelled to give birth to babies they did not ask for and do not want is what makes The Handmaid’s Tale so obviously appalling. But there isn’t even one degree of separation between that world and the world of Todd Akin and Robert Mourdock, the two Republican politicians who lost their 2012 Senate bids because they insisted that there should be no exceptions to the prohibition on abortion in cases of rape.

Lowry actually acknowledges that Republican legislatures are chipping away at abortion rights, which doesn’t seem like a rebuttal at all of Moss’s point that there are “things happening with women’s reproductive rights in our own country” that are evocative of the world of The Handmaid’s Tale. He might argue that folks like Akin and Mourdock are a fringe, but that misses the concern that their point of view is on the upswing. No one is arguing that we actually live in a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, only that we’re moving that way. What the book and series demonstrate quite effectively is that folks like Akin and Mourdock advocate a form of sexual slavery.

But that’s only part of the reason that the show has so much resonance. As I’ve mentioned, post-Roe, women’s reproductive freedom has never been at as much risk as it is right now. But the most Trump-specific part of this is the fact that Donald Trump won an election despite admitting to committing sexual assault as almost a routine, and in spite of the many women who came forward to describe the ways in which they had been assaulted by him. Republican Rep. David Reichert says that the president should have been arrested for his crimes, but he was elected to lead our country instead.

Is it really so hard to comprehend the message this sends to women? They live in a society now where you can brag about sexually assaulting them and rather than getting arrested so that you cannot continue to victimize people, you get to pick judges who will take away women’s right to control their own bodily autonomy.

How any woman, progressive or not, could see this development as a triumph for women is beyond me.

Lowry concludes his essay with this:

According to Atwood: “If you’re going to get women back into the home, which some people still firmly believe is where they belong, how would you do that? All you have to do is remove the rights and freedoms that [women] have fought for and accumulated over the [past] 200 years.” Yeah, that’s all you have to do. Atwood doesn’t explain who, straw men aside, actually wants to do this, or how they’d go about it. She wrote a book that, despite her intentions, has become a cautionary tale about how sophisticated people lose their minds.

Actually, the book and series do describe how women’s rights and freedoms are taken away. To begin with, their debit cards are cancelled and then their bank accounts are placed in a male member of their family’s name. They are prohibited from working, and the fertile among them are rounded up for enslavement. Lowry is correct in asserting that no one of any stature is advocating doing anything like that in this country. Of course, we’re also not living in a world so degraded environmentally that most people are infertile, so I don’t see why we should make that kind of comparison.

Atwood’s point is that when women lose control of their fertility, they also lose their ability to function as equal members of our society and equal participants in our economy. You don’t actually need to prohibit women from working if you can eliminate their ability to conduct family planning. Their choice then can easily become career or abstinence, and even the abstinent can be sexually assaulted.

For decades in this country we tried without success to pass anti-lynching laws. Our failure told blacks where they stood in our society. Given how the country responded to the revelations about Donald Trump’s sexual assaults, how does Rich Lowry think women feel about their place in our society? Does he seriously not understand that this is a form of terrorism? That it evokes raw, genuine, justifiable fear?

When he was still a candidate for office, Rep. David Reichert didn’t say peep about Donald Trump’s predatory behavior, but now that he’s retiring he’s willing to tell us that if he were still a sheriff he would “have to arrest” the president. What does that tell Rich Lowry about the electorate of this country?

The reason The Handmaid’s Tale has so much currency right now is because women thought they lived in one country and woke up the day after the election to discover that they actually live in quite another one. And it’s one that resembles the America of the book and series more than the one they thought they used to know.

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