"The Handmaid's Tale" is seeing a sharp rise in popularity — but not for the right reasons. The confluence of President Trump's first 100 days in the White House and the release of the television version of Margaret Atwood's 1985 dystopian novel has spurred a slew of think pieces labeling the book synonymous with the age of Trump.
The New York Times noted that Atwood's novel — in which the United States collapses into a religious dictatorship intent on enslaving women and brutally suppressing dissent — had "a newfound and unexpected relevance in Trump's America." The Washington Post called it "timely." And the San Francisco Chronicle said the story feels "chillingly real" in today's society.
Did you not realize you were living in a brutal, woman-hating dictatorship? You must have been distracted by the rise of the anti-Trump protest movement, the recent uptick in support for Planned Parenthood and the White House-led initiatives to increase the number of women participating in the workforce.
To compare Trump's America to "The Handmaid's Tale" is to completely disregard the incessant (legal) protests, organizing and widespread mockery that have become hallmarks of Trump's presidency. In today's society, much of popular culture praises those who criticize of politicians and the president — as they should.
What separates "The Handmaid's Tale" from today's America, and millennial women from the enslaved "handmaids," are our First Amendment freedoms — namely, the ability to disagree without grievous physical consequence — which have remained intact regardless of who leads the country.
American women today are not enduring Atwood's dystopia, and the series is no more timely today than it would be if Hillary Clinton were in the White House. If anything about the story is "timely," it's that it presents a cautionary account of what happens when institutions become obsessed with preserving moral absolutes at the expense of freedom of thought. And it's the progressive Left, not their counterparts, who are currently dancing on that knife's edge.
In Gilead — Atwood's imagining of a religious dictatorship in what used to be the United States — the Constitution is dead and freedom of conscience is a thing of the past. After chemical attacks left the majority of the population barren, fertile women are forced into a life of sex-slavery and must carry the offspring of government officials. All women are forbidden from reading or holding jobs, children are married off at age 13, and gay men — also known as "gender traitors" — face public execution. Any citizen suspected of opposing the government is either hung in the town square or sent to "the colonies," where they will face certain death.
That may not sound like the America you know. But The New Republic says that in 2017 "Texas is Gilead and Indiana is Gilead and now that Mike Pence is our vice president, the entire country will look more like Gilead, too."
Even Atwood herself has been swept up in the hysteria. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Atwood said that after the presidential election "the cast woke up in the morning and thought, we're no longer making fiction — we're making a documentary."
But, as citizens protest the Trump administration, many moral relativisms have been exchanged for moral absolutes: pro-life activists must hate women, climate-change deniers must hate science and religious Catholics are bigots who must hate gay people.
Just last week, progressives rallied against Bernie Sanders for daring to endorse Omaha, Neb., mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a Democrat who has been dubbed anti-abortion for supporting a bill requiring doctors to inform patients they have the right to an ultrasound before an abortion. In response to the controversy, Democratic National Committee leader Tom Perez issued a statement saying that every Democratic should be pro-abortion rights. This stance would be "not negotiable."
Not to say that the Republican Party isn't guilty of trying to silence those who disagree with them. Most recently, we've seen Trump insult and pick on any person or organization that disagrees with his policy du-jour. But by calling out his dissenters on Twitter or in the briefing room or at a rally, Trump usually doesn't silence his opponents — rather, he makes their voices stronger. And the Republican Party itself is riven with strife and debate — just look at their inability to get major legislation through Congress. It may not be the most effective governing strategy, but it's certainly not a sign of an impending dictatorial takeover of the party and the nation.
Soon after the transition to a theocratic dictatorship, Gilead's residents are told that in time, their limitations will "feel ordinary" — their inability to speak out, to speak up, to mock their leaders, and to live freely will become commonplace.
But that nightmare clearly doesn't represent America right now.
Ariel Cohen (@ArielCohen37) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a freelance reporter from Washington, D.C.
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.