“Anything can happen anywhere” Heeding Margaret Atwood’s warning as the midterm elections approach

In the introduction of her classic work, The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood writes:

“having been born in 1939 and come to consciousness during World War II, I knew that established orders could vanish overnight. Change could also be as fast as lightning. It can’t happen here could not be depended on: anything could happen anywhere, given the circumstances.”

As I read Atwood’s words, and perhaps for anyone who is maybe a fan of the Hulu adaptation of her work, it was easy to imagine how many of Atwood’s dystopian nightmares could quickly become realities in America. For example, America’s political culture is now defined by only two major parties who refuse to work with each other on addressing the wide-ranging problems facing our society. The art of compromise, it seems, has forever been lost as partisans now insist that the only way to accomplish anything of substance is through complete control of the levers of government with the total annihilation of those who disagree with them. Currently, the Republican party in America is in practical lockstep with former President Trump in denying the results of the 2020 Presidential election, with many election deniers on the cusp of being elected to local, state, and national offices.

Elections have consequences, and it may be that this 2022 midterm election is among the most consequential in our nation’s history. Perhaps only a handful of moments would qualify as significant as this one in our history due to the simple fact that so many people are voting on what constitutes the endorsement of lies. Now to be sure, individual voters may be motivated to make a choice for a variety of reasons including dismal prospects for a robust economy, a lackluster performance of the incumbency, or simply a lack of worthy candidates. But make no mistake, given the full-throated endorsement of Trump’s “Big Lie” by so many seeking political office, this election will come down to choices made by those who tolerate the lies and those who don’t.

Margaret Atwood’s words resonated with me in part, because being in my fifties, I have gained (in some regards) the perspective of history. As a man of my time, who came of age in America during the Conservative Reagan Revolution in the 1980s, I remember how things used to be different. The Republican party of the eighties taught me that principles matter. The GOP of my youth warned me against “situational ethics” or embracing the idea that the “ends justify the means.” How different this current model of Republican strategies as best articulated recently by former NRA spokesperson and current conservative political pundit Dana Loesch. In response to allegations that Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker paid for his girlfriend’s abortion, Loesch said “winning is a virtue…this doesn’t change a damn thing. . .I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.” This is the current attitude and strategy of most in the GOP and yet, in droves, Christians continue to support these kinds of candidates.

In the lead-up to the 2016 and 2020 Presidential elections, I spoke and wrote about the dangers of embracing Donald Trump relating to the long-term viability of the GOP and, by association, the unintended ramifications for the Christian witness. Sadly, it seems that now many of these predictions are bearing fruit as more and more people see American Christianity and Republican politics as embodied by Trump and his ilk as one and the same. It is as if American Christianity, and certainly the Republican Party, now finds itself in an abusive relationship with Trump, unable to extricate itself without significant fallout. But for the future of the country, the future of the GOP, and most importantly for the future witness of Christianity in America, Trump and those who embrace his lies must be shown to the curb.

In the conclusion to her introduction to The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood places her work in the genre of “the literature of witness.” In some respects, that is what I’m attempting to do here as I lament the current situation. I want to provide some future witness that some of us did protest the conflation of American Christianity with Trump’s version of Republican politics. Atwood’s words resonate with me when she writes in an edition dated February 2017:

“in the wake of the recent American election, fears and anxiety proliferate. Basic civil liberties are seen as endangered, along with many of the rights for women won over the past decades and indeed the past centuries. In this divisive climate, in which hate for many groups seems on the rise and scorn for democratic institutions is being expressed by extremists of all stripes, it is a certainty that someone, somewhere -many I would guess-are writing down what is happening as they themselves are experiencing it.”

Election day is coming soon. What remains to be determined is whether as a nation we will wake up, or will this national nightmare continue.

Photo credit: Pamela Reynoso

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