American Dystopia Gets Bleaker

“The End of the Road.” Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

With far-right kooks in GOP-controlled state legislatures backing drastic electoral alterations, we could have a real mess come November. The goal, in states like Texas, could be to override a popular vote that goes against what rightists want. In other words, stealing the election. If that happens it will usher in no mere political change in degree in the Exceptional Empire, but a change in kind. The last vestiges of democracy will vanish out the window, because such a development would not be a one-off, but would likely instead herald a new dystopian normal, as many have noted, and I’ll add my voice to the threnody. An entrenched oligarchy is already so passe. Something new is wanted by fanatics on the right. That something, fascism, has been knocking at our door for years in some states. Some say it knocked during the Trump presidency, others say it started earlier. Now the GOP appears poised to welcome it in.

And quite eagerly. Republicans nationwide have vocalized support for negating elections they lose and replacing electors they don’t like. The supreme court, dedicated to the destruction of what little democracy remains in the very oligarchic U.S., plans to hear Moore v Harper, a case based on a crackpot theory, which would grant state legislatures lots more power over federal elections. Those are GOP-gerrymandered state legislatures, you know, the ones who have rammed through model legislation written by that reactionary corporate gargoyle, the American Legislative Exchange Council, laws that, for instance, scrap plastic bag bans, or that overturn long-settled labor norms, or that slap oil pipeline protestors with multi-year prison sentences, or that make it legal for the supposedly acceptable people to ram their SUVs into a crowd of leftwing protesters, or that allow any lunatic to carry a semi-automatic weapon of war in public. Any normal court would decline to hear this bizarre case. But this is no normal supreme court. It’s a collection of partisan hacks, way out of line with its predecessors.

Since Moore v Harper could constrict state courts and state constitutional power to control gerrymandering, based on what Adam Serwer in the July 23 Atlantic called “a crank legal premise called the ‘independent-state-legislature theory,’” which way do you think the troglodytes on the supreme court will go? They’ll eviscerate state court power. That also likely entails allowing state legislatures to overturn federal election results.

Serwer quotes Thomas Wolf, an election law expert with the Brennan Center: “We have run elections the same way for 230 years in this country. And under that 230-year history, the independent-state-legislature hearing has not been the law. It’s mainly been moving forward under gas that’s been provided almost entirely by just a few conservative justices on the Supreme Court, effectively citing themselves for the proposition.” This, of course, is merely the runup to 2024 and the GOP effort to install Ron “Don’t Say Gay” DeSantis or Donald “I’m Really the President” Trump in the white house. Regardless of whether or not the GOP candidate wins the pesky popular vote, or gets the electors in any given state. Inconvenient electors will just be replaced. This was Trump’s sick plan when he lost the 2020 election. Some deformed cousin of it could become law during the high court’s next session.

Meanwhile, mainstream Democrats, those supposedly radical left-wingers well to the right of Richard Nixon, debate how to protect women’s right to travel. Because those women might do something when they travel that the puritans in their home state disapprove of. Indeed, on August 3, Biden signed an executive order protecting interstate sojourns for abortion. According to the AP, one directive allows states that permit abortion “to apply for specific Medicaid waivers…[to] help them treat women who have traveled from out of state.” Notably, Biden did not declare a public health emergency on abortion, something advocates had requested.

Also on the agenda of rights for women that need protecting is the right to receive medicines privately in the mail and the right not to die for an ectopic pregnancy, you know, the sort of pregnancy the embryo cannot ever survive and that is uniformly fatal to the mother unless aborted. There’s also the matter of being charged with murder for suffering a miscarriage. I suppose the Dems will rally to protect women’s right to legal counsel in such cases.

But don’t count on it. Almost the entire House GOP supports forcing little girls to give birth to their rapists’ babies. These people are barbarians. Following so-called justice Samuel Alito, they will no doubt soon urge burning women at the stake as sorceresses if they have miscarried or aborted embryos. Alito likes to quote Sir Matthew Hale, the infamous 17th-century witch trial judge with, as ProPublica understated it May 6, “long discredited ideas on rape.” What next? Maybe tossing women who’ve lost a fetus into water to see if they drown and thus be sure they were telling the truth? Alito’s views, unenlightened to the point of darkest cretinism, disqualify him from judging anyone from the bench, to say nothing of the entire second sex.

How low we have sunk! From a fairly modern, developed nation with some enlightened laws 30-some years ago, things have deteriorated in almost every respect. George “WMD” Bush’s illegal wars of choice on Afghanistan and Iraq started bankrupting the country, so that now, almost $30 trillion in debt, it is a deindustrialized husk, a wrecked shadow of its former proud self. For that we can also thank Bill “Ship the Jobs to China” Clinton, and the gaggle of dimwit neocons to which HRC belongs. Barack “Evict the Homeowners” Obama didn’t help, nor did Donald “President for Life” Trump. As young psychotic white fascists roam the land, looking for schoolchildren to shoot, Joe “Russian Roulette” Biden flirts with nuclear war and does zilch to rein in an insanely stupid supreme court bend on propelling us back to the 17th century. It’s obvious but needs saying, dystopia is here. But fascist dystopia, ah, that’s another monster altogether. It’s waiting in the wings. And one of its first targets in the U.S. is any emancipation of women. You could call this early stage bio-fascism, rather like early onset national dementia, amirite?

Women only recently, in the mid-20th century, emerged from their status as second-class citizens. But now, with billionaire GOP donors like Peter Thiel, who believes the franchise should not have been extended to women, and other reactionary oligarchs pulling the political puppet strings and having packed the supreme court with truly imbecile marionettes, the second sex is being shoved back into its previous place. If we could be sure that shoving would stop with an abortion ban, that would be bad, but at least an end would be in sight. However, there’s good reason to believe the removal of feminine rights won’t stop there. For if so-called justice Clarence Thomas follows through on his threat to erase the right to birth control, the rotten deal the second sex has historically coped with will get much worse.

One argument in birth control’s favor, though rarely acknowledged by right-wingers, was that it lowered the number of abortions. But now, with the GOP discussing a national abortion ban, they no longer need birth control for that purpose – indeed, they scarcely ever acknowledged its utility in this regard even when Roe was the law of the land. And recently congressional Republicans killed a bill that would have enshrined birth control rights. Not a good omen. But if they do axe the right to birth control, the cat will be fully out of the bag: it’s not the unborn they’re concerned with, but born women, whom they aim, literally, to enslave to biology.

So this radical right-wing supreme court, which has no respect for precedent, and whose Trump appointees lied to congress about how they would rule once they ascended, could easily make Roman Catholic birth control dogma the law of the land. If so, women will have no recourse. Legislatures are gerrymandered and rigged in favor of right-wing evangelical theocrats. Radical reactionary nitwits pack the supreme court. The Biden administration is almost useless.

Almost but not totally. Onto this dismal landscape streams one errant ray of sunshine: on August 2, the Department of Justice sued Idaho over its draconian abortion ban, the sort of law that makes doctors decline to save a woman’s life by giving her an abortion during a miscarriage, even though it’s clear there is no way in the world the fetus can survive. It’s a law that also makes doctors leery of aborting ectopic pregnancies – those that are uniformly fatal to the mother (and thus also the embryo), if not aborted.

The gist of DOJ’s suit – its first since the supreme court overturned Roe in June – is that the Idaho ban “violates a federal requirement to provide medical care when a pregnant person’s life or health is at stake,” according to the Washington Post August 2. The article notes that when federal and state laws conflict, “federal law prevails, according to the Constitution.”  So that’s a glimmer of hope for sanity and compassion, in the medical dark age to which the supreme court has thrust us.

Just a few years ago, Democrats dilly dallied about legislating abortion rights. But while women were distracted and busy chorusing “me too,” their enemies were hard at work, constructing a retrograde edifice of precedent-defying laws to strip them of their rights. They have partially succeeded. For if they don’t stop at abortion and birth control, what will be next? Voting rights? The right to own property? The right to work outside the home? It might be wise to start thinking proactively. Contrary to what one GOP congresswoman recently urged, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale may well be the Republican road map.

Most injured will be low-income working women. Low income working men don’t come out of this too well either, but male biology protects them from the direst consequences of our emerging fascist theocracy and the shock troops of our corporate overlords, you know, those moguls like Rupert Murdoch, who find the reactionary frenzy of bible belters quite useful, as they strip the American populace of every last dime. Those bigwigs have stacked the deck against ordinary people: that mystery called inflation? Corporate price gouging. Skyrocketing rents? The same. Unaffordable health care? Those mega-corporations have to make money, which means not paying a penny for some cancer patient’s chemo. Oh, and don’t complain that the GOP recently killed the proposed cap of $35 on the price of insulin and that the cowardly Dems didn’t stop them. Those diabetics have too much disposable income, funds which both political parties would much rather see in the hands of their pharma donors. Better for those who need insulin to go broke, or if they can’t afford it, to die. This is America. We bankrupt medical patients in this country. Treating them? That’s for wimps. So working people lose big time, working women worst of all.

In other sane, developed countries, you pay your taxes and you get decent infrastructure, health care, education and things like paid parental leave. Here in the U.S., you pay your taxes and you get the military, currently mired in conflicts all over the globe, which could quite possibly ignite an atomic apocalypse with either China or Russia.  This is how we Americans do. We don’t subsidize childcare or any essentials of life. We pay for guns, tanks, bombs – and fighter jets that don’t work. We throw tons of tax dollars at fantastically rich oil companies. You know, because the planet isn’t hot enough, and we want to see how much it has to sizzle to set the atmosphere on fire.

In this country, you get old and sick, you go bankrupt and die. You want an education? You go into hock up to your eyeballs and when you finally get social security, whoever you took out an education loan from garnishes your check till you enter the funeral home, if your family can afford anything fancier than cremation. If they can’t afford that, well, it’s the potter’s field for you. This is how we Americans do. Monopolies own everything that counts and can gouge any prices they want from a captive population. Don’t talk about hyper-modern, high-speed rail, mass transit like they have in China or any other infrastructure subsidized by the state. There’s too much money to be made privatizing everything from ports to parking meters, and the proles can’t prevent the public-private partnerships doing a crappy job and charging exorbitant fees. Elderly people still hang on by the threads called social security and Medicare, but don’t worry, the GOP and plenty of Dems would like nothing better than to push tens of millions of old folks into poverty by snapping these lifelines, and if that assault reaches the supreme court, well, those so-called justices, aka partisan hacks, they know who they serve, and it ain’t you or me.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Hope Deferred. She can be reached at her website.