Illustration by Lawson

A bomb in Gilead

Democracy requires a smarter, tougher defense

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian vision of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale has drawn closer with the enactment of forced birth in Texas. Blessed by the Supreme Court via the so-called shadow docket for emergency appeals, the “soft” overturn of Roe v. Wade will sweep Republican-controlled states, as will laws advancing voter suppression and nullification. The ditch, in the words of the late poet Robert Lowell, is nearer.

A clue to Democrats’ weakness can be found in the sharp commentaries of progressive political podcaster Brian Tyler Cohen, with titles like “Top Republican caught making DEVASTATING admission on hidden camera,” “Fed up Texas Democrats finally DISMANTLE Governor Abbott,” and “Republicans pull shameless, fatal stunt.”

I am referring to overconfidence: Sen. Ron Johnson, the subject of the first item listed, remains in office. Gov. Greg Abbott, whose devotion to life encompasses wombs but not deadly pandemics, remains in office. Gov. Ron DeSantis, referred to in the third item, remains in office.

No matter how wittily we skewer sinister politicians, they are neither devastated nor dismantled by our use of all caps or our brutal observations. These premature rhetorical burials have always annoyed me. Now they may presage impending doom.

If the blows against voting rights and reproductive choice in Texas do not serve as wake-up calls for moderates and progressives, someone should call a coroner.

Republicans may be contradictory and hypocritical on issues from their pro-life stance to law and order to the Afghan war, but they don’t care. Their use of cultural wedges to get people to vote against their own interests has worked remarkably well. Yet Democrats, when asked how they intend to defeat Republicans, too often respond with sermons.

Republicans are unified in pursuit of power at any cost while Democrats wrestle on a beach, unaware that the sea’s retreat indicates they are about to be hit by a tsunami.

The American Taliban is flexing its muscles in Texas. Meanwhile in Washington, Republicans from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene threaten retaliation against telecom companies that comply with requests from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Democrats have the Constitution; Republicans have the insurrectionists.

There is no room for error. If one Democratic senator whose state has a Republican governor should die, Republicans will retake the Senate. Even without that, the president’s popular legislative agenda is largely stalled because of the filibuster, a procedural tool that some Democrats including Biden are loath to part with.

Even if that obstacle is overcome, the Democratic agenda remains at risk from the wildly unrepresentative conservative majority on the Supreme Court. A court expansion could change that math, but once again the will to act is not there. We are left with a dispiriting choice between a party of treason and a party of ineffectual reason.

“The difference between treason and patriotism,” wrote author Alexandre Dumas, “is only a matter of dates.” If the insurrectionists prevail — if America slides into ethnonationalist authoritarianism — I and millions of others will be patriots of a country that no longer exists.

In that event, sloganeering by leftists about smashing capitalism, ending incarceration, defunding police, and abolishing gender will be seen for the self-indulgence it is. After it is too late, more of us may realize the folly of maximalist rhetoric that demonizes pragmatism and disregards the importance of connecting with others across a diverse electorate.

How we will regret choosing ideological purity over the practical politics of addition. How we will regret treating achievable reforms and compromise as betrayals. How we will regret choosing a moral victory over an imperfect but actual victory.

Encouragingly, the reckless cruelty of Texas Republicans, who incentivized vigilantes with a $10,000 bounty to enforce S.B. 8 and create a culture of fear, has roused the opposition. TikTokers flooded a Texas abortion whistleblower website with fake tips. Uber and Lyft pledged to pay the legal fees of any of their drivers who are sued for transporting women to abortion clinics. A Texas judge issued a temporary restraining order protecting Planned Parenthood.

Overcoming the GOP threat to democracy requires staid, steadfast cooperation among Democrats, a compelling message, and using all in our power to press the fight and turn the tables.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at

Copyright © 2021 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.