Like many with an interest in history and politics, I’ve often found myself drawn to alternate history and dystopian fiction. There’s some allure to exploring paths that were not tread or adding a fork or two in the road and seeing how things turn out.
Especially for dystopian fiction, I’ve found that there’s some comfort in knowing that we don’t live in that reality. We don’t have to suffer the effects of living in the world of “Man in the High Castle,” “The Hunger Games” or “The Handmaid’s Tale.” There’s a degree of separation that allows us to appreciate it as a work of fiction.
Last semester as part of a class, I read “Red Clocks” — a short dystopian novel by Leni Zumas – which tells the tales of several women navigating a world in which reproductive rights have been heavily restricted. Abortion and in-vitro fertilization have been made illegal, and adoption is restricted to only married couples. All in the name of protecting life and family, of course.
In that class, we had the choice of three dystopian novels that dealt with women’s political issues. In our discussion of the books at the end of the semester, I noticed a distinction between “Red Clocks” and the other two books: the novel was frighteningly close to reality.
The scenarios in the other two books were fairly outlandish — involving superpowers and biological interfaces. That sort of stuff is fairly standard fare among dystopian fiction — it’s fiction after all. It’s strange enough that we can read it as a fictional narrative. The same can’t be said for the dystopia of “Red Clocks” — instead it feels like a scenario just over the horizon.
Last year’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson — which overturned Roe v. Wade — inches us closer to a similar dystopia that belongs in fiction. The decision fits into a larger conservative project of rolling back progressive changes and rescinding rights gained through decades of judicial review.
In his concurrence of the Dobbs opinion — which overturned nearly 50 years of precedent — Associate Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the Court should review its decisions in Griswold v. Connecticut, Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges. These cases protect the right to contraceptives, legality of non-reproductive sex and gay marriage, respectively.
Like abortion, there is a growing movement on the right that seeks to roll these protections back. Ever since the liberal judicial activism of the Warren Court (1953-1969), conservatives have been making an effort to reshape the courts. Part of this effort culminated in President Trump’s nomination of a slate of very conservative federal judges handpicked for him by the Federalist Society. This reshaping of the court, now politically realigned with conservative judges, is aimed at clawing back some of the progress we’ve made.
I’ve written before about how much danger our democracy is in from the right, but the threat cannot be understated. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is leading the charge in making his state a testing ground for discriminatory policies. These include the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a ban on gender-affirming care and a bill that would classify calling these bills out as discriminatory as per se defamation.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is actively calling for liberals to be stripped of voting rights and for a “national divorce.” I doubt I have to remind anyone what happened the last time politicians were calling for such a split. It’s no coincidence that the people behind this sort of rhetoric are once again reactionaries looking to stop people from having their rights recognized.
It sounds cliche to say that we live in dangerous times, but unfortunately, it’s true. With ever-increasing political polarization and hyper partisanship — combined with a right-wing that is goose stepping further to the far-right, the outlook doesn’t look good.
But like most dystopias, ironically, there is a glimmer of hope to be found. This past November, Michigan Democrats won a trifecta, and now control the Governorship and the two legislative houses. Since the session has started, Governor Gretchen Witmer and her party have advanced a progressive agenda through the legislative process.
In the past few days, they have repealed anti-union laws, a 1931 abortion ban, and codified LGBTQ+ protections into their anti-discrimination laws. Neighboring Minnesota has also introduced legislation that would give refuge to trans people fleeing discriminatory policies in states like Florida and Texas.
So there’s hope — we’re not totally lost. But it’s important that we don’t become complacent. Michigan and Minnesota are just two states out of 50, and it’s going to take a national effort to defeat this insidious reactionary movement. If you’ll excuse a corny line — if you don’t want to live in a dystopia, you need to be part of the resistance.
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