MSNBC’s Velshi Hypes Handmaid’s Tale as Real Possibility from GOP

News & Politics

On his eponymous Sunday morning show, MSNBC host Ali Velshi devoted a segment to smearing conservatives as trying to enact a draconian society based on The Handmaid’s Tale as he showed portions of a previously recorded interview with the novel’s author, Margaret Atwood.

Velshi set up the segment by declaring that the overturn of Roe v. Wade has “opened up a horrific new chapter in American history,” proclaiming that red states have enacted a succession of abortion laws, with each one being “more cruel than the last.” The MSNBC host noted that he had first shown part of his interview to viewers last May, but is now showing more of his discussion with the liberal author.

As part of the interview, the MSNBC host was seen noting that Atwood wrote the novel in 1985, and he then declared: “In 2022, totalitarianism and authoritarianism are in better shape than they were when you wrote it.” He then fearmongered about conservative Christians as he posed: “Do you still think, if it were the United States and we were to get that kind of authoritarian rule, that it would be based in religion?

This is a very interesting line of questioning coming from Velshi, who worked for the Islamic dictator of Qatar for a couple of years in the Obama era at Al-Jazeera America. The Emir of Qatar has three wives and 13 children.

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After Atwood recalled the difference between beliefs and opinions based on facts, Velshi followed up by asking her whether she is more or less optimistic now than she was in 1985:

May I ask you about what you were thinking in 1985. It’s a dystopian novel — it’s about a future that could be bad — in that particular case, bad for women but really bad for everyone, bad for democracy, bad for society. There were some winners in it, but it was grim generally. Do you feel better or worse about the future in 2022 than you did in 1985?

Atwood fearmongered about the future:

Oh, it’s going a lot worse. It’s because something that was a nascent movement in the 1980s has become pretty full-fledged, and people have seen raising religious slogans as a pathway to political power, and they have taken that pathway, and many of them have conceded. But it is a sham version of Christianity, in my opinion.

Back on May 1, when he showed the first part of the interview, Velshi had recalled that the election of President Donald Trump raised fears that The Handmaid’s Tale had predicted the future:

Weeks after President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, The Handmaid’s Tale saw a resurgence, hitting the New York Times bestseller list after nearly three decades in print. The fictional world that Margaret Atwood created felt suffocatingly close to the new realty in that moment. The writing was on the wall and on the pages of Atwood’s bestseller what felt like a possible future.

Velshi read from the novel about doctors being punished with the death penalty for crimes that they had committed retroactively and suggested that Republicans were behaving similarly: “The part that struck me there is, ‘Their crimes are retroactive.’ That’s reminiscent of some of the abortion legislation that we’re actually seeing here in the United States.”

Sunday’s episode of Velshi was sponsored in part by Subway. Their contact information is linked.

Transcripts follow:

MSNBC’s Velshi

September 4, 2022

9:50 a.m. Eastern

ALI VELSHI: It was a decision that, once it was issued, would explicitly overturn Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to abortion in this country, sending women back 50 years and opening up a horrific new chapter in American history as red states rush to enact a flurry of new abortion bans and restrictions, each one more cruel than the last. Life imitating art indeed. My conversation with Margaret Atwood went all the way to the end of the show, but after the lights faded and another show started, she and I continued our conversation. We continued a deeper, more wide-reaching interview exclusively for NBC streaming platform Peacock. But as we continued to discuss the themes and trends to The Handmaid’s Tale, women’s bodily autonomy and the dangers of a theocracy, it feels only right to show you a little bit more, so take a look.

(pre-recorded)

VELSHI: When you wanted to write about an authoritarian, totalitarian state, you wondered what form it would take. And back in 1985 when you wrote this, you thought it would be a theocracy. In 2022, totalitarianism and authoritarianism are in better shape than they were when you wrote it. Do you still think, if it were the United States and we were to get that kind of authoritarian rule, that it would be based in religion?

MARGARET ATWOOD, THE HANDMAID’S TALE AUTHOR: That’s already happening in a number of states, so the excuse for all of these laws that you have been talking about is a religious one. It’s based on a religious belief, and let us say here that we must distinguish between the belief in opinion and actual evidence-based factual knowledge. And a difference is you can prove or disprove the third one, but you cannot prove or disprove the first one. A belief is a belief — it’s not evidence-based — and an opinion can either be based on a belief or on a set of provable facts. And all of these ideas that cluster themselves as a human being, that’s a belief.

VELSHI: May I ask you about what you were thinking in 1985. It’s a dystopian novel — it’s about a future that could be bad — in that particular case, bad for women but really bad for everyone, bad for democracy, bad for society. There were some winners in it, but it was grim generally. Do you feel better or worse about the future in 2022 than you did in 1985?

ATWOOD: Oh, it’s going a lot worse. It’s because something that was a nascent movement in the 1980s has become pretty full-fledged, and people have seen raising religious slogans as a pathway to political power, and they have taken that pathway, and many of them have conceded. But it is a sham verson of Christianity, in my opinion.

(…)

MSNBC’s Velshi

May 1, 2022

9:44 a.m. Eastern

ALI VELSHI: The new regime reorganized society utilizing an extreme interpretation of the Old Testament. Women are the lowest-ranking class, prevented from owning property, reading, writing, and, of course, deprived of control over their own reproductive functions. Environmental catastrophes have rendered much of the population infertile, so the government has reintroduced forced surrogacy — a la the handmaids in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Our narrator and our heroine — known only as Offred in the book – a slave name meaning she is literally “of Fred,” her commander, is assigned to one such family as a surrogate.

Weeks after President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, The Handmaid’s Tale saw a resurgence, hitting the New York Times bestseller list after nearly three decades in print. The fictional world that Margaret Atwood created felt suffocatingly close to the new realty in that moment. The writing was on the wall and on the pages of Atwood’s bestseller what felt like a possible future. Protesters even took to wearing the full-length dressed — full-length red dresses and the white bonnets that are synonymous with the handmaids in the book — as they say, life imitating art. 

A few years and one administration later, we discuss the themes that are intrinsic to The Handmaid’s Tale every single day on Velshi. The increased degradation of women’s reproductive rights, the rise of autocratic regimes, flagrant disregard for environment issues, and just yesterday day, the forced removal of children from their mothers.

(…)

9:57 a.m.

VELSHI: One of the things that the book hits on right off the top, women’s bodies, women’s rights, reproductive matters and abortion. We talk about access to abortion and the various implications of preventing abortions for women a lot on this show. I was particularly struck by a passage in chapter six when Offred and Ofglen — two friends, handmaids — are walking back from shopping, and they see on the wall that is central to the book hanged bodies, and the quote is: “The men wear white coats like those worn by doctors or scientists. These men, we’ve been told, are like war criminals. It’s no excuse that what they did was legal at the time. Their crimes are retroactive. They have committed atrocities, and must be made into examples for the rest. Though this is hardly needed. No woman in her right mind, these days, would seek to prevent a birth,” end quote.

The part that struck me there is, “Their crimes are retroactive.” That’s reminiscent of some of the abortion legislation that we’re actually seeing here in the United States.

ATWOOD: Is it? Well, that will be very interesting because I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of old medical record digging up in that case. But the real question is: Does the state own your body? In the case of men right now, not, though if they brought back the draft, that would be a claim on men’s bodes as well. But if you’re drafted, the state has a responsibility and an obligation to pay for your food, your lodging, your clothing, and your medical bills. So if they’re going to draft women’s bodies — which is what it amounts to, they should pay all those things. Don’t you think?

VELSHI: Yeah, it’s a remarkable critique and evaluation of how we should be dealing with these things right now because that’s not how we’re dealing with them in the U.S.

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