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The Stepford Republicans

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“There will be someone with my name,” says the lead character, Joanna Eberhart, in a climactic scene from The Stepford Wives, the 1975 Gothic horror movie. “She’ll cook and clean like crazy, but she won’t be me. She’ll be like one of those robots in Disneyland.”

Joanna, played by Katharine Ross, is slowly realizing that something insidious and horrible is happening to the housewives of Stepford, the fictional Connecticut town where she and her lawyer husband, Walter, had recently moved with their two young children. The film is in the tradition of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Village of the Damned” and others of that genre, in which humans are secretly possessed by sinister forces (usually symbolizing Communism) bent on subverting our way of life.

Watching The Stepford Wives is great fun. Screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men) meant it to be a spoof on “a bunch of Playboy bunnies,” but this perhaps misinterpreted the goal of Ira Levin, whose 1972 book of the same name, on which the movie was based, was more menacing: these robotic women had been murdered and then mysteriously transformed by their husbands, through some unexplained (surgical?) process, into complaisant helpmate-robots. Coming after Joe McCarthy and during Nixon’s administration, Levin’s book represented the nightmare side of America.

Re-watching The Stepford Wives in the era of Trump, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how Levin and Goldman unwittingly presaged what’s happening now in America. But this new tale is no longer about women and their role and place in our society. It’s now about the Republican Party, which, like the women in the novel and film, has been transmogrified: from a fairly conservative political party into the Party of Trump.

The scholar Rashna Wadia Richards dismisses the simple explanation that The Stepford Wives is merely “a cautionary tale about secret, robotic Communists hiding among unsuspecting, passionate Americans…” We have “to dig deeper,” she writes, and seek “other cultural anxieties” the film taps into. What might these be? Richards considers issues of sexual and racial politics before concluding that The Stepford Wives is actually more complex and horrifying: the ultimate alien tale. “Not only can’t we tell who has been ‘taken over,’ but we also can’t tell who hasn’t been ‘taken over.’”

Many Trumpers don’t publicly admit their true affiliation because they’re embarrassed. They know, in their hearts, that Trump is evil and Trumpism is an aberration. It’s politically incorrect to admit that you rather like Trump and will vote for him in November. In that sense, The Stepford Wives has now become The Stepford Republicans, a horror movie for our times.They’ve out there, these evil robots, walking among us, looking like us and sounding like us. But except for the obvious crazies with their MAGA hats and twisted faces at Trump rallies, we don’t know who the rest of the robots are. They could be your mother, uncle, cousin, neighbor, friend, boss. Or you.

If there are enough robots in November, Trump will win re-election. But I don’t believe there are. Public sentiment, as measured by every single poll, has the American people rising up against him. We’re tired of this horror show. We want him gone. The ending of The Stepford Wives is sad: Joanna becomes “one of them.” I firmly believe that the ending of The Stepford Republicans will be far happier.

  1. Bob Rossi says:

    “The ending of The Stepford Wives is sad: Joanna becomes “one of them.””

    I haven’t seen The Stepford Wives, but that sounds a lot like what I remember of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Hopefully the US won’t have such a sad ending in November.

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