You’ve set about penning your polemical dystopian Y.A. masterpiece set in alt-2017. The main protagonist is probably a woman, but could also be a man. She may be transgender or a genetic female. She is probably Latina, but could be Black, Asian or biracial.
The head villain, cast as the ideological opposite of the main protagonist, is a thoroughly original, fictional monstrosity: an egomaniacal tyrant whose skin is tinted radioactive orange and hair is a garish fake yellow, accompanied by his gorgeously dim-witted mail-order bride. Lesser villains include a vice president who tacitly supports the systematic, sadistic psychological torture of LGBT children ¹, and a trashy motormouthed ex-beauty queen henchwoman with extensive familial reality TV credentials.
Beware Clichés and Caricatures
There’s only one problem with the evil characters sketched above: despite an element of truth, they’re obvious caricatures. Caricatures can be amusing at first, but their apparent lack of depth can quickly wear thin.
It may be tempting to imitate Hollywood with a high-concept plot along the lines of “The Future Versus Adolf Hitler” ² or “Billionaire President Versus The People”.
Donald Trump may be a hyper-narcissistic, cocaine-addicted buffoon, but he’s nothing next to Adolf Hitler. Hitler was politically smarter and more popular with the German people, among other key distinctions.
Here’s a bit of basic research on historical differences between the rise of Hitler and the rise of Trump, to help you avoid a few pitfalls from the start in writing your next story.
Trump Has the Sniffles — Hitler Was The Real High-Roller
To start, Hitler was more creative in his choice of recreational drugs. By the end of World War II, Hitler injected a daily stream of hardcore pharmaceuticals administered by his faithful doctor, Theodor Morell³:
– Pervitin (methamphetamine)
– Eukodal (oxycodone)
– high grade cocaine
Although Donald Trump may simply have a persistently runny nose, his alleged cocaine habit (and unhinged 3 a.m. Twitter diatribe tendency ⁴) pales by the sight of Hitler’s needle-punctured, collapsing veins and erratic junkie-in-withdrawals behavior during his last days in the Führerbunker.
Trump Lost the Popularity Contest, Hitler Won The Reality Show
Adolf Hitler had far more popular support at the start of his reign in 1934 than Donald Trump has in 2016. Ironically, Hitler’s popularity grew more to the level of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin ⁵ than Trump. It’s also noteworthy that many Germans seemed to support Hitler himself more than the Nazi party ¹⁴, whereas the Republican Party in general is hated far less than Donald Trump.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton indisputably won the popular vote ¹⁵ to become 45th president of the United States of America.
Trump lost the popular vote, instead obtaining the position of president through the electoral college. In other words, Donald Trump is a failed populist before his time in office even begins. Trump may inspire Hitler-level fawning adoration in some of his supporters, but in no way can he legitimately claim to be the American people’s president.
Is the 2017 American Economy Comparable to Hitler’s Germany?
The socioeconomic environment that precipitated Hitler’s rise was far more dire than modern-day America ⁶. In 1933, the German people were suffering catastrophically due to:
– crippling financial reparations demanded by the treaty of Versailles after World War I ⁷;
– the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929 and disastrous efforts by a pre-Hitler government to reverse the damage.
In July 1930 Chancellor Brüning cut government expenditure, wages and unemployment pay – the worst thing to do during a depression.
How does that set of events compare to the modern day and possible future?
In 2016, the efforts of President Obama’s government — to repair the damage done during President Bush’s Great Recession of 2007 — have failed to completely restore the economy ⁸. This is why many people below retirement age feel trapped in financial uncertainty.
American wages are still nearly stagnant (this is a corporate capitalist problem, not a presidential problem). Although unemployment has fallen, personal debt is rising ⁹ and employment increasingly centers on low-wage service industry jobs ¹⁰.
Lower-wage industries accounted for 22% of recession job losses, but are responsible for 44% of the hiring in the recovery.
High-wage jobs accounted for 41% of job losses but have only grown 30% since the recession, and mid-wage jobs made up 37% of job losses but only 26% of recent employment growth. That means there are almost two million fewer high- and mid-wage jobs than there were before the 2008 collapse, according to the report.
The economic situation in the United States circa 2017 isn’t anywhere near that of 1934 Germany. The Great Recession of 2008 was caused by financial deregulation rather than world war. Deregulation enabled lenders to offer housing loans to those who couldn’t afford them (“subprime” loans ¹¹). Those loans were reconstituted into “good” financial instruments that were actually junk (“securitization”), leading to a housing bubble that soon popped and destroyed the American economy ¹²:
After the Asian financial crisis in 1997, investors were looking for safe havens to park their money. What they wanted were AAA-rated bonds. What they got were mortgage-backed securities that were rated AAA but turned out to be junk. As we all now know—but most of us didn’t know at the time—Wall Street firms in the early 2000s began slicing and dicing and then reassembling mortgage debt into more and more exotic and risky mortgage-backed securities in ways that made them look risk-free.
Now imagine what might happen during the presidency of a real estate mogul billionaire — who was cheering for the housing crisis so that he could make easy money¹³?
“I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy,” Trump said in a 2006 audiobook from Trump University, answering a question about “gloomy predictions that the real estate market is heading for a spectacular crash.”
“If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know you can make a lot of money,” Trump said in the 2006 audio book, “How to Build a Fortune.”
The United States has already had a “pro-business” president (George W. Bush) whose deregulatory policies led directly to a massive recession that hasn’t ended yet. Now the U.S. has somehow elected a real estate speculator who cheered for the failure of the American housing market.
In relation to the economy, Trump isn’t Hitler. Trump is an opportunistic vulture asked to safeguard and nurture America’s already-ailing fiscal health. Still, the U.S. isn’t in the realm of 1934 Germany yet. If you want to write a dystopian plotline, aim for the socioeconomic landscape post-2020, after the new despot has grabbed the American consumer by the pocketbook and had his way with her.
War-Mongers at the Gates of Power?
The German people largely approved of Hitler’s use of war to annex territory. Indeed, much of the German peoples’ support for Hitler arose because of his regime’s military success ¹⁴.
After the abject failure ¹⁶ of George W. Bush’s oil-seeking adventurism in Iraq ¹⁷ based on lies — no, the lesser sin of “misinformation” — about “weapons of mass destruction” ¹⁸, most Americans abhor the idea of prolonged ground war ¹⁹.
The current worldwide drone and special operations deployments began precisely because “boots on the ground” are extremely unpopular in the prevailing American sentiment. Trump simply cannot wage war wholesale while waving a United States flag and crowing on about “making America great again”, the way that Adolf Hitler did for Germany in the years leading up to Word War II. George W. Bush already tried that game with disastrous results that led directly to the rise of ISIS. In the current climate, the American people would never commit long-term support to flattening Iran or further maiming the already-crippled North Korea.
If your sci-fi plot requires large-scale global war, focus on the details of a “what if…” scenario that renders conflict as inevitable — not as the unilateral decision of Dictator Trump. Of course, that’s quite likely what Trump himself would do.
We find our hero seeking truth. She’s skulking around the city, smoothly avoiding security cameras and narrowly escaping capture by the Gestapo of the Future. And of course she’s some kind of hacker, because hackers are cool and computers are magical MacGuffins that can do anything.
How close could Trump’s surveillance machine match that of Adolf Hitler ²⁰?
Unfortunately, from Donald Rumsfeld to President Obama, civil liberties and information privacy have been eroded continuously. ²¹
Guantanamo Bay is still operational. Drone wars are ongoing. Special operators slit throats of third-world adversaries in the dark. FBI informants spy on mosques and activists. The NSA is vast and practically unaccountable. Trump advocates increased deportations and endorses torture far beyond waterboarding.
The only thing preventing President Obama from ruling with an iron fist was the President himself. Now Americans have Trump, who promises no similar restraint.
In terms of surveillance, Trump certainly has the tools to be a dream in the remotest fantasies of Hitler. Your best fodder for realistic near-future science fiction may begin here — just be sure to get the details right. People need ongoing reminders that the extent of what’s possible is just as mind-bending as anything imagined by Philip K. Dick.
Near-Future Civil Strife
A great backdrop for dystopian fiction is the image of protestors marching in the streets, throwing Molotov cocktails at robotically faceless oppressors and demanding the end of an evil regime.
Hitler’s platform, as you’ve read above, pertained to the outcome of World War I and the Great Depression.
Today’s populism tends to focus on jobs, but often leaves out important details. Those details can help your story feel more real.
Who took all the jobs? Was it “Obama”, the machines or “the Mexicans”?
The Second Machine Age
President Obama didn’t “steal” American jobs that Trump can magnanimously “give back” to the people ²². Manufacturing jobs are gone due to globalisation ²³ and the automation of factories ²⁴. Working-class occupational categories will continue to disappear. None of this has anything to do with who happens to be president of the United States of America.
Either the U.S. keeps up with global trends — that result in increased productivity and skyrocketing income inequality, the end of social mobility, etc. — or the entire national economy will quickly fall behind as business moves overseas.
Anyone who has graduated beyond a high-school mentality knows that it would be ludicrous to build an impossibly giant wall to keep out the imaginary hordes of Mexican rapists and job-stealing taco vendors. The first question for working-class people is “who’s to blame?”
“If you’re under economic stress and you can’t provide for your family, the easiest answer is to find someone to blame,” said Dr. Griffith. “Mexicans, illegal immigrants, Obama.” ²³
The sad part about those who voted for Trump is that many of them are legitimately afraid that their simple way of life is under threat. It’s true: capitalism sees labor as a cost and strives to eliminate it whenever possible. ²⁵
“You don’t have to train machines,” Mr. Mishek observes.
“If you’re doing something that can be written down in a programmatic, algorithmic manner, you’re going to be substituted for quickly,” said Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard.
That’s the corporate capitalist way. That doctrine has usurped and supplanted any regard for workers that existed before the rise of Walmart, Starbucks, Google, Amazon, Apple and Uber. Today’s middle class is sliding to become working class; the working class faces a descent into poverty. Those who are poor face debt and homelessness. The only thing more amazing than the phenomenon itself is that those a step higher on the ladder sneer at the survivors one step below, thereby making room for themselves to fall and be spat upon when their turn comes. Positive thinking is little more than a thinly veiled prayer that misfortune will “never happen to me”, enacted by controlling an uncertain universe through thought alone. That way, if you fail, it’s all your fault. Society is for winners, and the lower 99% are on their own.
Dystopia is a great choice for fiction writing in terms of realism right now. The main challenge is to tell people — especially young people — fresh stories that we aren’t already living day-to-day.
Blame the Mexicans…?
Working-class Trump supporters express legitimate concerns about their economic status and social well-being. The only part they consistently get wrong is the idea that their enemies are other working-class people who happen to have a different skin color or country of origin. Even if you could get rid of the Mexicans, have police murder all the working-age black men and women, and build empty factories devoid of all automation, the rest of the world (translation: China ²⁶) will simply pick up the slack. To fight globalisation by using racial and gendered hatred as an excuse for xenophobic protectionism/isolationism will only hasten the inevitable.
The socioeconomic landscape is changing. Within a generation, the blatant racism and sexism of Donald Trump will become a punchline about the backward ways of a long-gone era in the United States.
After Hitler, After Trump
When you write your dystopian tour de force, have a laugh by brainstorming with a fictional graphic that Trump tried in vain to pass off as fact, published by the nonexistent “San Francisco Crime Statistics Bureau.” ²⁷ Donald Trump has done a brilliant job of dumbing-down his own public persona in order to the gain the favor of frightened, vulnerable, gullible, racist voters.
When Trump inevitably fails to materialize new working-class jobs and “make America great again”, the national temperament will probably swing just as extremely to the left in 2020 as it did to the right four years prior. The country will still exist (provided humanity avoids Armageddon). Will the United States adapt to the world’s tempo or become increasingly obsolete? This is a question of trajectory that the American electoral college may have already set in motion on November 9th, 2016.
Donald J. Trump may be an unnaturally orange-faced buffoon but, similar to Adolf Hitler, he can also be quite shrewd, socially if not politically. Make sure that your Trump-based characters don’t fall too far into caricature, as tempting as the many opportunities certainly are.
Now you have a set of real-life facts to guide the construction of your Trump/Hitler fiction stories for the next four years of dystopian oddity on Spaceship Earth. Hopefully a few of those hyper-realistic Y.A. yarns have happy endings, or at the very least, open-ended and ambiguous ones.
P.S. You could also take a totally different approach, and imagine a world in which Bernie Sanders won the presidency. Until his successor emerges in 2020, you’ll have to divine that scenario for yourself. Enjoy. ;)
1. Newsom, Gavin. (20 Jul 2016). Mike Pence—Conversion Therapy True Believer—Adds More Hate to Donald Trump’s GOP Fire. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/20/mike-pence-conversion-therapy-true-believes-up-the-hate-for-donald-trump-s-gop.html.
3. Cooke, Rachel. (2016 Sep 25). High Hitler: how Nazi drug abuse steered the course of history. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/25/blitzed-norman-ohler-adolf-hitler-nazi-drug-abuse-interview.
4. Diamond, Jeremy. (1 Oct 2016). Donald Trump quintuples down. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/30/politics/trump-overnight-media-tweets/index.html.
5. Parfitt, Tom. (27 Nov 2014). Seven reasons to explain Vladimir Putin’s popularity cult. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/vladimir-putin/11257362/Seven-reasons-to-explain-Vladimir-Putins-popularity-cult.html.
6. Hitler’s rise to power. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/germany/hitlerpowerrev_print.shtml.
8. Long, Heather. (6 Feb 2016). Why doesn’t 4.9% unemployment feel great? Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2016/02/06/news/economy/obama-us-jobs/index.html.
9. Frizell, Sam. (19 Feb 2014). Americans Are Taking on Debt at Scary High Rates. Retrieved from http://time.com/8740/federal-reserve-debt-bankrate-consumers-credit-card/.
10. Alter, Charlotte. (28 Apr 2014). Report: Low-Pay Jobs Replace High-Pay Jobs Since Recession. Retrieved from http://time.com/79061/report-low-pay-jobs-replace-high-pay-jobs-since-recession/.
11. Grossman, Richard S. (14 Oct 2013). Greed destroyed us all: George W. Bush and the real story of the Great Recession. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2013/10/14/greed_destroyed_us_all_george_w_bush_and_the_real_story_of_the_great_recession/.
12. Boushey, Heather. (21 May 2014). It Wasn’t Household Debt That Caused the Great Recession. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/05/house-of-debt/371282/.
13. Diamond, Jeremy. (20 May 2016). Donald Trump in 2006: I ‘sort of hope’ real estate market tanks. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/19/politics/donald-trump-2006-hopes-real-estate-market-crashes/.
14. Kershaw, Ian. (30 Jan 2008). How Hitler Won Over the German People. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/the-fuehrer-myth-how-hitler-won-over-the-german-people-a-531909.html.
15. 12 Nov 2016. Live Presidential Forecast. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/elections/forecast/president.
16. Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus. (23 Jun 2014). Most Americans say Iraq war wasn’t worth the costs: Poll. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/most-americans-say-iraq-war-wasnt-worth-the-costs-poll/.
17. Sisi Wei, Jeremy Bowers and Wilson Andrews. 4486 U.S. service members have died in Iraq. Retrieved from http://apps.washingtonpost.com/national/fallen/theaters/iraq/.
18. Schwarz, Jon. (10 Apr 2015). Twelve Years Later, US Media Still Can’t Get Iraqi WMD Story Right. Retrieved from https://theintercept.com/2015/04/10/twelve-years-later-u-s-media-still-cant-get-iraqi-wmd-story-right/.
19. Drake, Bruce. (12 Jun 2014). More Americans say U.S. failed to achieve its goals in Iraq. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/06/12/more-americans-say-us-failed-to-achieve-its-goals-in-iraq/.
20. Greenslade, Roy. (4 Dec 2013). How Hitler suspended the right to mail and telephone privacy. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2013/dec/04/surveillance-adolf-hitler.
21. Alex Emmons. (11 Nov 2016). Commander-In-Chief Donald Trump Will Have Terrifying Powers. Thanks, Obama. Retrieved from https://theintercept.com/2016/11/11/commander-in-chief-donald-trump-will-have-terrifying-powers-thanks-obama/.
22. Diamond, Jeremy. (28 Jun 2016). Trump slams globalization, promises to upend economic status quo. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/28/politics/donald-trump-speech-pennsylvania-economy/index.html.
23. Nelson D. Schwartz and Quoctrung Bui. (25 Apr 2016). Where Jobs Are Squeezed by Chinese Trade, Voters Seek Extremes. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/26/business/economy/where-jobs-are-squeezed-by-chinese-trade-voters-seek-extremes.html.
24. Rotman, David. (12 Jun 2013). How Technology Is Destroying Jobs. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/.
25. Rampell, Catherine. (9 Jun 2011). Companies Spend on Equipment, Not Workers. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/10/business/10capital.html.
26. Smith, Noah. (26 Jan 2016). Free Trade With China Wasn’t Such a Great Idea for the U.S. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-01-26/free-trade-with-china-wasn-t-such-a-great-idea.
27. Farley, Robert. (23 Nov 2015). Trump Retweets Bogus Crime Graphic. Retrieved from http://www.factcheck.org/2015/11/trump-retweets-bogus-crime-graphic/.