Do you remember the worst, most over-the-top dystopian fiction you ever wrote? You know what I’m talking about. That terrible short story you hammered out in middle school, inspired by books like 1984 and Brave New World? Well, ignore the people who tell you that we live in the world of Orwell or Huxley. We live in your middle school rip-off of those authors.
We’ve had police shooting civilians, civilians shooting police, brutal terror attacks involving trucks in France, brutal terror attacks involving guns in Orlando, Britain leaving the EU and destabilizing the world economy, and American police shooting people on the ground who have their hands in the air, later explaining that they were actually aiming at the autistic man who was holding a toy truck.
And don’t even get me started on American politics. The United States has two of the most despised candidates in modern history running against each other. One is a neoliberal establishment figure who represents a continuation of the policies of the Obama administration (drone strikes and all) and the other is quite literally a fascist. And the fascist is running in a dead heat against the establishment candidate.
Yes, everything has always been bad. The 1930s had the Great Depression; the 1940s had World War II and the internment of Japanese-Americans; the 1950s had the Korean War and the violent oppression of black people; the 1960s had riots and the Vietnam War; the 1970s had Watergate and averaged an airplane hijacking every two weeks... but are things really worse here in 2016? Last night’s acceptance speech by Donald Trump made me believe that it really could be. Not because Trump said anything more outrageous than he ever has. But because his hateful message and the dystopian optics that come with it are now just par for the course. The politics of fear blasted without shame through your TV set was the new normal in a country that prides itself in supposedly living without fear.
Obviously, I’m not here to change your mind about Donald Trump. If you like the man, there’s nothing I can write that will change that. Republicans have more or less gotten into line under the assumption that a Clinton presidency would be more damaging than Donald Trump.
And you, no doubt, think I’m a flag-burning Clinton stooge for even questioning Trump’s patriotism. But last night should’ve been all too surreal for even the most jaded observer. The stages have all been spray-painted gold and the bronzer has all been applied. Most importantly, the contradictions have all been heightened, much like a child learning how to write creatively in his formative years. Donald Trump went from a reality TV show punchline to a very serious presidential candidate in less than a year. And amongst the pageantry of all this, Trump has changed the narrative of acceptable political discourse for a generation.
Now, when politicians propose a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, the reaction won’t be getting laughed out of public life and into the midnight hours of public access TV. The reaction will be, as it has been for journalists now questioning Trump, about the specifics of such a plan. But how will you specifically enforce such a ban on all Muslims? What about Muslims serving their country overseas? What if a Muslim lies when they’re trying to enter the country and says they’re not Muslim, what then, Einstein?
Or when you call an entire nation of people rapists, as Trump did with Mexico, and say they’re coming into the United States to commit crimes and siphon off American jobs and resources, you’re not denounced immediately as a bigot. You’re asked to give specifics about how you’ll pay for the wall to keep those people out. Again, it’s like some ham-handed attempt at thoughtful dystopian prose that I would’ve attempted as a teen.
Donald Trump stood up last night in front of the American people and shouted at us for an hour and 15 minutes that things are terrible and that he’s going to make them better. Daddy’s here. The world is dangerous, but he’s going to protect us. Make sure to ask your 7th grade English teacher after class whether or not she gets the symbolism.
The year 2016 is more than half over, and I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I’ll be glad to see it go. But if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s this: Things can always get worse. Things always got worse in my shitty, middle school fiction.