Tag Archives: politics

Two Years and Counting….

Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

As I watched national news during the past week since Senator John McCain’s passing, my thoughts returned time and again to my original work in building the world of 2048-2052 for the Perceval series, how I imagined America becoming an oppressive autocracy. During the summer of 2016, I wrote about my concerns with the upcoming election, and especially how America had developed since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. During the past week, I went back to that summer also, remembering my hope that America would not walk down the path I had seen before it while working on Perceval’s Secret. I don’t pretend to be able to predict the future, but the signs were there for anyone to see.

In “The Drift Toward Autocracy Continues,” the August 20, 2018 post at The Weekly Sift, Doug Muder lays out how America continues to move toward an autocratic, not a democratic, federal government, bringing America closer to the America in Perceval’s Secret. What really stood out for me was the following:

“Here’s a norm that is key to separating a republic from an autocracy: In a republic, executive powers are tied to executive responsibilities. In an autocracy, executive powers are personal prerogatives, subject to the whim of whomever the Executive happens to be.”

The current American president insists on personal loyalty from his staff, not loyalty to the country and Constitution. The current American president is embroiled in the appearance of, if not yet proved to be involved in, corruption, collusion with a foreign power, and violating the Emoluments clause in the Constitution. The current American president this week was annoyed with the media’s coverage of John McCain’s life and death — a man who served his country as a Navy pilot during war, and as an elected representative of the people of Arizona, revealing this president’s fragile ego.  Senator McCain knew and modeled public service to country and community. The current American president pays off women with whom he cheated on his wife so they wouldn’t talk about the affairs. The current American president revokes the security clearance of a highly respected intelligence official to punish him, not because he was a national security threat but because he’d spoken truth to power, using the president’s power to grant or revoke security clearances without following standard protocol and procedure. The current American president would like very much for the Justice Department to do his bidding, no questions asked, to eliminate his enemies and rivals which would be a gross abuse of power. The current American president has no respect for Freedom of the Press as he attacks the media and calls it “fake news.” The Republican Party does nothing. The Republican Party wants to maintain their majority in Congress, and as Karl Rove put it, to have “a permanent majority” which would be another step toward autocracy.

I’ve listened to those who support the current American president. They think he’s doing an excellent job and taking the country in the right direction. But when it comes to specifics, I have not heard anyone actually go into specifics. What I find especially interesting about the current American president’s supporters is that they are usually not wealthy, they are racist against African-Americans and immigrants, especially Hispanics from the south, they want America to bully the rest of the world to get what they want which I haven’t a clue what that is, and they want the federal government to shrink along with the taxes they pay. They feel threatened by anyone who is not white, Christian, male. They do not comprehend, apparently, the irony that they elected a wealthy white man who’s not particularly religious, and who really doesn’t care about them to get them what they want. Sadly, all this president cares about is what he wants and that is power — feeling powerful, wielding power over other people, and enjoying being treated like a powerful person.

None of what I’m writing here is a secret. Any intelligent person who makes an effort to stay informed about current events and our federal government can see it all for herself. Anyone who observes the current American president and how he speaks can come to the same conclusions. The American people and their government do not have a leader in the Oval Office right now who is a public servant and who knows how to govern in a democratic republic. They have a guy who wants to be president and be like a Mafia don. He wants to make money off the American people who elected him as well as the political party that continues to turn a blind eye, and help the wealthy multiply their wealth. He doesn’t know how to work with Congress and doesn’t want to learn. He doesn’t know how to work with our Allies and doesn’t want to learn. He’d much rather tweet insults and brag about his “accomplishments” — a large word that he could not even begin to fill with what he’s done in his life.

After the election two years ago, I’d hoped that Congress would be a strong check on him. It turned out that only the Judicial branch fulfilled their role as a check on Executive power.  The Republicans seem happy with the current American president — after all, if he takes over, they won’t have to deal with governing anymore. The Congressional Republicans, for the most part, have not proven themselves to be democratic leaders who govern well. Senator John McCain was an exception. I wonder if the Congressional Republicans are really paying attention to their constituents; after all, the current president lost the popular vote by a rather large margin.

Recently, a couple readers of Perceval’s Secret approached me separately and commented with a certain amount of fear on the future that I depict in that novel. They wanted to know how I knew that the 2016 election would be the beginning of a wealthy elite take-over of the country, turning American society upside down. It’s been in the works for years. All I did was pay attention. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

The Change

In the beginning, I needed to figure out a way to get from the present to the future.  Not time travel, but for Perceval.  I realized that something must happen, a catastrophe that causes a major response.  In my mind, I called that major response “The Change.”  Before The Change was the present I was writing in, after The Change would be the developing future.

What kind of catastrophe?  It had to be something that could be global in scope that might begin in America and spread.  I thought of disease, pestilence, nuclear bombs.  I wanted people to be left, however, after the catastrophe.  A tall order for a catastrophe: be something catastrophic but don’t kill anyone.  I began to think about politics.

At first, I thought maybe an evil dictator would take over America, but I saw this as too easy somehow, too cliche, too comic book.  But “dictator” was a good idea and in line with my thinking about a dystopic America.  However, I wanted the dictator to be democratically elected, from a political party, and the kind of guy or woman who thinks their vision is really the best for the country when it’s actually oppression and fascism.  From that, I realized that the dictator would need to be the major response to the catastrophe.

What was the catastrophe?  What could make people insecure, powerless, bring them to their knees?  If I were doing this thinking-work today, I’d probably go straight to terrorism.  But even then, I don’t think it would work because terrorists want to kill as many people as they can, and that would defeat the purpose of my catastrophe, i.e. not kill but render terrified and powerless.  Oh, maybe cyber-terrorism would work….

As I mulled over politics some more, the political party began to develop that would spawn the dictator.  Then it finally came to me.  The catastrophe would be an economic disaster of the same scope as the Great Depression which was global as well as American.  I did not sketch out the details of this economic disaster, i.e. the factors that led to it.  All I needed was that disaster.  I called this disaster and the major response after it The Change in all my early drafts of the first novel.  Eventually, I realized I no longer needed to be so explicit and proceeded with describing America as Evan, born just before The Change, knew it and what he was taught about it by Joseph Caine and Randall Quinn.  In the political backstory of Perceval, during The Change, some politicians break away from the two major American political parties to form another party, the New Economic Party, and to campaign on a platform and promise to return America to economic prosperity and power and security.  They win and the dictatorship of the NEP elite is born.

The economic events of the last month have sent chills down my spine.  Watching the credit seizure spread internationally, the stock markets all over the world plunge, and my own retirement savings shrink, has been eerie and frightening.  I would prefer that my “catastrophe” remain fiction, that my ideas that formed the backstory for Perceval remain fiction also.  And that the national thinking change now from catastrophic and despairing to an understanding that this too shall pass and we will learn from it, be better for it.  I hope.

Clearly, greed and trying to live beyond one’s means are not good.

Politics in 2048 — An American Dystopia?

With the shocking and sad news of NBC political journalist and “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert’s death, my mind has been on politics today, specifically American politics and the future.  This year’s presidential election will simply not be the same without Tim Russert, especially on election night, with his astute observations and conclusions.  And he seemed like a genuine Mensch.  My condolences to his family on their loss.  He will be missed.

America’s politics continues down the road to November and the elections.  We have a flawed democracy (Electoral College, length of primary season) but the system has worked fairly well since the country’s founding.  No coups, not even after JFK was assassinated, which would have been a prime moment (and some conspiracy theorists believe that it might have been a “failed coup”).  However, even elections can produce non-democratic results, e.g. the German election that brought Adolf Hitler to power. 

Which started me thinking when I began writing Perceval.  If the novel is set in the future, what kind of a future did I imagine and what would American politics be like?  What would the rest of the world be like?

First of all, in 2048, I saw the European Union as democratic and including Russia.  China would lead a coalition of nations called the Asia-Pacific Coalition.  America would continue to dominate North America and play an important economic role in the world.  The rest of the world, for narrative purposes, would not be as clearly defined as these three, and much of the definition would depend on Evan’s perceptions. 

When Evan was about three, the American population voted in a government led by the New Economic Party which had campaigned on the issues of insuring national security and strengthening the economy.  The NEP had formed out of two groups: one had split from the Republican Party, the other from the Democratic Party (I’m an equal opportunity splitter).  After that first election, the NEP consolidated its power at both state and federal levels, creating a “permanent majority” or dictatorship.  The context of democracy framed this dictatorship, i.e. elections occurred regularly, the three branches of government continued to operate, the opposition was token, and a certain level of representation existed in Congress.  The NEP believes it’s the best political party for America, that it can preserve and protect the country and its institutions.  Its methods, however, resemble the Kremlin’s during the 1930’s — social oppression and control, purges, and a secret police.

Oppressive social control and an authoritarian or totalitarian government characterizes a dystopia.  Those in power in a dystopia don’t care about doing or being good.  All they care about is their power and control.  The NEP believes it is doing good, however.  They believe that their social and economic policies are the best for America and the world.  So, America in Perceval is not a dystopia. 

America in Perceval is an anti-utopia , i.e. a society intended to be good but a fatal flaw or other factor (the NEP) destroyed or twisted the end result.  Americans believe their system of government is basically good and beneficial for their society and people in general, including the democratic process that elects an NEP president and majority in Congress.  The NEP continues to call America a democracy.  Resistance to the NEP government began early, triggering a civil war and an active Underground of “freedom fighters” that the NEP calls “domestic terrorists.”

Perceval is set primarily in Europe, in Vienna, so America remains in the background, an essential part of Evan’s life.  Unlike most dystopian/anti-utopian future fiction, the action does not occur within the dystopian/anti-utopian society but outside of it.  Evan arrives in Europe an outsider as an American and America is his psychological home so the dystopia/anti-utopia exists within him.  I wanted to explore how Evan (an individual) would respond to European society, what effect it would have on him as he forges a new life in Vienna, not focus on the American anti-utopian society itself. 

The futuristic element of the Perceval novels is anti-utopian, not dystopian, which I suppose technically makes the series social science fiction: the cultural and psychological clash between American and European societies as experienced through a musician and conductor…. 

Future Politics: China

A pleasant surprise and confirmation of my imaginings this week: I read an article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled “The $1.4 Trillion Question” by James Fallows about the financial relationship China has with the U.S.  Over the last five years or so, other articles and reports have appeared in the media about the huge trade surplus China has with us and how China is investing that surplus into the U.S. economy, essentially helping to keep us afloat.  China is not the only foreign country that invests in the U.S.  Japan also has a sizable investment, Saudi Arabia and Russia among others.  How does this apply to Perceval?

Several years ago when I had reached the tenth or eleventh draft, it suddenly occurred to me that Japan had bought a lot of real estate in America so why couldn’t China have also invested heavily in our economy?  And then why couldn’t China threaten to cash in all its investments all at once and effectively trash our economy completely?  I decided that this could be possible theoretically and ran with it.  At the beginning of Perceval, talks organized by the EU and Russia are occurring between China and America in Vienna to persuade China not to cash in all its investments in America.  China has become nervous about the American economy because the social and political situations, from China’s perspective, have become unstable with a civil war, armed resistance, and states threatening to secede.  And China wouldn’t mind strengthening its position as a superpower.  Evan Quinn has a secret that threatens both him and the situation between China and America, and in the story, he must decide what he’s going to do about it.

In James Fallow’s article, he clearly describes how China has invested billions in the American economy to date, and as long as the dollar remains relatively strong, has no reason not to continue investing.  As he put it, “Without China’s billion dollars a day, the United States could not keep its economy stable or spare the dollar from collapse.”  He goes on to examine possible scenarios, and how unlikely it is that China would do anything to hurt us because it would hurt them through their dollar investments.  However, political tensions or global economic shifts could lead to China using this investment “weapon” to try to protect their position.  Not too far from what I’d imagined years ago…..

The entire article can be read at www.theatlantic.com/doc/200801/fallows-chinese-dollars.