by D. C. Petterson
I promised to give my fantasy scenario for the 2010 election. I don’t know if this is a worst case or a best case. A little of both, perhaps.
It needs some preface. Back in the summer of 2006, I started a novel. I’d been inspired by a number of dark songs, some of my favorites from decades before: Sniper by Harry Chapin, For You by Manfred Mann, The Boomtown Rats’ I Don’t Like Mondays. . .
I wont tell too much about the story. It was an experiment for me, something unusual, pushing my storytelling limits – lots of violence and sex, very dark, very much concentrating on unusual characters in extreme situations. But to make the plot work, it required a society to work within. I’d envisioned the tale centering around two teenagers. As I constructed the outline, as I started the writing, the world grew up around them, a dreadful dystopian place, a world horrible enough to produce the violence of my plot.
It became a tale of politics and hidden intrigue, of prejudice and tinfoil-hat conspiracies. A fascist and ultraconservative religious sentiment had assaulted the nation, a fevered collaboration of corporate interests and church dogma, a perpetual state of war, paranoia over immigrants, sexual repression, fear of homosexuals. The nation had been divided between a tiny cadre of unimaginably wealthy elites, and the impoverished masses who found themselves as fearful but willing slaves kept docile by manufactured terrorist plots publicized by a complicit media. This is the world my teenagers had to deal with.
Mine is not the first anti-utopian tale. Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World are classics of the genre. Those books were published in 1949 and 1931, respectively. The new millennium needed a new warning. For a progressive such as myself, the Bush years had been a frightening era. The President ignored the law and the Constitution. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq evoked frightening and vivid memories of Vietnam. The media had become lapdogs to a corrupt administration. The middle class shrank, America fell into irrational fear of foreigners and gays. My novel seemed about to come true. I feared the extremes I imagined might seem pale in comparison to the reality. Or, worse, my book would be seen as retrospective rather than as a warning.
The story poured out of my keyboard. I had nearly a half-million words written in the first six months, and had reached the halfway point in my outline. But then, a miracle happened.
The Democrats took control of Congress in the fall of 2006.
Maybe, just maybe, the world would turn back from the brink.
Over the next two years, other projects took my attention. By the winter of ’07, and into early ’08, my novel seemed increasingly irrelevant. I set it aside, having added only an additional chapter or two. Caught in the heady thrill of the Obama campaign, my story of fear and prejudice and paranoia seemed quaint, a horror movie from a bygone age. Even the economic collapse of 2008 couldn’t bring back the terrible days when I had started the story; by then all the polls told us change was coming. Surely America would come out of its Dark Ages!
With the election of Obama, there seemed no reason to continue that fear-filled fantasy. I polished a couple of other projects, and a very different novel, much shorter and brighter and more hopeful, was eventually published instead, in the summer of 2010.
But through 2009, the old forces of manipulative darkness began once more to grow. A note of insanity drifted into our politics, with mindless megaphones substituting for conversation in town hall near-riots, astroturf-funded by the same corporate/media conglomerates, oil interests, and religious extremism of the Bush years. The horror hadn’t been defeated. It had merely lain briefly dormant, as a monster of myth plotting its vengeance.
We stand now on a precipice. One of three worlds will emerge from this year’s elections.
Perhaps the polls and pundits are wrong. Aspects of the current “likely voter” models don’t seem to make sense, and/or have never before been tried (there is no proof that “enthusiasm” translates to “turnout”; we don’t know what effect cell phones have on polling; the current projections assume an unprecedented reversal of voting trends from the last two cycles; and so on). Yet, when all the “experts” point in the same direction, a layperson is foolish to ignore them (hence, the silliness of the climate-change deniers). A hopeful future remains a possibility, however slight. Perhaps something not far from the current status quo might survive. The Democrats might get a second chance, having dodged a bullet, and perhaps emerging leaner and meaner from their collective near-death experience.
More likely is a good night for the Republicans. They may well seize the House, and take several Senate seats. Many of the incoming freshmen will be extremists, who are giving every indication of absolute inflexibility and an inability to compromise. Gridlock and obstruction, inaction and inattention could become the norm. The nation’s problems – the worst of which are stubbornly high unemployment and slow economic growth – could well worsen in an orgy of irresponsibile tax cuts and senseless program gutting. 2012 would be up for grabs; would the public blame the Democrats for having blown their chance, or the Republicans for actively subverting repairs?
But then there’s the possibility of the biblical disaster which the media has been pushing. We’ve watched as the Republican Party has been hijacked by the most extreme denizens of its ideological sewer. Bush was prelude. These new kids are scary. Maybe they’ll tear the Republican Party apart. Or maybe they’ll assume control. That possibility makes Orwell look like an optimist.
Okay, I’m in the midst of the sequel to the novel I published in the place of finishing that dark fantasy I started back in 2006. Once my current book is done, I’ll need another project. I have one well-plotted and half written, all set to complete. It might be applicable once more. The conditions seem favorable. The novel will seem prophetic. And it’ll give me something to do as the world grows darker, and all the lights of reason go out.