Dystopian stories, Laura Miller wrote in The New Yorker in 2010, have one ultimate purpose: “to warn us about the dangers of some current trend.” Books like Brave New World and 1984, she explains, “detail the consequences of political authoritarianism and feckless hedonism. This is what happens if we don’t turn back now, they scold, and scolding makes sense when your readers have a shot at getting their hands on the wheel.”
In that sense, speculative fiction provides a framework for mapping out the future. And it resonates particularly in a moment when reality already seems to be pervaded with a sense of fear, with everything from police shootings to cyber warfare to climate change tainting hopes for the future. In April, The Boston Globe surprised its readers with a mock front page dated April 9, 2017, that laid out some potential news items from a Trump presidency. “Deportations to begin,” read the top story, followed by smaller headlines about Trump’s attack on libel laws, his trade war with China, his orders to kill the families of ISIS members, his appointment of Omarosa Manigault as education secretary, and his renaming of Yellowstone as Trump National Park. “This is Donald Trump’s America,” an editor’s note read in the bottom left corner. “What you read on this page is what might happen if the GOP front-runner can put his ideas into practice.”
That’s what makes the Globe’s front page so disturbing—it’s simply a manifestation of policy proposals the candidate has actually made. Fusion’s vision of “Trump’s American Dystopia,” published a few days after the Globe mockup, does the same thing. It imagines what the candidate’s statements regarding Muslims and undocumented immigrants might look like in practice. On January 21, 2017, it details, Trump signs an executive order banning Muslims from the U.S., prompting unprecedented antagonism and terror threats from the Middle East, a flood of lawsuits, and the cancellation of 10 percent of flights to the U.S.
In Fusion’s story, this soon leads to mandatory national identity cards for Muslims, followed by #DeportationNation, in which Trump begins to round up all 11 million undocumented immigrants. There are public raids across the country, and 2,400 new facilities are established where undocumented residents are detained. “The Times reports that many of the camps lack sufficient food and medical care,” the story explains. An organized resistance forms, called the Mockingjay Alliance, presumably in homage to Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy—the most influential work of dystopian fiction in the past decade.
It’s hard to consider what’s more realistic: that a resistance group in the U.S. would name itself after a resistance group made immortal in a Jennifer Lawrence movie, or that President Trump might move forward with his professed intention to deport every single undocumented immigrant in the country. Either way, the nods to popular culture add a sense of absurdism to a bleak vision of America. This mashup of surreal humor and plausibility also permeates “The Arctic Lizard,” a short story by the Israeli author Etgar Keret published by BuzzFeed in October. In Keret’s story, set an unspecified amount of time after President Trump’s third term, a bloody war with Mexico has led to the founding of the 14+, a unit of the military staffed with soldiers aged 14 and over. One of its key recruiting tools is the game Destromon Go (based on Pokemon Go), which offers special collectors’ characters only available to people fighting in war zones.