Meanwhile in another universe: The allure of dystopian alternative histories | The Economist

For all their nuance, both “SS-GB” and “The Man in the Castle” are, at root, hero narratives whose protagonists attempt to overthrow a foreign invading force. (The heroine of “The Man in the High Castle”, Juliana Crain, first appears on-screen practicing aikido; by the end of episode two, she’s putting her moves to use on a Nazi bounty hunter.) And yet, for those wishing to draw parallels with today, wouldn’t the Nazis’ rise be a more ripe area for exploration? As Jochem Bittner wrote in the New York Times last May, “Some people today imagine that Hitler sneaked up on Germany, that too few people understood the threat. In fact, many mainstream politicians recognised the danger but they failed to stop him. Some didn’t want to: The conservative parties and the nobility believed the little hothead could serve as their useful idiot…” The parallels many viewers see in today’s Washington are almost too obvious. Meanwhile on British shores, the unravelling mess that is the Labour Party is testimony to the dangers of having a divided and useless opposition.

Certainly, there is precedent for the “homegrown fascism” narrative in the history of alternate-history: CJ Sansom’s 2012 novel “Dominion” takes as its historical point of divergence the appointment of Lord Halifax, rather than Winston Churchill, as prime minister in 1940. Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” takes a similar tack in replacing Roosevelt in the White House with an isolationist president, as does “It Can’t Happen Here”, Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel intended as a wake-up call to American complacency in the face of fascism. (Sales of Lewis’s novel soared after Trump’s election in November.)

From: Meanwhile in another universe: The allure of dystopian alternative histories | The EconomistImage by Smabs Sputzer

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38 thoughts on “Meanwhile in another universe: The allure of dystopian alternative histories | The Economist

  1. “Meanwhile on British shores, the unravelling mess that is the Labour Party is testimony to the dangers of having a divided and useless opposition.”

    I think this is the most salient point, and certainly applicable to the US.

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    • What is your evidence that the Democrats are unraveling? They have been more united aganist Trump than they have been for years.

      Also they did manage to gain seats in the Senate and the House in 2016. Not enough to win a majority but it was not an epic defeat.

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      • In my view, at the national level the GOP is completely unraveling. Like, literally unraveling. The Dems are staying the course.

        How that plays out going forward is anyone’s guess. At the national level anyway. The stuff Trump’s doing will be hard for either party to come back from, for different reasons.

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          • Only if you think Trump is GOP. In my view he isn’t. He just ran on that ticket.

            Hell, according to any of the conventionally accepted meanings of the term he isn’t even a conservative.

            Also, Will, remember that the GOP wasn’t a party at WAR with itself until they actually had power to govern. Trump’s victory in the primary was only a foreshadowing of the factionalism defining the contemporary GOP. They just did a good job concealing it by embracing, each and every one of em, Cleek’s Law during the Obama Presidency. :)

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              • Did they? How are they doing at the state and local level?

                Add: Remember when Tod wrote his Sailing Away series? I recall that even then, way back when!, I was criticizing him for making the mistake of confusing national level GOP failures and incompetence with local level stuff. The GOP is killin it at the local level. I’ve been saying that for forever….

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                • I meant the Democrats in the previous comment, explaining why I think it’s fair to say the Democrats lost to the Republicans even if one doesn’t Consider Trump to be a Republican. I was pretty unclear.

                  I think Republicans made (more) gains at the local level, but I’m not sure, most big ones are in two years, and I don’t think it was by much.

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                  • The Dems are in trouble. What we’re talking about is whether the GOP, as it is currently ideologically constructed at the national level, is in worse trouble. I think they are. Maybe the distinction is between a nominal victory vs a substantive one, but in my view Trump’s victory will change the GOP radically more than it changes the Dems. Which opens up opportunities for Dems to exploit, at both the national and local level.

                    I mean, I honestly have no idea how this plays out going forward wrt R and D vote distributions right now. But Trump, and Trumpism, is destabalizing the GOP right to its core identity at the national level. He’s changing the party at a foundational level.

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                      • The Dems are worse off nominally; the GOP is worse of substantively. (At the national level.)

                        I make no predictions about how things run going forward since I have no idea how voters respond to GOP dysfunction (or Dem dysfunction, for that matter).

                        One thing I’ve consistently rejected, tho, is the suggestion that Trump is a response to Obama and Dem overreach. The evidence just doesn’t support the claim. Given that Trump ran in the GOP primary, Trump’s ascendancy was primarily a repudiation of GOP lies, grifting, and ideological bullshit, and only secondarily a repudiation of the Dems.

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                          • (I do sort of agree that “Democrats overreached” is not a narrative I’d go with.)

                            Yeah. Instead, I think the better analysis is that the national level GOP consistently under-reached (or reached around…) for long enough that GOP voters finally had enough and went full Palin during the last election. Part of that, no doubt, is due to progressives/liberal Dems trying to reduce national policy to micro-aggressions and PCism and so on, and part of it is no doubt also due to the propaganda campaigns the GOP and conservative pundits leveled at Democratic policies implemented under Obama.

                            My own pet theory is a bit more general, however, in that GOP voters internalized the message that the Dems are Evil Corrupters’ of Our Way of Life to such an extent that they applied the same cynical reasoning to GOP motives and goals. Basically, it was a situation where the partisanly-motivated opinion-shapers’ antagonism towards Democratic governance was generalized to include the national level GOP. It started with Palin, and came to fruition with Trump.

                            Going forward, tho, it seems very reasonable to me to suppose that too much Trumpism will effectively make the Dems look a whole lot better without Dems having to do much in the way of policy changes. Maybe relax a bit on SJW cultural revolutionism; maybe focus more on the felt needs of people who see their lives as not holding much hope or promise. Minor stuff that will happen naturally anyway, seems to me, as a result of the last election.

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                        • Yeah, there is a reason I left the party and there is a reason the Great Wall of Blue-a didn’t hold back the barbarians.

                          I am curious if this is a paradigm shift and the Magic Eight Ball says maybe…

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            • Stillwater: Also, Will, remember that the GOP wasn’t a party at WAR with itself until they actually had power to govern

              The GOP has been a party at war with himself since November 2006, with a temporary ceasefire just before the 2014 election (but not before the war took out Eric Cantor)

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          • I know that lots of people here think that this subject is verbotten and wrong to bring up but at what point do we get to say “It’s the ethno-nationalism.” Just today, I saw a story about how the Miami State Attorney refuses to bring charges against four prison guards who tortured a mentally ill black men to death by parboiling him. The man was in prison for a cocaine possession charge. Lots of people are angry about this of course but lots of people in this country are also seemingly fine with giving the police and prosecutors unlimited discretion especially when it comes to the treatment of people of color.

            There are still racists Democrats and police issues in blue cities and states but we also tend to not elect people like Steven King or promote people like Steven Bannon to the sanctum santorum of the White House.

            But the idea of racism and ethno-nationalism leading people to vote for a particular party is one that OT seemingly does not want to grapple with because it forces dark conclusions maybe? We don’t have that many minority members in this community and most people in this community know and love people on both sides of the fence but it seems like there is a depressing possibility that a lot of people vote R, not out of a sincere belief in limited government or free capital or whatever. They vote R because they hate minorities and the GOP has largely turned itself into a party of white identity. Sometimes more hidden, sometimes outright in the open.

            I think there is a fiction in seeing most people as political free agents and I admit dealing with the idea that people stick to a particular party out of racism is depressing because it might mean some really dark days ahead.

            For a bunch of really smart people, we can be very naive about these things and belief in the ultimate triumph of reason.

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            • :
              Let me guess . . .

              You heard about Republicans from somewhere.
              You were listening to Art Bell one day when someone called in and said that he’d seen one, and you believed it.
              You watched a show on TNT one night that featured some overweight but otherwise outdoorsy type who said he’d been tracking one of them, and got real close, but hadn’t caught up with it yet. He had some video clip of something that he said was a Republican, but someone else said the footage was just a hoax.
              But you believed him.
              You had a couple of Ripley’s comics a few years back that featured a story about “Republicans.” You didn’t think they were real when you first read them, but you thought they were pretty scary. You felt some discomfort trying to sleep for awhile after that, because. . . What if Republicans are real? The idea terrified you, and you pulled the pillow over your head.

              Poor Saul.

              I have some bad news for you.

              Republicans are real.

              No, I’m not just saying that to try to scare you.
              I wouldn’t do that to you.

              That guy on the Art Bell Show was telling the truth.
              Though that video was a hoax, there were real, live Republicans just on the other side of the hill from the overweight but otherwise outdoorsy guy.
              The artist in Ripley’s took some creative liberties, but he got the general form down pretty well.
              Pulling the pillow over your head isn’t going to stop them from coming.

              Saul, Republicans are real.

              I’m sorry, buddy.
              I know that must be tough to deal with.
              You don’t have to hide from them.
              That’s not going to do much good anyway.

              The reconnaissance you have on them is a bit iffy anyhow.
              That guy on the Art Bell Show didn’t get to see all that much, so there wasn’t much he could tell.
              About half the stuff on the show with that overweight but otherwise outdoorsy guy was apocryphal.
              The sources Ripley’s relied on said they rode in on unicorns.
              The intel is a little off.

              What you need is an Edward Snowden right now.
              You could use a good, old-fashioned Bradley Manning.
              Maybe a couple of reporters from the Post to Deepthroat you.

              You gotta be careful, Saul.
              There’s Republicans out there.

              Stay on the lookout.

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            • There’s little question that racism drives votes. Where the pushback is coming from is that racism is singularly responsible for it. That people who voted for Trump are animated by racism. Some are, some aren’t. Some are more than others.

              My problem with the “It’s the racism, people!” isn’t that it’s untrue (often it’s quite true), it’s that it scoffs that any and all other explanations and factors. That a racist person is only a racist, can’t be reached with any argument that isn’t racism, and so on.

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                • Quibble. The fact that people didn’t vote for Hillary is easily explained: most of us – almost all of us who pay attention – didn’t like her politics and political style. She was just tremendously unlikable. The real worry for Democrats is that they’re getting slaughtered at the state level, and that at the national level the political PTB appear to have a stranglehold on who gets what and why.

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            • Saul Degraw: I saw a story about how the Miami State Attorney refuses to bring charges against four prison guards who tortured a mentally ill black men to death by parboiling him. The man was in prison for a cocaine possession charge. Lots of people are angry about this of course but lots of people in this country are also seemingly fine with giving the police and prosecutors unlimited discretion especially when it comes to the treatment of people of color.

              The two prison guards that did this are African Americans, and the guy who was the whistleblower to what really happened is white

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              • The liberal-left answer to this, whether you buy it or not, is that even though law enforcement is more diverse right now, the people of color in law enforcement have inherited the problematic parts of the culture. I’ve certainly had African-American and Hispanic security guards make fun of my Chinese clients.

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              • I have a similar reaction to this as to the folks I sometimes encounter who suggest that BLM is wrong because, once you control for everything, white people suffer from police brutality at similar rates to black people. If you assume that this is true, then we live in a world where a diverse criminal justice apparatus mistreats a diverse group of criminal suspects, defendants, and ordinary people, but white people are mostly unwilling to take it seriously as a problem while black folks have a political culture in which they mostly do. It’s not exactly the kind of vindication that the average critic of BLM is looking for.

                Similarly, I don’t particularly care if boiling a helpless prisoner alive in the shower wasn’t driven by racism. The question is whether the people that did it are going to be punished and it it’s going to happen again.

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                • Don Zeko: Similarly, I don’t particularly care if boiling a helpless prisoner alive in the shower wasn’t driven by racism

                  I don’t either, I think it’s a horrible crime that the prison guards are getting away with. It’s Saul that made it emblematic of ethno-nationalism – erasing the African Americans from a story.

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  2. The threat of fascism abated when Hillary sabotaged Bernie, the only candidate who didn’t understand why we had more than one kind of toilet paper. The end point of that kind of logic is seen in Venezuela where the government deployed troops to guard their one toilet paper plant from thieves and looters.

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