Earlier this year I reviewed MAGA 2020 & Beyond, an anthology from 2017 in which a band of right-wing science fiction authors imagined the glorious future that would result from Trump’s re-election. My general assessment was that it hadn’t aged very well.
Not all of the authors involved were deterred, however, and on October 30 2020 – days before the election – the book received a spiritual successor entitled Divided we Fall: One Possible Future. Granted, the two are from different publishers and the overlap in contributors is fairly small (they share two authors and a cover artist) but nonetheless, MAGA 2020 & Beyond and Divided we Fall are two takes on the same premise: that the 2020 election will lead to either a shining city on a hill under Trump, or a swampy dystopia under the Democrats.
So, having covered each and every story in MAGA 2020 & Beyond, I decided to take the plunge into its unofficial companion piece. Wish me luck.
“Fourth Estate” by Mack Henckel
Written from the perspective of a fictional journalist, Victor Parker, who began his career under Reagan; while brought up a Democrat he had eventually become a conservative by the time Trump was elected – although he maintained a non-partisan persona so as to avoid the ire of the liberal media. The first half of “Fourth Estate” is taken up by a potted history of US electoral politics and Parker’s own life story (which has a distinct feel of being semi-autobiographical) but the narrative reaches its point with 2020. First, Parker looks into the protests following the murder of George Floyd:
When some independent YouTube reporter types began finding things like preprinted professional signs as well as pallets of bricks left in convenient places, I pounced […] If this lead where I thought it did, I could get so much fame, it wouldn’t matter if I damaged a famous brand left of centre. Far left of centre.
After his editor spikes the story, Parker considers selling it to Fox or Breitbart – but then becomes afraid of being assassinated:
I remembered the mysterious deaths. People disappearing. What did Jeffrey Epstein really know in comparison to the connections I was following? I was one trip to a quiet jail cell away from “suicide.”
After this comes the pandemic, which Parker believes is being exaggerated (“The fatality rate had been falling since June,” his personal contacts say, “and every newly reinstated lockdown was in response to bad testing, or to simple malfeasance”). When the election arrives, Parker rubs his chin in suspicion: “When they announced the mail-in ballot initiative, because of COVID-19 (of course) with a whispered under tone of how racist the in-person voting was, they’d already mailed out tens of millions of these ballots.”
The story moves on to predicting the future (bear in mind that the book was published shortly before the election). On election day, there are “widespread attacks on voters in places where the polls were open” particularly “in purple states around large cities.” Suspect data reaches newsrooms: “No less than 11 states were called for Biden with less than 1% of the vote being counted” while “mail-in states were called with 0% reporting, because no process was in place.” Republican poll-watchers in California find themselves ejected by the police, while YouTube deletes a video showing “a pallet of ballots sitting out in the rain outside Newark” before removing the user’s account.
Two days later, the Supreme Court rules that the mail-in ballot process was illegal, but this comes too late to change matters. In a moment of candour Parker comments to a co-worker that “the whole thing stinks” and promptly loses his job. A melancholy Trump delivers his resignation speech on November 6. During the remainder of 2020, the riots fade while “COVID-19 all but disappeared from the headlines.”
After being sworn in, President Biden immediately begins issuing executive orders, banning assault weapons and then cancelling qualified immunity for police officers and former office holders. Later, a group of people are identified by the authorities as right-wing extremists planning to attack the Obamas at home, and a bloody shoot-out with the police ensues – although the matter of who fired the first shot is left ambiguous (the story directly compares this to Waco). The incident sparks protests and calls for clampdowns on the right, even though “the mounting evidence indicated that they were not planning anything more illegal than a day at the range.”
Congress responds with arms restrictions and a cut in funding to law enforcement. As a result of the latter act, former presidents have their secret service protection removed. Obama, Bush, Carter and Clinton appear to have been warned in time to hire private contractors as replacements; but Trump doesn’t find out until it’s too late:
I was glued to the Internet. A shocking number of people in the mob were livestreaming. I don’t remember even breathing as it unfolded. It had a hashtag; #GetOrangeHitler. His security fought valiantly. One group surrounded him, another his wife and son, Barron. The team with former President Trump was immediately targeted. I remember thinking; do they have intel watching?
His security was valiant, but unlike the Secret Service would have bene [sic], they were restrained. I didn’t see a firearm until they were in hand-to-hand combat, and then it was too late. A few shots were fired, but whom I have no idea. But ultimately, they failed. Melania and Barron managed to reach the plane and watched from the boarding ladder as the 45th president of the United States, was literally torn to pieces before their eyes.
The morning afterwards, “the country was in flames as millions of stunned conservatives released their outrage in a wave of violence not seen since Genghis Khan rode the steppes. The Union was broken. God help us all.”
A generous reader might read this conclusion as a rough prediction of the Capitol siege, although the story posits that it’d take an occurrence as extreme as the murder of Trump in his home before the right turned violent. The most remarkable aspect of the story, though, is its portrayal of COVID-19 as being swiftly forgotten over the course of November-December 2020, the implication being that the pandemic was exaggerated (or outright invented) by the media purely to sway the result of one country’s election. Fast forward to springtime 2021 and there are countless people around the world, particularly in countries like India that are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus, who only wish that this were the case.
In his author bio, Mack Henckel reveals himself to be writing under a pen name after finding himself “[f]orced underground after threats to his livelihood by friend and enemies alike”. He should not be confused with National Polygamy Advocate™ Mark Henkel.
“Secret Combinations” by Brad R. Torgersen
This story depicts a conflict between church and state that has led to Mormons becoming the chief targets of persecution:
“Most of the other Christian protestant denominations tucked tail and reformed, once Washington began to threaten tax status. Our church just dug in its heels, and that meant Washington had to make an example out of us. To show the few remaining religious bodies—those still resisting—that there’s no point. Either reform or get treated like a domestic threat.”
And so Mormon temples are surrounded by blockades, anyone caught practicing Mormon rites (public or private) faces incarceration, and even the governor of Utah is in a jail cell awaiting trial. “We’ve been branded the 21st century equivalent of Branch Davidians” says the main character, leaving the Divided we Fall so far two for two in Waco analogies.
Brad R. Torgersen is one of the authors who contributed to MAGA 2020 & Beyond. His story for that volume, “45”, was about a time-travelling assassin trying to murder Trump to prevent a nuclear war; over the course of the story she was persuaded by the protagonist that Trump might not have been to blame for the disaster after all, and that the cataclysm could be prevented without bloodshed. At first, it might seem as though Torgersen has made an abrupt shift from the reconciliatory, let’s-give-Trump-a-chance tone of “45” to the Biden-era dystopia of “Secret Combinations”, but the two stories turn out to have remarkably similar trajectories.
In “45”, the main character was a security guard who had worked for both Trump and Obama and personally abstained from the 2016 election; with this story, Torgersen again frames the protagonists – Mormon rebels Ephraim and Daisy – as moderates:
And the irony was, neither Ephraim nor Daisy were particularly goody two-shoes about their faith. He hadn’t voluntarily attended a Sunday meeting since the divorce, and Daisy? Ephraim had always had a sneaking suspicion Daisy liked girls as opposed to boys.
Ephraim initially believes that conflict is inevitable, but like the time-traveller in “45” he is confronted with the possibility of a non-violent path. One of his fellow rebels argues that the cause may be won without aggression, as with the civil rights movement, and that taking up arms would merely convince their enemies that they are a danger.
Ephraim is initially sceptical of this comparison, apparently believing that modern Mormons are facing more prejudice than black people did in the sixties (“If the church had made a lot of progress in the nineties convincing people that LDS folk were normal, good Americans like everyone else, the Woke Era in which they all now dwelled had rapidly reversed things. Hating Mormons had become cool again”). He says that non-violence will play into the hands of the “rainbow zealots”, allowing the Mormon church to become “just another Jesus club that can be pushed around and made to dance whatever jig the government tells us to dance” before comparing the situation to the Cold War. But when Daisy states that the Cold War ended with the enemy side collapsing, Ephraim admits that she has a point.
The story’s conclusion has Ephraim forming a partnership with a government agent who (it’s implied) is one of his old army buddies, allowing the possibility that the two can work together against the oppression of the state. This ambiguous, cautiously-optimistic ending again recalls “45”, where it was left unclear as to whether or not the nuclear catastrophe would ever be averted.
“Secret Combinations” is a better-executed story than “Fourth Estate” – for one thing, it actually functions as a story rather than a rant. That said, it lives or dies by the reader’s ability to accept the central premise of the Mormon crackdown.
“Dangerous Words” by William Dietrich
Under the Democratic administration, conservative officers in the armed forces are being loaded into cars by government agents and never seen again, with the mainstream media describing these occurrences as the arrests of Russian agents.. The main character, young marine Bruce, has seen his staff sergeant disappear in such a manner, leaving him to put up with such unsatisfactory cohorts as Corporal Kemp (“As one of the two African American Marines in the unit, his skin color gave him a special privilege nobody else could touch. Any negative attention might be perceived as racist. That’s what the media was telling everyone, anyway”).
But Bruce leads a double life. While the rest of the unit believes him to be playing video games in his quarters, he is actually running a “now-illegal blog” in which he anonymously articulates his negative opinions on the Democratic party and Antifa. Bruce’s conservative values contrast with those of his mother, who obtained custody of him after divorcing his father. “My mother is a liberal who would probably turn me in if I admitted sympathies toward the average American”, says Bruce, elsewhere reporting that she is “obsessed with the Democratic party” and prone to going “on and on about climate change, non-binary genders, and all other kinds of nonsense.”
Bruce also stands in opposition to the familiarly-named Sergeant Hartman, another committed Democrat: “The news says there’s probably fascists at all levels of government. Trump put a bunch of them in office all over the country. Then they hired more. We got out of that shit just in time, man. I’m tellin’ you, had he been reelected, we might be flying the Nazi flag.” Upon hearing a dubious news report that Trump’s supporters are staging a coup, Hartman declares that “as far as I’m concerned they’re not even Americans anymore. They’re traitors, and they deserve to die.”
Having witnessed the spiriting away of the staff sergeant, along with a year of Democrat-organised riots, Bruce believes that he will eventually receive a certain order: “The order that would direct me to kill the people who were trying to save what was left of our republic.” Either that or the feds will find out about his blog: “Once they put the pieces together, I’d be on my way to Leavenworth or GITMO. Why? Because I’d told the truth, including how wicked, corrupt and inept you new president was.” The police refused to arrest people for supporting Trump, resulting in their being defunded, and Bruce is convinced that the military will be placed in a situation tantamount to civil war:
And what if I was deployed, standing face to face against Americans who were trying to do the right thing? Could I shoot them, or would I switch sides and fight against my father? This kind of bullshit hadn’t been a problem since the Civil War. Father fighting against son. Sons trying to murder each other. I wished it hadn’t come to this, but wishing was as effective as nailing a piece of cheese to the wall.
His prediction comes to pass. The FBI (reportedly) finds a cell of right-wingers planning to make bombs, riot and loot, and murder the president (“You mean like the liberals were doing before the elections?” asks Bruce upon hearing this news). After cross-referencing reports on “CNN, MSNBC, and all the other fake news sites” along with posts on his favourite anonymously-run conservative blog, Bruce gleans that the president has invoked the Insurrection Act against conservative groups and is planning to deploy the marines, starting Civil War II.
There is a ray of hope, however. Bruce figures out that his favourite blog is actually run by his estranged father, who is running a spy ring inside the marines and preparing to help the true American patriots to fight back against Democrat subversion.
The most notable thing about “Dangerous Words” is how it consists almost entirely of elements seen in the previous two stories. While it replaces the Mormon Church with the US Marines, the narrative is very similar to Brad Torgersen’s story, right down to the end revelation that the protagonist is being helped by an individual from his past. Meanwhile, the main character operating an anonymous conservative blog, the defunding of the police and the (implicitly hoaxed) government uncovering of a right-wing terror plot are details also used by Mack Henckel. Only three stories in, Divided we Fall is already showing a substantial degree of repetition.
Well, that’s enough for one post Join me later for a few more dire prophecies of Biden’s America…