Alan Zendell, May 14, 2021
Dystopian futures fascinate us. Whether it’s an alien invasion, a zombie apocalypse or a nuclear holocaust, we are irresistibly drawn to tales describing how our country or our world might be destroyed. As early as 1897, H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds told us how Martians might appear in our skies and inexplicably but unstoppably destroy everything in their path. In 1938, Orson Welles moved the Martian attack from London to New Jersey and terrified the nation with a radio play. We really love that stuff; the story has made it into at least five film versions.
In 1932, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World showed how specialized genetic breeding could destroy us, and in 1949, the experience of autocrats like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin brought us George Orwell’s 1984, a reminder of how fragile democratic society is and how easily it might be overthrown. In 1957, Neville Shute horrified us with his story of nuclear war and radioactive fallout destroying humanity. In 1985, Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, told of a crisis resulting from environmental irresponsibility turning America into a religious dictatorship in a mere fifteen years, a future that’s no less terrifying because it makes no sense, whereas the 2014 film Interstellar realistically portrays a dying Earth becoming toxic to human life.
Those stories got our attention despite frequently failing to plausibly explain how we got from here to whatever dystopian future they proposed. The most chilling one I’ve read, because it offers a detailed, realistic timeline of events rooted in today’s world leading to total domination by China, was David Wingrove’s marvelously believable Chung Kuo novels of the 1990s. They’re relevant because Wingrove’s dystopia grew out of extreme nationalism, isolationism, and failure to recognize obvious, growing threats until it was too late – an apt metaphor for the direction Trumpism is taking us.
Donald Trump’s vision of the future is naïve and sophomoric. It focuses only on Donald Trump, not what America needs to remain viable. It trashes our alliances, is averse to confronting autocratic adversaries, and is tearing America apart from within.
Our republic was in serious jeopardy from rank partisanship and the fight to prevent a massive transfer of wealth to nonwhite Americans long before Trump was a political force. Before the formation of the Tea Party, the Republican Party was rooted in conservative principles and adherence to the Constitution. There were sharp ideological differences, but political leaders managed to disagree without losing sight of the real goal. Somehow, what was best for the country came first when it was most important.
But today, soulless politicians like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who like Trump, care only about their own political power, are an existential threat, supporting Trump’s alternate reality that ignores facts and in which recent history is rewritten daily. Former Trump Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had the chutzbah to tell a televised press conference that truth is whatever the victors say it is after the fact. The Republican Party has fallen down the Trump rabbit hole. Its recent actions may destroy not only the party but the ability of the government to function at all.
The passive protagonists of our dystopian fantasies were always unable to see impending disaster until it was upon them. Misguided Republicans led by McCarthy are likewise leading themselves and the rest of us down a path to ruin. One group of Republicans, however, has decided to fight back. More than 100 prominent former elected officials and the people behind the Lincoln Project that helped defeat Trump in 2020 created A Call For American Renewal. Its mission statement is simple:
[W]hen in our democratic republic, forces of conspiracy, division, and despotism arise, it is the patriotic duty of citizens to act collectively in defense of liberty and justice. We, therefore, declare our intent to catalyze an American renewal, and to either reimagine a party dedicated to our founding ideals or else hasten the creation of such an alternative.
They are committed to taking their party back from Trump, and failing that to form a third party based on conservative values, but one that is centrist and willing to negotiate, rather then being extreme and obstructionist. They understand that failure to act would be disastrous.
The American Renewal project would prefer to throw the Trumpers out of their party, a prospect that seems unlikely in the immediate future, but I believe it would be best for our future if they proceed with the creation of a powerful third party. Trumpism aside, there is no other way to break the partisan gridlock, which will surely destroy us one day. A third party will marginalize extremists and create a new platform for centrists and constitutional conservatives of conscience.
A viable third party will end Trump’s reign of terror in primary elections. More importantly, it will break the stalemate of extremists on both side of the aisle by creating a third side with whom both the right and left will have to negotiate to govern. Coalition governments have their own risks, but the rest of the world has shown that they work where gridlocked governments fail. Regardless of which side you’re on, politically, supporting the American Renewal is in everyone’s interest.