Comparing Donald Trump with the fictional president of an authoritarian state conjured up by SF writer Philip K. Dick. Listen to a short audiobook clip and see what resonates with you.
Radio Free Albemuth is a novel by P.K. Dick written in 1976, published posthumously in 1985. It’s not a final draft, and so has an improvisatory air that’s sometimes enjoyable, sometimes not.
Despite its flaws, there’s a lot to like; but I’m not reviewing the book here, or dealing with the totality of its plot and vision of America in the mid-70s, nor with Dick’s unique brand of gnosticism. My narrow purpose today is to compare a Philip K. Dick character — Ferris F. Fremont — with a Republican Party character — Donald J. Trump.
To lay the groundwork, I should nevertheless give a few minimal plot details. Radio Free Albemuth takes place in an alternate history where America has become an authoritarian state under the bootheel of president Ferris F. Fremont — sometimes described as a composite of Joseph R. McCarthy and Richard M. Nixon.
This is a dark period for America, but help has come in the form of VALIS — who in P.K. Dick’s iconography might be God, or might be an AI entity from a distant star. (But that doesn’t concern us here).
Groups supporting Fremont include FAP, or “Friends of the American People,” a right-wing populist group which spies and informs on citizens. Members of this group are called FAPers.
The rest is fairly self-explanatory, and the fun lies in tallying up the ways in which Trump resembles Fremont (and the ways he doesn’t).
Dick’s alternate history is dark, dystopian, paranoid, and conspiratorial. I’m not for a moment suggesting we live in that world, or that Donald Trump = Ferris Fremont. But as with books like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, asking tough questions about how our present day world compares with those fictional worlds is a great jumping off point for discussions among English and PolySci majors, or anybody else who gives a fig. 😉
So what’s the verdict? How close is Donald Trump to Ferris Fremont? And in what ways does our present world resemble the fictional world of Radio Free Albemuth?
For people who don’t actually listen to the excerpt, I should mention that P.K. Dick has an interesting answer to a perennial question:
Why should such disparate groups as the Soviet Union and the US intelligence community back the same man? I am no political theoretician, but Nicholas one time said, “They both like figureheads who are corrupt. So they can govern from behind. The Soviets and the fuzz, they’re all for shadow governments. They always will be, because basically each of them is the man with the gun. The pistol to the head.”
No one had put a pistol to Ferris Fremont’s head. He was the pistol itself, pointed at our head. Pointed at the people who had elected him. Behind him stood all the cops in the world, the left-wing cops in Russia, the right-wing cops in the United States. Cops are cops. There are only divisions of rank, into greater and lesser. The top cop is probably never seen.
Again, I’m not endorsing this ultra-paranoid (and somewhat simplistic) view, but it does suggest that authoritarianism is authoritarianism, whether left-wing or right-wing.
From another SF writer, Robert Heinlein, I learned the important distinction between bad and worse. The political situation in the US is bad at the moment, but things are far worse elsewhere. We are not yet living in a dictatorship. Still, it remains to be seen whether American democracy can survive the onslaught of billionaires funding covert psyops to shoe in their handpicked candidates, as with Cambridge Analytica.
Note 1: In case this isn’t obvious, much of the novel is written from a pacifist perspective. P.K. Dick is not advocating violence, but does reference the violence used by Ferris Fremont to ascend to power.
Note 2: Regular readers would know that I frequently write about peace studies and the need to create a more peaceful world. To discuss Dick’s dark, dystopian vision is obviously not to endorse it.
Note 3: The excerpt is read by Tom Weiner. I’ve searched for working commercial links to the full audiobook produced by Blackstone Audio, but it appears to be out-of-stock, possibly discontinued.
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
Quote of the Day
“The Constitution? We can dismember it for you wholesale…”
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