More prescience

Yesterday I reported how Jon Haidt found a letter written by a federal judge in 1969 that accurately predicted a lot of the agitation on American college campuses today. Reader Sue then sent an email describing a 20-year-old novel she’s reading that seems nearly as prescient. Her words, reproduced with permission (I added the link):

Have just been reading your post about the prescient letter from 1969 about what would happen on campuses today, and thought you might like to know about this:

I am reading a book titled Titan, written in 1997 by Stephen Baxter.  It’s a sci-fi story about astronauts who go to Titan.

A man called Maclachlan is elected US president in 2008 and this is how he and his presidency are described:

“Maclachlan was inaugurated in 2008 after his wafer-thin win in the 2008 election. Maclachlan called it a ‘liberation of the capital’.

Armed militia bands came in from Idaho and Arizona and Oklahoma and Montana, to fire off black–powder salutes to the nationalist-populist who promised to repeal all gun laws.

In the crowd there were a couple of Ku Kux Klan costumes, a sight thought to have gone into an unholy past.

There was a rumour that a former Klan leader was being made ready to become a future White House chief of staff.

And in his speech Maclahlan appealed to the people to end what he called the ‘Israeli occupation of  Congress’… And so on.

As soon as Maclachlan lifted his hand from the Bible, US peace-keeping troops in the Balkans and Africa started to board their planes to leave. Foreign aid stopped.  The UN was being thrown out of New York, and there was a rumour that Maclachlan was planning some military adventure to take back the canal from Panama.

Army engineers – set in place during the handover from the last administration – started to build a wall, two thousand miles of it, along the Mexican border, to exclude illegal immigration.  While it was being built, troops brought home from peace-keeping abroad were operating a shoot-to-kill policy.

There was chaos in the financial markets.  Maclachlan had withdrawn the US from the North Americal Free Trade treaty, from the World Trade Organisation, from GATT.  Reviews of the country’s membership of the World Bank and the IMF had started – arms of an incipent world government, Maclachlan said, designed to let in the Russians.

He had raised tariffs – ten percent against Japan, fifty percent agains the Chinese – and world trade collapsed. The Chinese, particularly, screamed. And so Maclachlan sent the Seventh Fleet to a new station off the coast of Taiwan.

Meanwhile, all the strategic arms treaties with Russia were torn up, as Maclachlan ordered his technicians to dig out the blueprints for Reagan’s old dream of Stragetic Defence Initiative.  In fact, Maclachlan wanted to go further.  He was inviting ideas for what he called his ‘da Vinci’ brains trust’.

And back home, Maclachlan had cut off any remaining programs which benefited blacks and other minorities, and any funding that appeared to support abortion, which had been made illegal in any form.”

Some years later…

“…the irony was, science was making a certain comeback.  The environmental problems were becoming so pressing and complex that Maclachlan had reopened some of the university science labs and departments he’d ordered shut down. It was the plankton crash in the oceans that seemed to be scaring the scientists most.”

Well, it’s not 100% accurate, but it’s pretty damn good!


  1. GBJames
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 8:22 am | Permalink


  2. Posted November 28, 2017 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Jerry really? Accurate?

    • tony walters
      Posted November 28, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      At least as accurate as that prescient work that is constantly under attack by the regressive left: Atlas Shrugged.

      • Posted November 28, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        Oh man. That’s funny.

  3. Posted November 28, 2017 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    PS: I’m not a Trumpian..

    • John Taylor
      Posted November 28, 2017 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      Sounds like what Trump would do if he could. Pull out of trade deals?
      Check. Build a wall. Check. Klansmen showing up at rallies? Are Nazis close enough? I’ll give that one a check. A few other checks as well. Given this is a science fiction novel from long ago I think it is eerily close to what Trump would like to achieve. Fortunately implementing all of this is difficult in practice

      • darrelle
        Posted November 28, 2017 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        Difficult in practice and devastating if all of that were actually implemented. I don’t think the US would last long as anything recognizable as the US of even today, or capable resource-wise of doing some of the things in the story.

  4. Phil
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s so prescient. Those attitudes were already brewing in the Clinton era. They were subdued for a while during the Bush administration, and they came roaring back when the black guy got elected.

    • Posted November 28, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Baxter modeled Xavier Maclachlan on Pat Buchanan who ran for the Republican nomination in 1992. And Trump just stole Buchanan’s playbook.

      • BJ
        Posted November 28, 2017 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        “And Trump just stole Buchanan’s playbook.”


  5. nwalsh
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    And of course Buffoon is close to tearing up NAFTA, alienating both Canada and Mexico.But hey, the markets are strong.

  6. bric
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I came across this re-reading Catch 22 recently

    Captain Black knew he was a subversive because he wore eyeglasses and used words like panacea and utopia, and because he disapproved of Adolf Hitler, who had done such a great job of combating un-American activities in Germany.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Seems Stephen Baxter may have had in mind Pat Buchanan — he of the infamous Kulturkampf speech at the 1992 RNC and the wisecrack about congress being “Israeli-occupied territory.”

    In several ways, Buchanan can be seen as a smarter, funnier, less-oafish forerunner for Donald Trump.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 28, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Trump and Buchanan both espouse a similar reactionary, isolationist xenophobia. The difference is, Buchanan actually believes that crap, as opposed to Trump, for whom it is merely political branding. Also, unlike Trump, Buchanan has the policy chops to discuss his crazy ideas intelligently.

  8. Posted November 28, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    No relation.

    • Posted November 28, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Are you sure? Maclachlan (and Trump) seem to have “haggis for brains.” 😀

  9. Posted November 28, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I suspect Douglas Adams might be closer to the truth:

    The President is very much a figurehead – he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this reason the President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it.

    On those criteria Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of the most successful Presidents the Galaxy has ever had. He spent two of his ten Presidential years in prison for fraud. Very very few people realize that the President and the Government have virtually no power at all, and of these very few people only six know whence ultimate political power is wielded. Most of the others secretly believe that the ultimate decision-making process is handled by a computer. They couldn’t be more wrong.

    • DW
      Posted November 28, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been saying it since he first was seriously in the Republican primaries: Trump is the closest we’re likely to ever get to having Zaphod Beeblebrox as president.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 28, 2017 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        Yeah but Zaphod was much more fun.


    • grasshopper
      Posted November 28, 2017 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      Not really related to your post, except for Douglas Adams. And Titan.
      A favourite book of mine is a novel by Kurt Vonnegut Jr, “The Sirens Of Titan”.

      In a 1979 interview released in 2007, Douglas Adams discussed Vonnegut as an influence on The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:[18]

      “Sirens of Titan is just one of those books – you read it through the first time and you think it’s very loosely, casually written. You think the fact that everything suddenly makes such good sense at the end is almost accidental. And then you read it a few more times, simultaneously finding out more about writing yourself, and you realize what an absolute tour de force it was, making something as beautifully honed as that appear so casual.”

      The Sirens of Titan largely deals with questions of free will, with multiple characters being stripped of it and the revelation that humanity had been secretly manipulated for millennia for an inane purpose playing major roles in the story. Free will and the lack thereof became major themes in Vonnegut’s later novels, especially Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) and Breakfast of Champions (1972).[1] More broadly speaking, lack of agency has been a hallmark of Vonnegut’s novels, with the protagonists struggling against forces they can never overcome and often can’t comprehend. None of the characters in The Sirens of Titan have chosen to be in their position, but are driven by forces and wills beside their own, and can do no more than try to make the best of it. At the end of the book Constant concluded, “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

      Quotes are from the wikipedia article

  10. Posted November 28, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    McLachlan actually got a lot accomplished. No mention of golfing or 3 a.m., coke-inspired tweets.

  11. DW
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    You really think this is accurate? Trump has done precisely zero of those things. He’s talked about a wall, but I don’t see one. He might eventually get one, I don’t know. He’s talked about changing some trade deals, but that’s a far cry from 50% tariff on China, Army troops on the border with “shoot to kill” orders, and kicking the UN out of New York.

    And the president can’t order the shutdown of university science labs or half the other things mentioned. What kind of bizarre stupid writing is this?

    Nevermind that many of those things that are written with such breathless scaremongering would actually have very little effect on the real world. If the UN moved its headquarters from New York to Geneva, would that matter? Heck, the UN in general is specifically designed to be ineffectual, anyway. It’s a nice way to grease the wheels of diplomacy, but many people seem to have very odd emotional connections to it.

    And wouldn’t pulling US Troops out from meddling across the world be a good thing?

  12. Yoly
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Wow that’s crazy

  13. Posted November 29, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    The wall may not have been built yet but a number of prototypes are present for consideration right now in Southern California. Such a stupid idea when drug runners and coyotes tunnel under, haul people and drugs through in long-haul trucks, take boats around by sea or ocean, or send drugs over by drone. What’s this I read about the cartels becoming much more active in Texas? Where there’s a will…

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