Whether the apocalypse you envision is environmental catastrophe or a vigilante society in which it’s kill or be killed, this week’s midterm election provides an opportunity to either prevent or rush in all sorts of nightmare scenarios. Please enjoy this round-up of just some of the potential disasters awaiting us.
Rampant homelessness and housing scarcity
If a bad-future movie is set in a city, chances are it will include a scene in which scruffily-dressed urban refugees gather around a trash fire. Of course, this is a scene familiar to many right now.
Several American cities have swerved in and out of genuine homelessness crises, but in the Bay Area, there is the almost cartoonish disparity between the wealth of local tech companies and a large population of homeless people. So San Francisco citizens are voting on Proposition C, which would impose a tax of about .5 percent on companies with more than $50m in annual revenue — and use that money to fund homelessness services. The issue is also a point of debate in the California gubernatorial race, where the Democratic nominee — Gavin Newsom — has campaigned on how he handled the San Francisco’s homelessness problem as its mayor.
Fictional dramatizations that may help prepare you for the worst: A drastically inhospitable West Coast is the setting for both Octavia Butler’s Earthseed books and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had a two-part storyline (“Past Tense”) in which the repression of homeless people living in San Francisco’s “Sanctuary District” leads to riots, which leads to radical social change, which leads to the foundation of the post-scarcity United Federation of Planets.
In a sense, this is an issue in every race, as the Democratic and Republican parties have all but exactly divided along the line of whether climate change is an issue at all. What’s more, the Trump Administration has basically declared war on its own Environmental Protection Agency — so any congressional candidate that would support its continued evisceration would bring us all one step closer to The Day After Tomorrow.
But voters are weighing in on specific environmental issues as well. Alaskans will decide how the government evaluates industrial proposals that might impact salmon habitats. In Florida, lobbyists somehow succeeded in creating a ballot measure that asks citizens to decide both a ban on offshore drilling and a ban on workplace vaping at the same time. How wild is the political climate at the moment? Also in Florida, there is one race in which the Republican is attacking the Democrat for not being environmentalist enough.
Fictional dramatizations that may help prepare you for the worst: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz, Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, Snowpiercer, Sharknado.
Extreme vigilantism and violent repression
Criminal justice reforms and measures to empower police even further are both in front of voters this year. Most local issues have to do with making our justice system less punitive. Ohioans, for example, have a chance to make all drug possession offenses misdemeanors rather than felonies, as well make it more difficult to imprison people found guilty of those offenses (instead, the state will provide addiction treatment). In Louisiana, a ballot measure could end a slavery-era law that allowed convictions even without a unanimous jury verdict (it originally passed to make black jurors a non-factor in trials). On the other hand, Oregon voters are considering a measure that would repeal Oregon’s “sanctuary state” law — freeing police departments to coordinate with federal agencies in cracking down on illegal immigration.
Fictional dramatizations that may help prepare you for the worst: RoboCop, obviously. THX 1138 includes images meant to recall police beating up Vietnam War protesters. Watchmen and V for Vendetta. A little book named 1984.
White nationalist autocracy
The rise of a racist totalitarian state used to feel like a plot ripped from history — riffing off Nazi Germany, for instance — but seeing as how we have a proud, self-proclaimed “nationalist” in the White House, well, there are many reasons to worry that the past is prologue. People with specifically white nationalist connections are running for office across the country: In California, Holocaust-denier John Fitzgerald won enough votes in his congressional primary to advance to run against the sitting representative today. In Virginia, Corey Stewart is the Republican Senate nominee — he’s rubbed shoulders with American neo-Nazis and repeatedly defended the Confederacy. Kentucky has a state legislator nominee who’s bemoaned the lack of “champions” for “European or Caucasian Americans.” And in Missouri, state-level candidate Steve West has simply observed, “Hitler was right.” And that guy in the White House? He’s been complimenting his almost-entirely white audiences on their “good genes,” and warning Americans constantly about an “invasion” of refugees.
Fictional dramatizations that may help prepare you for the worst: Sadly, the racists themselves have been pretty prolific. A couple of books — Camp of the Saints and The Turner Diaries — have been tragically influential inspiring white nationalists to take violent action in the real world. But there’s also been plenty of narratives that offer critiques of white supremacy: Martin Delaney’s Blake, Or the Huts of America posits a successful rebellion of enslaved people prior to the Civil War — and happens to be the first novel published in America by a black man, in 1859.
Fast-forwarding a bit: Black Mirror’s “Black Museum” episode is a particularly brilliant and concise deconstruction of American racism. If you think we might be headed to a literal neo-Nazi regime, dive into the surprisingly extensive alternative history sub-genre that wonders, “What if Hitler won?” The Man in the High Castle might be the most familiar iteration — or maybe that’s The Plot Against America — but there are dozens of other books and films about the possibility. Jo Walton's Farthing adds a murder mystery to the narrative engine that includes an appeased Hitler and a diminished World War II — it is known as simply The Jewish War.
I will not at this point add to the already voluminous body of essays that contends we’re heading toward some version of The Handmaid’s Tale, but that is also very much in play.