After reading novelist and political commentator Orson Scott Card’s bizarre “thought experiment,” titled “Unlikely Events,” I really am quite mystified. In the article he plays a “game” in which he imagines President Obama becoming a fascist overlord ruling with an iron fist over America and being a figure akin to Hitler. Although he tries to reassure his readers that, of course, he doesn’t believe this stuff, and that he’s just wearing his hat as a “fiction” writer, yet he still also insists that “it sure sounds plausible, doesn’t it? Because, like a good fiction writer, I made sure this scenario fit the facts we already have — the way Obama already acts, the way his supporters act, and the way dictators have come to power in republics in the past.” He says that “the writer’s made-up characters and events must seem truthful. We must pass the plausibility test.”
But then Card shovels in comparisons to Hitler and every other dictator he can think of. When people start comparing their ideological rivals to Hitler, they have shown their refusal to speak with nuance and distinction. They have immediately lost the argument, in my mind. He then throws in a huge number of broad generalizations and hyperbolic statements such as this:
Obama is, by character and preference, a dictator. He hates the very idea of compromise; he demonizes his critics and despises even his own toadies in the liberal press. He circumvented Congress as soon as he got into office by appointing “czars” who didn’t need Senate approval. His own party hasn’t passed a budget ever in the Senate.
In other words, Obama already acts as if the Constitution were just for show. Like Augustus, he pretends to govern within its framework, but in fact he treats it with contempt.
Add on top of that blatantly racist statements like this:
Having been anointed from the start of his career because he was that magical combination — a black man who talks like a white man (that’s what they mean by calling him ‘articulate’ and a ‘great speaker’) — he has never had to work for a living, and he has never had to struggle to accomplish goals.
Never mind the racist assumptions thrown in there (Only white men are articulate?). Never mind that he is throwing around factual fallacies (Being a lawyer isn’t working for a living? Abraham Lincoln would be sorely disappointed to hear that. Winning the presidency isn’t struggling to accomplish a goal?). Never mind all of that, because it only gets worse.
He plays out this imaginary scenario, where Michelle Obama holds onto Barack Obama’s power for him by running for office herself (isn’t it a little sexist to assume that if Michelle Obama wanted to run for president, too, that she is simply an extension of her husband at that point?). Then he plays out the previously racist stereotypes (is it even accurate to call such outrageous caricatures stereotypes, since no reasonable person would recognize them?) even further by having Obama hire inner city gangs as his personal “brown shirt” SS police force.
Well, if I were grading OSC’s “plausibility test,” it would unfortunately get a failing grade. In their present context, these scenarios are not convincing to me in any degree, and are at times verging on the dishonest. I may not agree with everything President Obama has done, although there is a great deal or his presidency that I do appreciate. But I don’t gaze upon him with non-scrutinizing eyes. Still irrational tirades like this just sound like more of the fear mongering, overheated rhetoric and demagoguery that scared me away from the Republican party nearly a decade ago.
Now I grew up with some moderately conservative thinking in a moderately conservative household. When the Iraqi War was in full swing, I was supportive. I was firmly checked as GOP in the ballot box. But then I started watching Fox News– and that scared me straight.
After lapping up the paranoid rhetoric for a while, I was initially enjoying people like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. But then they really started straining themselves and I really got creeped out. Were these REALLY the people that I was supposed to listen to in my party? Were these supposed to be the best of our THINKERS? Because they were really starting to insult my intelligence with their obvious, manipulative tactics and demagoguery. After Sean Hannity spoke at my college and made some really elitist, classist jokes and comments, I was deeply offended and rebelled in my heart against the kinds flippant, insensitive, tone deaf jokes he made out of injustices. I was done then and there with taking that camp of commentators seriously in any degree (and these were even the days before Glen Beck took on the mantle of King Conservative).
I ran to the middle. I declared my political independence from either party, and even voted for President Obama twice, even above fellow Mormon Mitt Romney (although I admit it was a bit of an internal struggle on the second race. With the 2008 race, though, there was no way I was voting for McCain). These days I’m highly suspicious of both parties. Both arch conservatives and arch liberals view me with a wary eye, not sure if they can count on my loyalty. And it’s true. Neither of them can count on me. Once burned, twice shy. And as I’ve intermittently followed Card’s political commentary the past few years, I’ve been getting a very uncomfortable sense of déjà vu.
Now I’ve admired Card’s writing a lot over the last couple of decades, ever since I started reading his work in Junior High. Ender’s Game is a piece of art. I had some deeply spiritual experiences with his book Saints. I devoured his Homecoming saga, and adored the early novels in Alvinmaker series. Enchantment was simply gorgeous. Lost Boys was appropriately haunting. A lot of his later work, though, fell flat for me, with the riveting exception of the Ender’s Shadow follow up series to his initial success of the “Enderverse.” As he got older, I was becoming more disenchanted with Card’s later work, so much so that I haven’t even picked up his most recent novels. His later marriage to transparent prose took out a lot of the artistry and soul that I loved about his early work, and the nagging political commentary that he puts out constantly is beginning to intrude upon my admiration for his creative side.
So the question I keep asking myself is WHY? Why is he doing this to himself? What does it profit for a man gain the whole political world, if he loses his creative soul? Card is burning bridges right and left, he’s disenchanted a legion of previous fans, and he seems more concerned about keeping up this grumpy, cantankerous political image than any of his previous concern to inspire the hearts of youth and adults to thinking deeply about more intimate, more soulful, more personal questions that could be understood on a universal level.
Are his obviously purposeful overstatements and hyperbole meant to inspire us to think further on these subjects? Very possible, even likely. Having read his work with its many strong female characters (even when they all seem strong in similar ways, like his child geniuses are similar), and its condemnation of racism, he’s obviously not the racist misogynist that is portrayed in the article. There is something else going on here.
I had some one who’s a personal friend of Card’s tell me that Card once told him to be “outrageous,” that it “engaged” the audience and “made for a more entertaining presentation.” In this way, Card can be seen as a literary and political shock jock, not unlike Howard Stern. Card “states things in extreme terms to illicit discussion.” I suspect this sort of tactic is also at the root of the over the top moments put on by political rodeo clowns like Glen Beck.
So are these essays and articles of Card’s some sort of elaborate satire, not unlike “A Modest Proposal”? Yet, as my wife Anne pointed out to me, satire has the opposite intent of the written character, so such attempts don’t qualify as satire. Card may be purposely overblowing his points, but he obviously has a kernel of belief in there that is trying to manifest itself.
But here’s the thing: hyperbole, satire, or facilitating discussion… I don’t like to feel manipulated. I don’t want political TV personalities like Glen Beck, artists like Jon McNaughton, or this later version of Card to treat me like a puppet who just needs the right strings pulled.
One of the things I loved about Card’s earlier work is that he didn’t play to the lowest common denominator. Even the kids were geniuses in his books! And it was no accident that it was in Jr. High that I was first attracted to Ender’s Game. Here was a book that treated me like a sophisticated individual, young as I was. The kids in this book were much younger than I was, and yet here they were defending earth, and confronting morally complex questions. I despaired, however, over the years as his Alvinmaker series, which started as haunting, lyrically rich novels that I loved in my teen years, soon fell victim to Card’s new adherence to transparent prose that seemed to believe that I couldn’t handle poetry and sophistication in my diet.
As it is, Card seems to believe that genius only belongs to children, because once they grow up, he resorts to the crude tactics of shock and awe. I hope for the day when he returns back those intimate revelations of nuance that characterized his early work. I really don’t care what side of the political spectrum he falls on. But I do want to be engaged with more than a bag of cheap tricks. I want him to try to illicit more from me than a knee jerk reaction.
Note: In case you think I’m all anti-OSC now, also read my take on the controversy surrounding the planned boycott of the Ender’s Game film, “Malice Towards None: Orson Scott Card, Gay Marriage, and the Ender’s Game Controversy.” Part one can be found by clicking here, and part two by clicking here. Even when I disagree with Card, there’s no way I’m way I’m not supporting his best work coming to the big screen. We need more thinking movies by talented writers, even when those writers are making what some of us consider to be odd choices.