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Civilization Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card May 9, 2013

Unlikely Events

This is the column where I predict how American democracy ends.

No, no, it's just a silly thought experiment! I'm not serious about this! Nobody can predict the future! It's just a game. The game of Unlikely Events.

It isn't my work as a writer of science fiction and fantasy that prepares me to write about unlikely events. My job in writing sci-fi is to make impossible events seem not just possible but likely. Inevitable.

That's because the reader enters a work of fiction knowing that it didn't happen. So the writer's made-up characters and events must seem truthful. We must pass the plausibility test.

History, now -- we expect history to be true, and therefore, instead of plausibility, we depend on evidence. While many participants in real events might be working as hard as possible to conceal the truth, the historian must ferret out whatever documents and testimony can lead us to discover what actually happened.

Historical lies have great persistence. There are still people who think that Winston Churchill "failed" at Gallipoli; who believe that Richard III murdered his nephews, though the only person with a motive to kill them was Henry Tudor; who believe that George W. Bush lied about WMDs in Iraq.

That's because politically useful lies are treasures, not to be easily given up by those who benefit from them.

Even when the facts are known, however, historians still argue endlessly over cause. Why did this or that event happen? No matter how much evidence you have, causality always recedes into the realm of wishful thinking -- historians assign weight to various causes according to their own systems of belief.

With fiction, on the other hand, causality is the one certain thing. We know that the events didn't happen and the people didn't exist, but when the author tells you why things happened, it is meaningless to argue about it. It's not as if you can provide evidence for a different view!

The place where fiction and history come together is in the absurd business of predicting the future.

Absurd, because predictors are inevitably wrong.

In predicting the future, we are bound by the same rules of plausibility that bind fiction writers, yet we must also respect the rules of evidence that bind historians.

The biggest problem with prediction is that there is almost always an underlying assumption of: "If present trends continue." But present trends never continue.

If the increase in bottled-water sales had continued to grow at the same rate shown in the 1980s, we would already be running out of fresh water. If birth rates had continued at baby boom rates, we'd already be at 500 million Americans (or more).

Present trends never continue. But when they'll end, and what will replace them, are the questions that lead almost all predictions to be absurdly wrong.

Nobody knew that Communism would fall in the Soviet Union, or that eastern Europe would win its freedom bloodlessly, after years of failed revolts.

(Actually, I was laughed at in the 1980s for publicly predicting the possibility of the fall of Soviet Communism, but I certainly didn't know the schedule or the means by which it would happen.)

Nobody predicted the collapse of Japan's "economic miracle." The dotcom boom became a bubble only after it popped. The crash in the housing market was completely, obviously predictable -- after it happened.

Yet this doesn't mean prediction is useless or meaningless. There were plenty of people who foretold the disaster that Hitler would bring to the world if he came to power in Germany, and those predictions were exactly fulfilled.

The only reason people were taken by surprise was that they simply refused to believe (a) what Hitler himself said he would do, and (b) the previous related examples from history.

So today we have a president whose faith in the good will of Muslim leaders is touching but groundless, whose threats and promises mean nothing, and whose ignorance of history is terrifying.

Iran and North Korea are led by dictators who don't care about the survival of their own people, and who have clearly announced their intentions. Yet our president sits on his hands.

Does it take any particular brains to predict that if Iran is not stopped, they will use nukes against Israel? Or that if someone stops them, it won't be Barack Obama?

North Korea is a different matter; the Kims don't care about their people, but they do care about their own continuation in absolute power. The Iranians, however, are ideologues. They believe that it doesn't matter if they achieve success by the world's standards, as long as they please God.

The real question is whether Obama would actually do anything in the event of a nuclear attack on Israel -- or on anybody. From Benghazi to Boston, his policy is to pretend that Muslims never do anything bad.

So he chums about with Islamist Turks, his "red line" on war crimes in Syria meant nothing, he is funding the Christian-killing Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and when our consulate in Benghazi was under attack and we had the means to stop it, he did absolutely nothing.

Predicting that Obama will continue to do nothing is easy and obvious. Like Neville Chamberlain, who went straight from optimism (Hitler will never start a war) to despair (we might as well make whatever peace with him we can get), Obama would certainly respond to a nuclear strike on Tel Aviv and Haifa with a call for negotiations and a complete abandonment of whatever part of Israel survived.

The only way he would go to war would be under the threat of rebellion from his own party in Congress, who would be destroyed in the next election if the U.S. did nothing.

On foreign policy, Obama is already the dumbest president in American history, and there's so much competition for that title. Only the fact that Al Gore, John Kerry, and Joe Biden were never president leaves him in sole possession of the crown.

But that brings me to a little thought experiment that seized my imagination a few weeks ago and won't go away.

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.

How far might he take his dictatorial disposition? Is there any plausible way for him to remain as president for life, like the dictators he so admires and envies in Russia, China, and the Muslim world?

At first glance, the idea is absurd. The U.S. military would never accept such a thing. Nor would the people. Nor would ...

But wait. Let's think about this. Is there any way that Barack Obama could remain president forever, the way Putin has held on to power in Russia?

In his years as president, the national media have never challenged Obama on anything. His lies and mistakes are unreported or quickly forgotten or explicitly denied; his critics are demonized.

It's hard to imagine how American press coverage would be different if Obama were a Hitler- or Stalin-style dictator, except of course that everyone at Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the Rhinoceros Times would be in jail. Or dead.

So as a science fiction writer and a student of history, allow me to spin a plausible scenario about how, like Augustus Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolph Hitler, and Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama could become lifetime dictator without any serious internal opposition.

Keep in mind that he already governs unconstitutionally, with czars and without a budget. He bullies his opponents, and ignores crimes by his own team. He treats Congress with contempt -- both Republicans and Democrats.

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. He despises ordinary people, is hostile to any religion that doesn't have Obama as its deity, and his contempt for the military is complete.

You'd think that such a man could not possibly remain in office past the Constitutional limit of two terms -- but I think the plan is already in place.

Look at how Hillary Clinton is being set up as the fall guy on Benghazi. Her lies under oath will destroy her in the run-up to the 2016 election, while the press will never hold Obama's feet to the fire.

This is because Michelle Obama is going to be Barack's Lurleen Wallace. Remember how George Wallace got around Alabama's ban on governors serving two terms in a row? He ran his wife for the office. Everyone knew Wallace would actually be pulling the strings, even though they denied it.

Michelle Obama will be Obama's designated "successor," and any Democrat who seriously opposes her will be destroyed in the media the way everyone who contested Obama's run for the Democratic nomination in 2008 was destroyed.

But the plan goes deeper than this. Barack Obama, like Hitler and the Iranian dictators, announced his plan, though the media (as with Hitler) has "forgotten" it.

Barack Obama needs to have a source of military power that is under his direct control. Like Hitler, he needs a powerful domestic army to terrify any opposition that might arise.

Obama called for a "national police force" in 2008, though he never gave a clue about why such a thing would be necessary. We have the National Guard. We have the armed forces. The FBI. The Secret Service. And all the local and state police forces.

The trouble is that all of these groups have long independent histories and none of them is reliably under Barack Obama's personal control. He needs Brown Shirts -- thugs who will do his bidding without any reference to law.

Obama will claim we need a national police force in order to fight terrorism and crime. The Boston bombing is a useful start, especially when combined with random shootings by crazy people.

Where will he get his "national police"? The NaPo will be recruited from "young out-of-work urban men" and it will be hailed as a cure for the economic malaise of the inner cities.

In other words, Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against Obama's enemies.

Instead of doing drive-by shootings in their own neighborhoods, these young thugs will do beatings and murders of people "trying to escape" -- people who all seem to be leaders and members of groups that oppose Obama.

Already the thugs who serve the far left agenda of Obama's team do systematic character assassination as a means of intimidating their opponents into silence. But physical beatings and "legal" disappearances will be even more effective -- as Hitler and Putin and many other dictators have demonstrated over and over.

All the abuses of the Patriot Act that Bush was accused of, but never actually did, will be the standard operating procedure of Obama's personal army, the NaPo.

But the media will cover all the actions of the NaPo as if it were merely a full-employment program for unemployed urban youth. Or if they finally wise up (maybe after a few reporters disappear), they'll be cowed into submission very quickly.

Meanwhile, Obama will use the NaPo to whip the U.S. military into shape. The armed forces are largely recruited from among the half of American society that doesn't vote for Barack Obama. So they will be relentlessly underfunded and disarmed; prominent generals who might become foci of resistance to Obama will be destroyed as Petraeus was.

As for gun control, it will hardly be necessary. Obama already has his program of ammunition control. Guns without bullets are decorative. And he will have armored cars for the NaPo, precisely so that right-wing militia types can't use snipers against them.

These are simple steps, but they have worked for every dictator ruthless enough to use them. Most people want only to be left alone; Obama will leave them alone as long as they shut up and do what they're told.

But it won't be just the NaPo. Once the government has firm control of health care, we'll find that the families of his opponents don't qualify for expensive medical care. Their children and parents will be medical-care hostages.

Once we get the clear idea that people or groups -- or even regions -- that oppose Obama simply don't get any medical care, it will rarely be necessary to send in the NaPo armored cars.

By the election of 2018, both parties will only field candidates approved by Obama's people. And since polling places will be supervised closely by the NaPo, people casting -- and counting -- the votes will know what is expected.

The Congress will become the rubber stamp that Obama already treats them like. There will be no more subpoenas. No more testifying before committees that sometimes ask hard questions.

The Supreme Court justices who might oppose him will retire, or suffer medical accidents, and be replaced by judges who think the Constitution means whatever politically correct opinion needs it to mean.

And if some brave congressmen or local governments try to oppose him, they will be put on trial on trumped-up charges -- to which they will usually plead guilty, in exchange for continuing medical care (or employment) for their families.

By the time Michelle has served her two terms, the Constitution will have been amended to allow Presidents to run for reelection forever. Obama will win by 98 percent every time. That's how it works in Nigeria and Zimbabwe; that's how it worked in Hitler's Germany.

And you can be sure that those unionized teachers who spewed venom and hatred in Wisconsin will be ready to brainwash America's children about the glories of Obama-style "freedom." Any teachers who don't follow the union program will be fired.

Almost all the mechanisms are already in place. It just takes a tweak here and there, and America is ready to be the country that is worthy of a Beloved Leader like Barack Obama.

All right, the game is over. We don't seriously think any such thing will happen.

But if we learn anything from history, it's this: Anything can happen. American democracy, already a pale shadow of what it once was, is only a couple of centuries old.

Like the Roman Republic, it will be easy for people to conclude that a Constitution written for a bunch of backwater provinces simply can't meet the needs of the World's Only Superpower.

The editorial writers at the New York Times and Washington Post are ready right now to talk warmly about "post-democratic America" and explain why it's about time we eliminated the ability of primitive Republicans, with their neanderthal reliance on "guns and religion," to obstruct the onward march of Enlightened government.

They already hate democracy. They already demonize anyone who opposes them, and believe that their opponents have no right to be heard, and that courts should force their program on the ignorant masses.

They are already fascists in their hearts. They love Barack Obama precisely because his arrogance is so emblematic of their own sense of superiority.

Hitler came to absolute power because the military and businessmen of Germany saw him as the one to put their opponents in their place.

That's how the American elites -- the educational establishment, the unions, the media -- already see Obama. Like Hitler's allies, they won't understand what a monster they've created until his power is so entrenched that he can turn it against them. And then it will be too late.

That's what history teaches us -- it can happen anywhere. And when the historians write about it after the fact, they will point out how obvious all the signs were from the start -- the way they write about Hitler now. Why did so many people go along with him?

Because his allies thought they could control him. They thought he would serve their goals. Obama has been put into power by idiots who think they control him even now. They think that because he's so phenomenally uneducated and lazy, they are smarter than he is. That he is their puppet.

But then, without such fools, history wouldn't be such interesting reading.

Will these things happen? Of course not. This was an experiment in fictional thinking.

But 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.

Just keep your head down, and you'll be OK. Unless your children repeat at school things you said in the privacy of your home. Unless an Obama crony wants your house or your job. Unless you tell the wrong joke to the wrong people. Unless you have already written or said dangerous things that will come back to get you shot trying to avoid arrest ...

Just kidding. Because if I really believed this stuff, would I actually write this essay?

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