Meet President Julie
My nine-year-old daughter and I have a game we play during car rides where we pretend to host a radio talk show. I do the voices of Frank and Joe and sometimes Wanda–don’t ask. My daughter does the voice of Julie.
During the last campaign season, Julie ran for president against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and we had a lot of fun discussing various issues. After Election Day, Julie declared herself the winner and we’ve been rolling with it ever since.
One of President Julie’s first acts was to bury the Treasury Department underground and mark the spot with a giant X, because that’s what you do to keep your treasures safe.
Her most current infrastructure project is a subway system that will connect to every house in the country so that people can get to work or school without worrying about traffic.
President Julie has named Joe, her fellow talk show host, as her Ambassador to Mexico. To make sure Joe doesn’t mess up our foreign relations too badly, she’s built a structure called “White House Junior” next to the embassy so she can keep an eye on things. Julie is learning Spanish in school, so she not only has lots of good advice for Joe but can also help him with the lingo. In the interest of boosting morale among the embassy staff, President Julie recently moved both the embassy and White House Junior to a beach on the Mexican Riviera.
Julie’s administration is working out well so far, although Julie sometimes worries that being president of the United States will interfere with her other career as a rock star.
What Would President Julie Do?
As I listen to the political news from back in the real world, the question I find myself asking is, “What would President Julie do?”
To my ears, “Bury our most valuable building underground to keep it safe from pirates” makes about as much policy sense as “Build a wall to protect our proud nation of immigrants from the danger of…immigrants?” But then, as a spokesman for the Julie administration, I’m a little biased.
The second question I find myself asking is, “What does real politics have to do with the stories we share with our children?”
The answer I’ve come up with is a personal theory that politics is actually a genre of storytelling.
Politics as Story
Where many classic stories begin with “Once upon a time…” political stories begin with “Imagine a world…” This would make politics a sister genre to sci-fi, fantasy, alternate history, and horror, all under the banner of speculative fiction.
A wandering storyteller comes to town. He takes to the stage. An audience gathers to listen. The storyteller smiles to form a connection with his audience. He waves his arms and hands for emphasis and speaks in a calculated cadence, repeating key phrases to punctuate his story. “Imagine a world where all the solar farms have been torn down and your children are working in a coal mine! It will be so amazing. So amazing. So amazing.”
Being an effective storyteller means knowing your audience. This particular town’s economy was built by the coal industry, and all the third-generation coal miners and their families applaud and nod approvingly. By telling the story they want to hear, the storyteller has earned the equivalent of a five-star Amazon rating. He has earned their vote.
Then the wandering storyteller packs up his wares and moves on to the next town, over in farm country, where he tells that audience to imagine a world where international trade is negotiated by a real estate mogul. It will be so great. So great. So great.
With the right stories, told to the right people, in states with the right number of electoral votes, a good storyteller can rise all the way to the top, becoming our Storyteller-in-Chief, a title we should totally be using to describe the awesome responsibilities of the presidency.
Story as Power
Politics is storytelling because raw story is a form of raw power.
A single story from our president can start a war or prevent it, plunge the economy into a recession or save it.
One story can provide hope in a time of need and solace in a time of tragedy. Another can cultivate the hate and fear that make a bad situation a million times worse.
Nothing else has more power to reshape the world than a story. But politicians aren’t the only ones who can harness this power.
In the next town over from me is a boy, about the same age as President Julie, who is worried about his grandparents. The boy’s grandparents live in Iran, and the boy worries that he might never see them again, because a powerful storyteller has been telling a story in which people who share the same nationality and religion as the boy’s grandparents are scary and threatening.
So the boy tells his own story, true to life, in the honest voice of a child, based on his actual experience. In the boy’s story, his grandparents would only ever threaten to provide hugs, kisses, and home-baked cookies.
I like the boy’s story better, and so does President Julie.
Adding the boy’s story to our shelf of political stories can provide context for the entire political genre.
The Genres of Politics
The “Imagine a world…” opening that defines a political story is shorthand for the original version, “Imagine a world, exactly like our own, but in a realistic future where some practical government policy has changed…”
If a purportedly political story starts with a world that differs from ours in an important way, that’s not politics–that’s either alternate history if it describes world based on events that never happened, or fantasy if it’s based on events that never could.
If the story’s proposed policy relies on counterfactual or speculative science rather than the overwhelming consensus of prominent experts in the field, that’s also not politics–that’s science fiction.
And if the story is a warning against some evil that could occur if an alternate policy were to prevail, and is unrealistic to the point of invoking the supernatural, that is the very definition of horror.
Against Crossing the Genres
I write books in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. I enjoy movies and TV shows in the genres of horror and alternate reality. These stories can be great fun, but I hope you will join me in resisting any effort to represent them as the new politics-as-usual.
In the true genre of political stories, the most positive change will always come from stories that start with the world as it is and lead us through a practical and pragmatic plotline to a better place that our world can become.
Filling the genre of politics with more voices and their true stories, especially the stories of young people, is our best way to make the genre of politics stronger and more impactful.
And if we give our children a better connection to the broader world of story, they won’t be so easily fooled when a duplicitous storyteller comes to town and tries to slip fantasy and science fiction into the political genre in order to con them out of their votes.
Until we’ve shored up the integrity of our political genre, I’ll keep asking what President Julie would do, and, hopefully someday she will.
Greg R. Fishbone is the Groton-based author of the Galaxy Games series of sporty sci-fi novels from Tu Books and Spellbound River Press. He and his wife are the proud parents of two potential future Storytellers-in-Chief.
Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.