Countless science fiction stories have asked the same question: What will America turn into next? The answers fall into three major categories, some more plausible than others. Take our poll to choose your favorite option.
Although the United States passionately feared a communist takeover, there is surprisingly little science fiction that imagines what the United States would be like under communism. During the Cold War, there were a lot of movies about communist spies and communist agents and communist invasions, but few stories tried to grapple with what the United States would look like in a long-term communist scenario. The propaganda movie Red Nightmare from 1962, with its grim portrait of small town commie USA, gestured at this idea a little bit. But it wasn't really until the 1980s with the miniseries Amerika that we saw a fully-fledged communist USA. The miniseries imagines what the United States would be like 10 years after the Soviets invade in the late 1980s. Hint: It's evil and must be stopped.
Two books from the 1990s offer slightly more plausible scenarios. In Maureen Mchugh's China Mountain Zhang, the United States suffers an economic collapse in the 21st century, followed by a revolution led by Chinese communists. China has become an economic superpower, while America founders through its own cultural revolution. And in the British short story collection Back In The USSA, Theodore Roosevelt is reelected as a progressive candidate in 1912, thus setting in motion a series of events that lead to a people's revolution in the United States in 1917. Russia, however, remains Czarist. It's a fun thought experiment for people who like to geek out about early 20th century American progressive politics.
Could it happen?
It's telling that Back In The USSA has to reach so far back in history to make its scenario plausible. And McHugh posits a future disaster. The point is that this scenario is an extreme deviation from the country's current trajectory. Sure, anything could happen – there are always black swans. But this possibility feels more like a thought experiment than a genuine possibility.
Americans have feared a fascist takeover perhaps as much as they have feared communism in the past. In fact, the two are often lumped together in political polemics. But in science fiction, Philip K Dick's early 1960s novel The Man In The High Castle set the standard for fantasies of a fascist takeover. In Dick's vision, FDR is assassinated early in his presidency, which results in a weak government that fails to pull the country out of the Depression. So the United States doesn't have the economic or industrial capacity to aid the Allies, Germany conquers Europe, Japan conquers the Pacific, and the United States is broken up and divided among its conquerors. Parts of the nation remain free, parts go to Germany, and most of the West Coast goes to Japan.
Other fantasies about a fascist United States also imagine the country as having broken up. Even the recent television show Jericho depicts (at one point in the series) a post-nuclear apocalypse in the U.S. resulting in its fragmentation into small, authoritarian regions. Obviously there are some alternate histories that imagine a unified United States going fascist, but the idea of a fragmented country falling prey to authoritarians is a common one.
Could it happen?
The United States has sometimes flirted with authoritarianism. Presidents like FDR and Richard Nixon consolidated so much power that many historians would call them proto-fascist. The fact that the United States does not have a parliamentary democracy often makes it appear to resemble nations whose leadership is confined to a small cadre. However, the country also has a history of correcting itself when power is too closely tied to one group. Term limits were set for presidents after FDR died, and the Watergate scandal destroyed Nixon's regime. The question is, would this self-correcting mechanism remain healthy if the country fragmented into smaller pieces? The Man In The High Castle, even after all these years, still makes a persuasive case that a divided America could become fascist.
Many cyberpunk stories are predicated on the idea that in the near future the United States will be ruled by corporations who are more powerful than governments. This is the premise in William Gibson's classic Neuromancer, Marge Piercy's post-cyberpunk He, She, and It, and is even an important idea in the TV show Fringe. Although a shell of the U.S. Government might remain intact in these scenarios, true power is held by multinationals. Neal Stephenson does a terrific job showing what this would be like in his novel The Diamond Age. Corporations create enclaves with their own cultural norms that function as city-states. (One such enclave adopts Victorian social values and fashions, for example.)
This situation leads to a scenario like feudalism because the corporations become like kingdoms, with an executive class serving as aristocrats and workers as serfs. The world is fragmented economically and culturally, but in many versions of this story the governments remain the same. Still, these governments are more ceremonial than anything else. The world is run by capitalists, not politicians.
Could it really happen?
As we see in the TV show Fringe, corporate feudalism seems as if it has already happened. Although the show is not set in the future, the corporation Massive Dynamic clearly has as much power as the government, if not more. Wealthy companies like Google and Microsoft have more money than many nations. If Google merged with Northrop Grumman and bought Blackwater, could they take over the U.S. Government? Sounds a helluva lot more plausible than a communist revolution.
Since we still live in a democratic society, go ahead and exercise your right to vote. Take our poll and tell the world what you think is going to happen to the U.S. Government.