If you’re an older Gen Xer like myself, you’ll probably remember the television miniseries V, from way back in 1983. That’s the one where friendly-seeming aliens suddenly arrive on Earth and start to integrate themselves into our societies (and governments), only to be revealed as inhuman lizard people who are here to steal our planet’s water supply and use humanity as cannon fodder in their galactic wars… and as food.
Summarized like that, it sounds utterly ridiculous, but the story was actually surprisingly effective… and effectively chilling. It was essentially Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here — which told of a fascist takeover of the United States — dressed up in the sci-fi trappings that were popular at the time. I was 14 when it aired, and it made a huge impression on me. I saw the parallels between the Visitors and the Nazis, and I completely bought into all of it, all except for one small detail: the minority population that the Visitors demonize and begin to persecute isn’t a particular human race — because of course to alien lizard people, humans are all the same, right? — but rather a human occupation. Scientists. Yes, scientists are the “Jews” of this story, the ones who are made to register with the authorities and who begin to “disappear.” I mean, it made sense in context, because it was scientists who presented the biggest threat to the Visitors as the ones most likely to figure out their dreadful secret and also to come up with a weapon to fight back against them. But when other humans started turning on scientists in favor of the alien invaders… I had a hard time swallowing that.
Mile-wide flying saucers that can hang in the air over major cities undisturbed? Phony skinsuits that can somehow conceal the decidedly inhuman contours of a reptilian face and look perfectly normal? Vast chambers filled with thousands of suspended animation capsules? Interspecies sex between a mammal-person and a lizard-person that results in a pregnancy? Hell, for that matter, a species advanced enough to create all of the preceding but who can’t figure out how to simply make water out of hydrogen and oxygen and instead have to cross six light-years to physically take it? I accepted all of that without question, because science fiction. But fascist leaders who manage to make people distrust and then eventually to hate scientists was unbelievable to me. Because I’ve always been interested in science and respected the people who figure it out, I guess. And I naively assumed that others did as well. Because… science! Science is a good thing, right? A necessary thing. How could you not trust or believe scientists, or want to support them?
Well, yesterday in the science-fictional year of 2020, Donald Trump, on the campaign trail in Nevada, told a group of his followers that if his opponent Joe Biden is elected, the country will be in big trouble because “he’ll listen to scientists.”
He’ll listen to scientists.
Try as I might, I can’t see the downside to that. But Trump’s people sure do. They’re the ones who keep resisting the common-sense health mandates to wear masks in public, because they can’t make the logical connection that a temporary inconvenience will end this fucking plague, or at least beat it back to the point that we could start to resume something resembling normal life instead of this accursed twilight existence we’ve been stumbling through since March. They’re the ones who don’t even believe there is a virus, or that it’s all that dangerous. Who think the numbers are overblown because doctors think they can get more funding for their hospitals if they show more patients with COVID-19. Who think it’s all just a hoax made up to make their president look bad. And there are a lot of these people, especially here in my home state of Utah.
Suddenly that musty old bit of event television from my youth seems much more plausible. And more relevant. And I have to tell you, that scares me to death. Because Sinclair Lewis — and Kenneth Johnson, the writer of V — were right. It can happen here.
Fifteen days to Election Day.