What If the 2016 Election Were Instead a Novel? Bruce K. Adler Politics & Economics, Society & Culture Weltanschauung Publishing, Inc. 11 High Road Way New York, New York 10001 Dear Mr. Adler: Thank you for your query letter and accompanying synopsis of your political novel–The Thumping of America. The title is intriguing, but after reading the synopsis we are sorry to say we would not be interested in publishing your work. Now normally we would have used our standard, pro forma rejection letter, but we saw an opportunity here for a teachable moment that we hope you will take in the spirit it is meant. There are several issues to take up, starting with the basic plot and then specific character or story points. Your two main characters are running to be elected President of the United States. One, a woman, has great political experience (with a husband who was president years ago). The other, a man, has had mixed success in real estate, but has recently gained fame as a pop culture entertainer in a reality TV show where he presents himself as the most successful businessman in the world. The former candidate comes across as competent and capable, while the latter candidate is impossible to take seriously and doubtless would, if elected, be the proverbial bull in the china shop. And sure enough, what any seasoned reader of fiction could see coming from miles off, the latter wins the election. Are you kidding!? Actually, we mean that in the double sense. You came up with the makings of a hilarious satire, but instead turned it into a serious drama, thus shunning the tried and true to flirt with chaos. Well, now you must pay the price. The only thing to do is hold your head high and toss your manuscript into the nearest recycling bin where its “misspent” pages may begin their journey to redemption. (Indeed, we went ahead and did that with your synopsis–to set the right example in this case–which is why we did not return it to you in your prepaid envelope. You will note the enclosed check reimbursing you for the net postage.) All that said, there is still so much more to say, and so we will now try our best to take your novel seriously as a “dramatic” work. The basic test for all good fiction is whether it allows the reader to engage in a “willing suspension of disbelief.” A reader cannot be moved to tears, to anger, to resolve, or share in whatever drama the characters are experiencing–thus caring about what happens to them–unless he or she “accepts” the story as real. Still, this “willingness” depends on how sensibly the story mirrors reality. Unfortunately, as we experienced firsthand, your novel would only succeed in trapping the unwary reader in a virtual prison of disbelief. Take, for prominent example, the two candidates with their respective character flaws. The woman is so closed-off and calculating she evokes the uncanny robotic, while the man is so extra-extroverted, not to mention amoral, he evokes the manic barbaric. Their humanity thus becomes the sort of caricature that can only exist in our strangest dreams or wildest fantasies. (Speaking of which–and we want to stress we are only asking, not in any way judging–are you on some kind of side-effect-prone medication?) Then there are the respective scandals. The woman has an “email problem” implicating national security; the man is a (former?) sexual boor and (lawful?) income tax evader. The FBI formally clears the woman of any criminal wrongdoing, while the man actually boasts the likelihood of his objectionable conduct. Consequently, the public condemns her and excuses him. Must we comment further on that? We pray you see the problem. That is all we will say. Then there are the behaviors of your other, second and third-tier, characters. You paint your FBI Director as smart, professional, and beyond reproach. You then place him in a situation where he is concerned that one of his agents may leak sensitive information, and so he decides he must act to–we are quoting from your synopsis here–“get out in front of it.” He then literally does, himself leaking the information first! Analogues flood the mind. A raging brush fire appears headed to engulf a house, so its owner quickly acts to set it afire himself. A bank’s security guard learns of a plot to rob the bank that day, so he immediately pulls out his gun to rob it first. A town is about to be overrun by brain-hungry zombies, so the townspeople . . . okay, you get our point. By becoming “the leak,” your Director only undermined his authority. Had he waited for the leak to occur, when it was also possible that one never would, he would have been in a position to control its effects, first condemning it and then downplaying its significance, thus diminishing its impact on the basis of his then still intact integrity. All the same, your real problem here was in failing to give any sensible account of the Director’s lapse in judgment. Human beings often do fall short of their best qualities. For example, if the Director had been abducted by Russian agents and then brainwashed to help one side win the election, that would explain matters nicely. (Not saying that would have made for the best plot twist, only that with a little more effort on your part readers–and oh dear, editors, too–would not curse the day they came into your novel’s orbit.) Of course you cannot ignore the all-powerful media in your story. But you cast them as no better than trained seals clapping and barking for each and every treat–well, tweet–thrown out to them by the one candidate. Meanwhile, political pundits are seen to grovel before the countless oracles of polling, cheerleading or bemoaning the apparent probable results. But in a twist of fate that defies “sure” mathematics as well as a lot of previously “proven” reputations (and that we again cannot help noting would be right at home in a brilliant satire) the opposite results obtain, dumbfounding the victorious and vanquished alike and casting them into an unreality beyond any reality TV show ever created. Oh, the humanity! Could you not also have thrown in a world-wide orgy or the distinct possibility of a civilization-ending asteroid strike to round out your rough-hewn state of nature? Seriously, if our reality ever “offered up” such a scenario, the only conclusion that any intelligent, sensible human being could reach would be that we and everything else around us are a simulation and are being “toyed with” by our simulators. Get real! But finally, you fall shortest of all in how you portray Americans as a whole. You should want to inspire in the reader a measure of empathy, the sentiment being the hope that all Americans will face this state of affairs with a “bearing up” that in time will yield a noble resolve. Instead, you reduce them to victims of social media with its herd mentality that shows no more judgment than what is required to decide which new Fall TV shows will be the most exciting to watch. So what is your–no doubt hapless–reader to feel or do now except shrug in resignation and murmur: “God help them.” Well, God help you! Time to consider non-fiction. Sincerely (really), Weltanschauung Publishing Featured image courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo.