Two works of fiction written in the last century, though published some three decades apart, foretold the same thing – the advent of Trumpism before there was any such thing. Matthew d’Ancona, a columnist for The Guardian, cannily notes what he calls the “unsettling relevance” of Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” to the Trump presidency. But more needs to be said about the congruity between fact and fiction, not only in the “tale,” but also in the novel - “1984.”

Under surveillance

As I see it, Atwood’s tale is George Orwell’s "1984" told by a woman.

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The converse also seems true: “1984” is “The Handmaid’s Tale” told by a man. Winston Smith and Offred, each novel’s lead character, rebel against the oppressive regimes of their governments.

Both authors saw the same boogieman coming, Donald Trump, without knowing his name. Winston knew him as Big Brother. Offred knew him as The Commander – each a distinction without a difference.

Back to the future

Given that Orwell predicted a dark future in 1949 and 36 years later Atwood predicted the same darkness, if the pattern holds, by 2020, published fiction will be our reality – a totalitarian, televangelist-style theocracy with Trump overseeing us all as both Orwell’s “Big Brother” and Atwood’s “Commander.” Winston is everyman and Offred is every woman pinned under constant surveillance. The technique of control is Nazi-like. I’m thinking of the Fuhrer ruling against creative thinking like this: “Theater, art, literature, cinema, press, posters, and window displays must be cleansed of all manifestations of our rotting world and placed in the service of a moral, political, and cultural idea.”

The big picture

But while all the elites in the future-worlds that Orwell and Atwood anticipated, are men demanding those they rule to live without volition, without work, or a love life of their own choosing, even without access to a single book, these novels seem less like feminist tracts and more like pleas against tyranny.

(Likely the patriarchal nature of these regimes is a vestige from the cultural history of the world). In any case, “1984” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” loom large as distillations of all that is wrong with the Trump era, rendering the nightmare believable. For example, few in either novel seem interested in doing the right thing. Instead, the goal is power. And because we know that our political leaders’ allegiance is to those who donate to their election campaign, the stories that Orwell and Atwood invented seem real.

In your face

One more thing: Have you noticed how Trump’s face is in near constant view? Isn’t that what Mao did in China in the ‘’60s and ‘70s when he managed the Cultural Revolution? As chairman of the Communist Party, Mao’s regime was a kind of personality cult pressed upon his people through a proliferation of giant blow-ups of him looking down on them, ruling their reality with the force of his charisma. Isn’t that what Trump is doing?