The office of the President of the United States is arguably the most powerful, influential position in the world at this time in history. That makes whoever holds that office a pretty easy target for the authors of fiction.

But should you pluck this low-hanging fruit?

I recently read a dystopian book in which a fictitious US President with bad hair, a dislike for immigrants, and a narcissistic personality turns into an insane dictator. Gee…that sounds awfully familiar, wouldn’t you say?

Now the book was good, and I enjoyed the story. Which is more than I can say for a book I read seven years ago that featured a fictitious president whose message of hope and change was a false promise, and he instead installed an Islamic dictatorship. Hm, I wonder if people have accused a real president of such intentions about the time that book was written?

In case you couldn’t tell, I am sick to death of book villains being not-so-subtle caricatures of the current President.

For one, it’s just lazy. At least in my opinion. As I said above, being the most influential person in the entire world makes this an easy target. Too easy. It’s so easy it’s almost like a form of plagiarism, the greatest sin in the writing world.

You’re creating your own world, your own universe. Just create your own dastardly president, too.

And for another thing, it’s never as subtle as you think it is. You may not even want it to be subtle, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand in fiction it’s ham-fisted messages beating me about the head. No one says you can’t include a social commentary in your books. But please, don’t insult our intelligence by bludgeoning us with the commentary.

So should you use whoever’s backside currently sits in the Oval Office as the villain in your book? Well, I can’t tell you what to do. But I’d advise authors to avoid this road. It’s just predictable. There’s a villainous president in Her Name Was Abby, and I can assure you he is not based on the current President. There’s no politics in my books, and I didn’t want a political message to override my intended messages about PTSD and the ways people cope with trauma.

What do you think? Do you use real presidents, or enjoy seeing them in the books you read? Let me know in the comments!

Published by Peter Martuneac

Marine, Boilermaker, husband and father. I'm here to share my thoughts on all things political or philosophical.

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6 Comments

  1. I had Calvin Coolidge appear in a failed novel that I later cannibalized into a series of short stories. President Coolidge smelled of cheap cigars and ignored dinner companions at White House dinners, intent on silently shoveling his food into his mouth as if someone were going to take it away from him. (Got this from a very obscure little bio of him hidden in the stacks on the top floor of Old Dominion University’s library.) Silent Cal didn’t make it into any of the cannibalized stories; he was incapable of advancing a plot.

    In a more recent story, the results of the 2016 presidential election prompted the parents of my main character, who had previously emmigrated to the US, to put their house up for sale and hightail it back to Quebec, lock, stock, and barrel. In this instance, the president did advance the plot.

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  2. I like hamfisted messages when such an approach is integral to whatever the writer is trying to convey, or if it’s comedic, but I get where you’re coming from. What I like to do is tell a straightforward story with optional layers that can either be peeled back and explored or left alone. I go extra subtle in those cases, more than my instinct tells me to, because it’s only important that I myself understand what I’m talking about. I don’t really care whether or not someone else picks up on it. In fact I obscure it as much as possible.

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  3. Completely agree here, Peter. It’s overdone, and Trump isn’t the only victim of this kind of thing. I’ve seen it done with just about every past president since I started paying attention; from Obama all the way back to Reagan. Marvel Comics had Reagan appear in Captain America when they decided to take away his shield and costume back in the late 1980s. Then there was Primary Colors and Bill Clinton. I didn’t even enjoy the Star Wars prequels because too much of the politics in it seemed to be a veiled commentary on the Bush administration.

    Authors have been sold this line of crap anymore that their work isn’t meaningful or valid unless it contains deep social and political commentary. They forget that people read fiction, watch TV, etc… to escape from our screwed up reality. Even then, you can do the social commentary & philosophy if it’s soft sold. What do I mean there? Look at Jyn from Rogue One vs Rey from the sequel trilogy. Both are strong, capable female leads. Rey is Mary Sue’d to the point of making all the other characters look inept while Jyn leads a team that depends on each other.

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