There’s something maddeningly vague about Donald Trump’s catchall campaign slogan, “Make America great again.”
Maybe it’s the blatant fallacy of “again,” alluding to imagined halcyon days. Or maybe it’s the lack of specificity of the word “great” — if you were to survey 10 Americans about what greatness looked like to them, you’d likely turn up a mish-mash of responses, and certainly nothing actionable.
Whatever the case, it seems sci-fi writer and unofficial Queen of the Galaxy Octavia Butler predicted the slogan a couple of decades ago. Nearly 20 years before Trump trademarked the term, she wrote about a character named Senator Andrew Steele Jarret, a harbinger for violence in her 1998 book Parable of the Talents.
You can see an excerpt outlining Jarret’s use of the phrase “make American great again” below:
As Fusion writes, Butler’s “crystal ball wasn’t entirely accurate; he didn’t have Trump’s red-orange hair.” But, her antagonist did run for office during a period of isolationism, religious intolerance and duress. Sound familiar?
Although The Donald trademarked his capacious slogan, it existed before him, as a few writers pointed out during his surreal rise. Appealing to those affected by inflation in the late ‘70s, Ronald Reagan ran on a platform of return to economic promise, printing “Make America great again” on buttons. But, the catchphrase didn’t gain the same kind of traction as it has today, proliferated on mantra-friendly Twitter and, of course, on some ostentatious hats.
After Reagan, a few pop culture avenues predicted that the phrase would be a favorite of a particularly noxious candidate. A 2013 entry in the “Metal Gear” video game series featured a CEO-turned-2020 Presidential candidate who at one point huffs, “The weak will be purged, and the strongest will thrive — free to live as they’ll see fit. They’ll make America great again!”
It’s not surprising that Butler, of all dystopian writers, predicted Trump’s campaign slogan to a T. She has a penchant for accurately determining the future — including her own, writing once on the back of a notebook that her books “will be read by millions of people. So be it! See to it!”
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She’s not the only writer to wield her pen against such a campaign, either. Earlier this year, over 450 writers, including Stephen King and Michael Chabon, signed a petition against Trump, declaring, “the history of dictatorship is the history of manipulation and division, demagoguery and lies.”
So, greatness, it would seem, is a highly interpretable concept.