I've long thought it odd that so many Republicans have embraced Ayn Rand's novels as the bedrock of their policy and worldview. Atlas Shrugged is a work of fiction yet is required reading for today's fiscal conservatives. No one would posit Rand as a major literary figure. Her prose is wooden, her characters are one-dimensional, and her themes are anything but subtle. As a novelist, Rand is a D-list player. As a philosopher, however, she's a star to right-wing zealots (albeit only if they ignore her rants against religion, democracy, and altruism).
The thing is no one reads philosophy anymore. It's too complicated and forces one to ponder, parse, and ruminate. Fiction is easier. It tells a story. And if it's a story of mythic proportions, so much the better. Which brings us to Donald Trump and his suggestion that welcoming Syrian refugees "could be one of the great Trojan horses." Trump understands that fiction is far more powerful than fact. Fictional stories engage and endure. They can proselytize and indoctrinate in ways that quantitative and empirical data cannot. The efficacy of the corporate rumor mill and its "this is what I heard" building block is proof positive. No amount of official memoranda can spread information and sway minds faster and more effectively than the employee-driven grapevine. No one cares about nuance. All we want is the pithy sound bite, and pithy fiction always trumps verifiable fact.
Everyone knows the Trojan horse myth and no one wants to be similarly played for a fool. That's why Trump repeats it at every campaign stop and in every interview. It's also why the climate change deniers point to the Noah's Ark myth as proof that (1) the climate is always changing and (2) if the climate is indeed changing then it's God's will and humans can do nothing to stop it. The Old Testament stories of God's vengeance on nonbelievers are similarly used to explain that the recent spate of hurricanes, tsunami and earthquakes are punishment for the acceptance of gay marriage and the very existence of Planned Parenthood clinics. The GOP uses fiction and myth to sanction bigotry, spread fear, and foster hate.
All of this is reprehensibly repugnant but, in the spirit of turning lemons into lemonade, it also represents good news for writers of fiction. Novels can make a difference, and they don't have to be pedantic in tone to accomplish that. Uncle Tom's Cabin, written in 1852, is credited with fueling the abolitionist movement that culminated with the Civil War. George Orwell's 1984 has become idiomatic in describing the dangers of authoritarianism. Lord of the Flies cast a critical eye on issues of human nature and juxtaposed the respective needs of the individual versus the common good. Catcher in the Rye provided insight into the form and function of teenage angst that still resonates 65 years later. And most recently, Still Alice painted a terrifying picture of early-onset Alzheimer's and its effect on one's soul and family.
Fiction is often dismissed as a cheap form of escapism, but the GOP's almost universal disdain for factual information has created an environment where writers of fiction can entertain and educate at the same time. So instead of getting agitated when I see Carly Fiorina talking about the harvesting of fetal organs, Ted Cruz seemingly legitimizing government-takeover suspicions about the Jade Helm training exercise, Ben Carson declaring that the Holocaust might have been averted had the Jews possessed guns, and the Donald insisting he saw thousands of Jersey City Muslims celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center, I know that my fellow fiction writers and I have a bright future in front of us and an unprecedented opportunity to make a difference.