In the first Back to the Future film, Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, travels to the 1950s from 1985. The time machine – housed in a DeLorean sports car – breaks down, so he finds the man who will invent it, Doc Brown, and asks for help. But Doc Brown isn’t buying his story.
‘Tell me, future boy, Who’s president of the United States in 1985?’
‘The actor. Ha! Then who’s vice president? Jerry Lewis?’
This is one of the best jokes in the film. In 1985, a lot of people couldn’t understand how the star of Bedtime for Bonzo was now sitting in the Oval Office. Even Nixon – according to one biographer – had written off Reagan as ‘an amiable dimwit with no political future’. Reagan showed his critics. Will Trump? Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard tells Salon that before 2016 no one would have believed in a Trump presidency if they had read about it in a novel. It would have seemed like a ‘premature, unsophisticated type of science fiction’. The Age of Trump has not found a fictional chronicler equal to the task. But while Cockburn waits, he might read something from Donald Barr…
Donald Barr was father of the attorney general, William Barr. He had a long and varied career: OSS officer, headmaster, and also: novelist. His books warn against strongmen and authoritarian regimes…in outer space. His output was small: two books, both science fiction. One was called A Planet in Arms. ‘A bloody star war had left the tiny planet of Rohan seething with chaos. People swarmed in violent mobs and the government rocked with turmoil. And one man, Carl ap Rhys would stop at nothing to use the confusion to seize power for himself. Only two people could stop him, Citizen S Wells, the woman they called “the little bitch.” And her trusted agent Corander, the brute of a man who loved her.’
In his other book, Space Relations, Barr writes about the planet Kossr. There, the publisher’s blurb says: ‘Boredom and absolute power have driven the rulers to a special kind of madness…John Craig, a young space diplomat, is captured by interplanetary pirates and sold into slavery. Craig is auctioned off to the exquisite Lady Morgan Sidney, a beautiful, sensual woman. He soon makes his way from the hellish slave mines into her bed in the tower of her castle.’
President Trump is not known as a big reader but Space Relations sounds right up his street. Perhaps the attorney general could lend him a family copy?