How A 1990s Science Fiction Television Series Predicted The Age of Trump
A Sci-Fi Series Light-Years Ahead
Decades before acclaimed space dramas Battlestar Galactica (2004) and The Expanse aired, a 1990s television series paved the way for grittier science fiction on television.
In 1994 the science fiction saga Babylon 5 debuted on television and would later go on to win over seven Emmy awards and two Hugo awards during its five-year run.
The series is the creation of writer and producer J. Michael Straczynski. He conceived the epic space opera set on the titular five-mile-long space station to be radically divergent in sensibility from other science fiction series of the era.
A couple of main traits set Babylon 5 apart from other science fiction shows contemporary at the time.
First, long before series like LOST or The Wire hit the airwaves, the show featured an extremely serialized format.
Events taking place in the narrative had lasting effects on the overall plot. It also had a definitive beginning, middle, and end.
It was a “televised novel” decades before the concept became a staple of prime-time American television.
Another factor that made Babylon 5 distinct was its depiction of the future.
In the 23rd century, humanity has access to advanced technology, such as faster-than-light travel. There are human settlements on Mars and other planets.
The earth and its colony worlds has become unified under a single governing body known as the Earth Alliance.
Humans gaining the capability of interstellar travel has led to contact with spacefaring alien civilizations.
However, many of the extraterrestrials encountered have had antagonistic dealings with each other. Skirmishes and violent conflicts between them are not uncommon.
Despite these technological achievements and having attained contact with other intelligent life in the galaxy, society still grapples with many of the same issues plaguing it today, including greed, war, poverty, cultural and religious intolerance, and xenophobia.
Before the events depicted in the show, Earth was engaged in a war and almost destroyed by the highly advanced Minbari race due to a misunderstanding at first contact.
In order to prevent a repeat of such a near-catastrophic event, the Earth Alliance conceives the Babylon Project.
Babylon 5 is a space station built to foster peace by serving as a hub for commerce and diplomacy between earth and the other alien powers in the galaxy.
Its mission fails.
Trumpism In The 23rd Century
In the third season of Babylon 5, the president of the Earth Alliance dies under very suspicious circumstances. His successor is President Morgan Clark, a demagogue who rises to power by stoking fear and suspicion towards alien beings.
Clark believes extraterrestrials want to take control of the earth away from humanity.
He embarks on a campaign of paranoid rhetoric, accusing his critics and detractors of being “alien sympathizers” and “traitors to humanity.”
He uses the power of his office to create a fascist-like group called the “Nightwatch” tasked with rooting out those opposed to his authoritarian policies. He places sycophants in positions of power throughout the government and military.
Even more chilling, Clark attacks the media and applies pressure on the planet’s news organization, InterStellar Network (ISN), to color his increasingly totalitarian regime in a more sympathetic light.
When the journalists at ISN attempt to report the truth about Clark’s fascist grab for power, he has the organization’s headquarters violently commandeered by the military.
He also dissolves the Senate and declares martial law throughout the Earth Alliance and its member colonies. When Mars rejects martial law, he orders the military to bomb the planet.
Clark soon drops all pretenses of being anything other than a xenophobic despot.
It takes the combined forces of Babylon 5, Earth Alliance military loyal to the people, and brave civilian groups opposed to Clark to end his reign of terror.
Remember, the scenes I just described were taken from the third season of a science fiction series that originally aired from 1994 to 1998.
this is how fascism is engulfing the United States right now.
It seems as though Straczynski was channeling Nostradamus when he wrote the subplot of a corrupt man who uses the rhetoric of fear and hatred to rise to the highest political office attainable.
When I first watched the third season of Babylon 5 unfold during its original airing, I thought this is a reflection of how fascism rose in Germany.
When I rewatched it a few days ago, it chilled me to think this is how fascism is engulfing the United States right now.
The similarities between Babylon 5’s fictional President Morgan Clark and President Donald Trump are unsettling.
Like President Clark, we have a sitting president who came to power under dubious circumstances. A man whose contempt for and adversarial relationship with the press is unprecedented. A man who blatantly disregards the constitutional boundaries of his office by issuing executive orders rooted in his racist and nationalist political agenda.
Resistance Is NOT Futile
Thankfully, Babylon 5’s President Clark saga ends on a hopeful note. Fascism meets its demise at the hands of those who refuse to remain silent and do nothing in the face of injustice.
Babylon 5 may have predicted the era of Trump over two decades ago, but it also depicted its demise, too, by the efforts of those with the will and courage to resist.
Now it is imperative for each of us to ensure, in this instance, that life accurately reflects art.
Rod Faulkner is a huge fan of sci-fi and fantasy. He is also the creator of the SFF short film guide 200 Best Online Sci-Fi Short Films.