Trump as Baron Harkonnen
Donald Trump is an easy stand in for the Baron Harkonnen, the floating antagonist a manipulator whose weeping pustules can be read as a metaphor for hate: his xenophobia, his misogyny, his racism. House Harkonnen, you can almost see it in gold letters on the buildings of Planet Arrakis as the they evacuate at the Emperor’s orders. His young nephews amplify his evil, servants to his vision. They are at war with House Atreides: Duke Leto, Lady Jessica and their son Paul.
Clinton has no easy metaphor in the Dune mythos, but one thing Herbert did well was women in power. While even now I am uncertain if his texts pass the Bechdel test, he did give a generation of sci-fi fans, fatigued by the lone Princess of Star Wars, a universe of effective female political agents and warriors. Chani is a proud Fremen accustomed to battle. Shadout Mapes is easily heroic as a housekeeper. The Bene Gesserit crafted political strategies over centuries using careful calculations, religion and statecraft. Alia manages to be a terrifying wielder of power as a small girl. The Emperor’s daughter is a key historian. Lady Jessica defies even the Bene Gesserit, she is an active subject in her own story.
Clinton is no Lady Jessica, but she is the Lady of a dynasty as Jessica was. House Atreides is painted as the protagonist, although as you continue into the later books a mutant worm grandchild that becomes a dictator for going on 10,000 years is hardly a happy ending. But the secret eventually revealed is that she and her savior son, Paul, are Harkonnen as well owing to a secret love affair in their bloodline. We’ve all seen the pictures of the Trumps and the Clintons, in friendly poses at weddings and other events. These figureheads of the two Houses are in pitched battle, but they are related as well, if not by blood by some shared radius of power. And dynasties seem to be increasing in our political landscape; the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Clintons. The half serious requests that Michelle Obama run for President extend this trajectory.
In the end it is the people of Arrakis that we should be concerned with. Muad’Dib, the Fremen name given to Paul Atreides, is written as a messianic savior of Fremen myth by Frank Herbert. Dune is a great text, often lauded as the greatest science fiction of all time, but at its core is the standard White Savior Trope. The relationship between the Fremen and the outside world is written problematically, and one wonders if the happy ending would be a planet Arrakis with no Empire, no Guild Navigators dropping off the rulers from each House in their haze of Spice. The miraculous rain at the end of Dune is lauded as an Act of God enabled by the messianic Kwisatz Haderach embodied in Paul Atreides. What is less clear in Lynch’s much-loved but objectively difficult film is that the Fremen “prophecy” is actually a myth deliberately planted by the Bene Gesserit and the water was already on it’s way due to generations of Fremen work on terraforming Arrakis. This last point is critical. The Fremen neither needed the Atreides to complete their ecological transformation of their homeward, nor did they actually imagine an outsider would come to do this task.
Much is made of the Spice trade in the Dune mythos as a metaphor for oil, and certainly the wars that have transpired since Herbert wrote his novel bore out his vision. But I wonder if the quiet plot of the terraforming Fremen is the overlooked point. The Houses may come and go, and a House built of hate will be a nearly unbearable ordeal, but the accumulated labor of individual work towards a greener future may ultimately be just as powerful.