Election Mania ’16, otherwise known as presidential convention season, is in the rearview mirror. In Cleveland and Philadelphia, our two major political parties gathered to officially choose their candidates for president, which means we’re finally in this election’s home stretch, and not a moment too soon. No matter your beliefs or affiliation, this has been one of the most unpredictable presidential campaigns in history. But as always, fiction has a lesson for us. You might think this election is madness, but trust us: it could be worse. (Or better, depending on your point of view.) Here are six fictional presidents who will make you feel a little better about our real-life prospects.
Richard Nixon, apprentice sorcerer, in Crooked, by Austin Grossman
Only Nixon could go to China, and as Grossman reveals in this startlingly inventive book, likewise only Nixon could defeat Lovecraftian horrors that hunger to consume the world. Grossman’s reinvention of Tricky Dick as the inheritor of a presidency imbued with magical powers—a man consistently distrusted and marginalized by the people who could have prepared him for the battles to comes—is thoroughly enjoyable. Most importantly, it offers up an idea of a president who has more than a veto up his or her sleeves. Cartainly a little black magic would be very welcome in today’s unsettled world.
Abraham Lincoln, vampire hunter, in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame
Similarly, Grahame’s vision of Abe Lincoln, the most iconic of American presidents, moonlighting as a merciless vampire hunter is satisfying for many reasons, chief among them the security implications. Action movies continuously imagine presidents with Bourne-level reflexes and Bondian smarts, but they pale in comparison to the general badassery Lincoln is revealed to possess is this twisted secret history. Seeing a candidate go ax-crazy on live television after a horde of undead bursts in to violently protest your party platform would certainly be a game-changing moment in American politics—and a much better reason to vote for someone than their snooze-worthy tax policy
Charles Lindbergh, fascist-in-chief, in The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth
Roth’s ambitious novel pivots from the once very real prospect of a President Lindbergh, a man whose heroism in aviation was balanced by the fascist leanings of his politics. Roth’s slow burn exploration of an America that turns isolationist instead of entering World War II on the side of the allies is tense, depressing, and instructive. Based in real-life events and statements, the story is a solid reminder that who we elect President will always be important, and as a lesson in the way celebrity and charm aren’t always a good gauge of the person underneath the mask.
Johnny Gentle, insane germophobe, in Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
Wallace’s intimidating novel is one of those books people lie about having read, or spend a lifetime aspiring to read “someday.” It’s good to remember that, under layers of postmodern technique and meta-textual references, this is a deeply silly, hilarious book. After all, in Wallace’s imagined future the President of the United States is Johnny Gentle, a former lounge singer applies his personal germophobia to the entire country by turning a huge swath of the Northeast into a toxic dumping ground for the rest of the country. While it might be hard to imagine someone securing the votes necessary for such a plan, Gentle is a towering example of what could happen if you accidentally elect an insane person to the most powerful post on the planet.
Zaphod Beeblebrox, useful idiot, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Beeblebrox, on the other hand, is a towering example of the good things that can come from electing a charming idiot. Presented as one of the coolest people in the universe, Beeblebrox celebrates his election as President of the Galaxy by stealing an advanced starship equipped with an Infinite Improbability Drive. His rise to power is slowly revealed (SPOILERS!) to be a distraction: the President of the Galaxy, we discover, is always a hand-picked moron intended to keep the public distracted so those with real power go about its business of running things (never mind that they are eventually revealed to be no less horrifyingly stupid). Whether or not you see parallels to our current election cycle is entirely up to you.
John Henry Eden, artificial intelligence-in-chief, in Fallout
Finally, let’s celebrate the ultimate fictional president, John Henry Eden, from the Fallout video game universe. An artificial intelligence that builds its personality from the combined records of all preceding commanders-in-chief (to the point where it eventually claims to have been “born” in Kentucky, like Lincoln), Eden drips jingoism and violent threats, and is absolutely the president a post-apocalypse America deserves. Someday, we too might have the chance to vote for a computer to lead the hopefully-still-free world (pro tip: if they list their party affiliation as “Skynet,” vote for any other candidate), but until that glorious day, we can content ourselves with playing Fallout after casting a vote for some boring human.