How Reading “Transmetropolitan” Can Prepare You for Donald Trump’s Unthinkable, Yet Possible Presidency
Posted by Joshua Rivera 4 months ago in Features
At the time that this was being written, the news came in: Donald Trump had officially won the support of the 1,237 delegates he needed to win the Republican Party presidential nomination at the GOP National Convention in Cleveland this July. All that remains now is the formality of those delegates actually voting for his nomination at the convention, so yeah: Our next president will either be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
This is fascinating considering Donald Trump is a reprehensible, racist, misogynist bully on par with a comic book supervillain. That’s not opinion, either; it’s fact. Just read the man’s Twitter feed. Listen to him talk. Or read Transmetropolitan, a cyberpunk satire by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson about a loathsome, misanthropic, gonzo reporter dragged back to a city he hates to wage a one-man war against a man who runs for—and wins—the presidency so he can use the power for his own gain, and snuff out the people and policies that stand in his way.
It is, in many ways, a guide for dealing with a Trump candidacy. Or, heaven forbid, a presidency.
Transmetropolitan was created in 1997, nearly twenty years ago. The world was a very different place, but Transmetropolitan was and remains prescient in its depiction of the coming flood of information and how it would change daily life. With endless feeds flowing directly into the brains of the inhabitants of The City (it’s never given a proper name), with direct access to not just a wealth of knowledge, but control over their very genome—distraction is how the public gets by. No entertainment or diversion is off-limits or taboo, you can mod your body to tolerate just about any kind of drug, and there are millions of ways to get off. Kinda like in L.A. Or New York. Or any American city, for that matter.
It’s the perfect environment for a monster to take control of democracy and bend it to his will. After all, monsters win when the people they want to rule are too busy doing other things.
Protagonist Spider Jerusalem is the bastard that wants to shake them awake. With journalism, mostly.
A Hunter S. Thompson-esque gonzo journalist with a raucous, violent devotion to The Truth, Jerusalem wallows in the filth of The City and tells the world what he sees, pointing his finger at the government responsible for it. When the utterly evil and morally bankrupt Gary Callahan stages a bid for presidency and wins it, Jerusalem then pivots, devoting his energy into bringing Callahan—whom he dubs “The Smiler”—down.
Transmetropolitan has had something of a moment of late, given its unfortunate relevance to our current political climate. That doesn’t feel quite right though, because despite it’s vicious, angry cynicism, there is a glimmer of hope running through it all, a silver lining in the filth: That telling the truth can and will bring justice to the world.
Then something funny happened: We realized people don’t really care about the truth.
Donald Trump’s candidacy is almost entirely founded on lies. Easily checked, provably false statements. And part of the reason why this works is because of the Internet, which has become a place where facts literally don’t matter, in increasingly frivolous ways, like the way this guy accidentally rewrote the history of the ‘90s cartoon Street Sharks.
This is one of the many areas in which the Internet cuts both ways: The same current that empowers truth and justice in the world gives equal credence to hoaxes and reinforces ignorance.
But maybe there’s a way to convince people that there’s an actual, unequivocal truth, a bulletproof one impervious to the lies of a power-hungry bigot. A disruptive and loud truth that cannot be ignored and makes itself heard above the bellowed rhetoric of a man who manipulates and preys on the fears of the masses to bolster his own rhetoric.
Transmetropolitan argues that it takes a bastard to beat a bastard, someone as radically and recklessly devoted to the truth as his targets are to their lies. I’m not sure we have that, at least, not anyone who engages with Trump in person, for the world to see. I don’t know if that’s the right way to handle Trump, but Oh My Warren Ellis, do I want to see it. See someone loudly and publicly grill Donald to his face about his tiny hands, to accost him with his own lies, make him squirm in his own skin with questions about his dick. To ask him to prove that he isn’t a cold, power-hungry bastard, and call him one until he does. Maybe it’s a bad idea. I’m no expert.
But it’s preferable to the way that Transmetropolitan ends: With a riot.