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Eerily similar? Donald Trump and The Dead Zone’s Greg Stillson

“The man is a clown. He goes charging around the speaking platform, like that at every rally […] He’s a clown, so what? […] So people want a giggle or two. Even more, they want to thumb their noses at a political establishment that doesn’t seem able to solve anything.”

 I’m sure you read that with a certain someone in mind. I think it’s an interesting quote, because it could quite easily be a comment from the early days of Donald Trump’s political campaign. What it actually is, though, is a line from a 1979 book by Stephen King – The Dead Zone. Everybody is leaping on the 1984 comparative bandwagon, but I think this text provides a far more interesting one.

Everybody is leaping on the 1984 comparative bandwagon but The Dead Zone makes a far more interesting comparison 

In case you’re unfamiliar, the book follows a man called John Smith. He is injured in an accident, and develops psychic abilities, enabling him to reveal things to a person after he touches them. He attends a rally for the presidential candidate Greg Stillson, and has a vision of President Stillson causing a nuclear conflict. Armed with this knowledge, he contemplates how to prevent Stillson’s presidency.

It’s nicely ironic that a book about seeing into the future should turn out to be quite so prescient. Stillson has a similar story to Trump – he is a salesman-turned-politician, and his eccentric stunts and anti-establishment rhetoric fires up the crowds and helps him amass a large following. However, Stillson is a nasty piece of work in a way Trump simply isn’t – in the first scene we meet him, he kicks a dog to death for biting him.

It’s nicely ironic that a book about seeing into the future should turn out to be quite so prescient

King writes that he had to write in this event so that we would be able to truly appreciate the black nature of the character – Stillson’s only reaction to this event is that it makes him realise he’s destined for big things. To be more precise, he realises that ‘his greatness was on the way.’ That’s thing with this character – he is not content with his current lot, and he dreams of a future in which he is on top. Where else did we see an obsession with the idea of greatness? Their character traits are not too alike per se, but their drive, powered by ambition and self-assurance, is eerily similar.

It’s when we get on the campaign trial that the similarities really pile up. Stillson makes himself into a strong political force in rallies where “excitement hummed through the crowd like a series of high-voltage electrical cables.” How does he excite his supporters? – by empathising with them about the existing political establishment! Fortunately, the first of his five main campaign points offers to deal with that – “THROW THE BUMS OUT.” Not too far away from “DRAIN THE SWAMP,” then.

Where else did we see an obsession with the idea of greatness?

How do the Democrats respond to Stillson? Well, their presidential candidates calls him “a practical joker who is trying to throw a monkey-wrench into the workings of the democratic process,” and likens him to a “cynical carnival pitchman.” At a Democratic fundraiser in November 2015, Trump was dismissed as a “carnival barker,” for exactly the same reasons. The media laughed about Stillson, his fans loyally supported him – although the foreshadowing is far from exact, the parallels are uncanny.

The novel ends with the idea that Stillson is out of the race: threatened by Smith’s rifle, he uses a child as a human shield, the implication being that this act destroys his political future. This is where the parallels end, for no act or statement has really caused people to turn their back on Trump. Whether this turns out to be a good thing or not remains to be seen but, for all the people who can’t believe Trump won, the warning has been around for a long time.

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