Created By: ayjazz on May 1, 2012 Last Edited By: ayjazz on February 10, 2013
Troped

Oppressive States Of America

The US has ceased to be a democracy in all but (usually) name.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope

Twenty Minutes into the Future, or perhaps an Alternate History gone wrong, the United States is no longer the shining beacon of democracy that it once was. Perhaps civil war and/or an invasion has put the country into a dictatorship out of necessity, corporate influence has undermined the democratic ideals the nation once held, a theocratic religious movement has taken control of the government, or democracy has been suspended in order to fight off external or internal threats, real and/or imagined. Whatever the reason, the nation is only a democracy in name only, or sometimes, not even that if the regime is painfully honest.

Expect to see FEMA, DHS agents, cops that are always clad in riot gear, or even the military patrolling the streets, haressing innocent citizens for arbitrary crimes or by the virtue of simply "being there." Civil rights have been suspended for the "greater good," and political dissidents are shipped off to concentration camps, never to be seen again.

A La Résistance of sorts will be featured usually, made up of fed-up citizens, and sometimes former military personnel that is following their oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Regardless, they'll be dismissed as terrorists by the American government, and will usually be used to justify the oppression.

How they are portrayed depends on the work. Some may have them as plucky heroes that still believe in idealistic American beliefs and are willing to die to restore them, whereas if the scale goes further towards cynicism, may have them portrayed as well meaning rebels that commit some atrocities to fight against the system, or even extremists that are not much better than the system they are fighting, such as Right Wing Militia Fanatics (which turned out to be Properly Paranoid after all).

In a political work that is left-leaning, expect to see this trope overlap with Eagle Land type 2. Right-leaning works will favor a Commie Land America.

Can overlap with Fallen States of America, if the nation has become a dictatorship as a result of the fallen status, or is one of the reasons behind it, although it is possible for the US to still be a superpower, or at least still be a "first-world nation". Divided States of America is also a possible trope as well, as the remaining US government may be trying to keep what is left of the nation together at any means possible. Invaded States of America can count too when the nation goes dictatorial to protect against the enemy, or if the invaded sections are under a restrictive foreign government.

Compare to Day of the Jackboot.

No Real Life Examples past the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Examples:

Comics
  • In Transmetropolitan the police are pretty corrupt and oppressive to begin with, carrying riot shields with SUBMIT printed on them and stomping of protestors' faces. When the Smiler takes over it gets worse, culminating in the City getting put under martial law.
  • In the What If? story of Captain America, the USA is turned to this because Cap awakened from the popsicle way later than expected. When Cap noticed what happened, he's ends up really furious and interrupts a parade done by his impostor and then chews out the whole country. And it awesomely works.
  • Superman: Red Son involves virtually the whole world becoming Communist thanks to Superman solving various economic problems. The US in an exception: its economy is on the verge of collapse and there is a mention of tanks in the streets of New York to suppress food riots. There's also a mention of a President Friedman.

Film

Literature
  • In Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here a fascist government gets voted into office and proceeds to turn the country into an oppressive dictatorship.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's novella "If This Goes On-", the U.S. has become a theocratic police state.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: The fascist, theocratic Republic of Gilead is (one of?) the USA's successor states.
  • In Allen Steele's Coyote, the United States has degenerated into the fascist and theocratic "United Republic of America" where intellectual dissidents are rounded up with their families and carted off to forced re-education camps.

Live-Action TV
  • Charmed's 6th season has Chris who comes back in time to help prevent an accident that causes Wyatt to lose all sense of morality and take control via magic - it's not clear whether this is actually just America or the whole world.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: A smaller example featured The Sanctuary Districts, sections of cities walled off that housed the poor and unemployed. While their intent was to aid them, they later degraded into interment camps.
  • The Sliders visited an alternate-history America in which J Edgar Hoover had become president, leading within a few decades to a totalitarian US in which the government was woefully underfunded, organised criminals ran the economy, and the police wore kilts.

Tabletop Games
  • The 80s action movie-inspired free game The Hard Way features an America much like the one from Escape from New York, with MICOM (Military-Industrial COMplex) and the Yuppies controlling everything, Manhattan being turned into a state penitentiary, political dissent being considered treason under the "Freedom Act," HOMSEC goons blackbagging people at night and sending them to FEMA camps, Chinese-Americans being interned because of the current war against China, survivalists, death cults and racial supremacists thriving outside the big cities; and everyone with slave wages, potato chips and TV sets -- basically a corporate-fascist America nightmare. All this in the backdrop of a three-way conflict between the US, the Chinese and the Soviet Union for the last remaining natural resources, with the rest of the world not being much better than America.
  • Prior to 2056, in the Shadowrun game-setting, elections in the UCAS had been conducted via a "remote-vote" system. That year, it was revealed that this voting system had been rigged to ensure a reelection; the incumbent administration was ousted, followed by an immediate Special Presidential Election in 2057 to restore legitimate democracy and avert this trope.

Western Animation
  • Justice League episode "A Better World" takes place in an Alternate Universe where the Justice League has become the tyrannical Justice Lords after the death of the Flash, and the subsequent murder of Lex Luthor. The Justice Lords appear to have an iron grip on everything, even going so far as to lobotomize their enemies, and keeping them in a place that is decidedly not a Cardboard Prison.

Video Games
  • Deus Ex: Freedoms have been curbed to fight off "excessive terrorism." After the Northwest war before the game starts, parts of the nation are still under martial law. As the world continues to go to shit, the nation goes under full-fledged martial law in order to control rising civil unrest.
  • The Infocom game A Mind Forever Voyaging shows the decline of the US from a democracy to a theocratic dictatorship over three decades. The player character is an AI who can see the future and must prevent the death of democracy.
  • Liberal Crime Squad begins with US either heading this way or already there (if you begin with nightmare mode on). The Conservatives are to blame, of course.
  • The Fallout series. Before the war, the United States government had become increasingly paranoid and militaristic in the face of the threat posed by China and the resource shortages. They also signed off on the amazingly inhumane "vault" experiments. After the war, the last remnants of the old government form the Enclave, a brutal paramilitary organization that's willing to cause the death of almost everyone in the world to achieve its goals.
  • Implied in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. One of Pravin Lal's quotes references a painful lesson about the importance of free flow of information learned by Americans in Earth's final century.
  • Homefront: Overlaps with Invaded States of America. Any area controlled by Korea is under military rule, where US citizens are killed left and right. Even before the war, the US wasn't doing so hot in terms of freedom, as it slipped into Fallen States of America territory.

Real Life
  • The Japanese Internment during World War II. 110,000 Japanese-American citizens were relocated to camps with little warning, only being able to take the clothes on their backs. Conditions in the camps were horrible, and many would commit suicide rather than suffer.
  • Being black during the era of segregation in the US.
  • Red Scare during the early to middle part of the 20th century. Holding differing opinions from the American mainstream could land you in alot of trouble. The most notable was Mc Carthyism, which was effectively witch hunts for suspected Communists. Those caught in the hunts, even if they weren't Communists, could have their lives destroyed.


Community Feedback Replies: 40
  • May 1, 2012
    elwoz
    Comic Books: Part of the backdrop, but not directly part of the plot, of The Invisibles.

    Movies: Escape From New York and its sequel.

    Literature: strongly implied in Illuminatus, and would naturally come up in any work of fiction where The Illuminati (or similar) are the ones REALLY running the country.
  • May 2, 2012
    robinjohnson
    Nitpick: "in all but name"? Where is "democracy" in the name?

    A Video Games example:
    • The Infocom game A Mind Forever Voyaging shows the decline of the US from a democracy to a theocratic dictatorship over three decades. The player character is an AI who can see the future and must prevent the death of democracy.
  • May 2, 2012
    robinjohnson
    • The Sliders visited an alternate-history America in which J Edgar Hoover had become president, leading within a few decades to a totalitarian US in which the government was woefully underfunded, organised criminals ran the economy, and the police wore kilts.
  • May 2, 2012
    Arivne
    Literature
    • Robert Heinlein's novella "Film
      • The Running Man. The U.S. has become intensely repressive, including (among other things) slaughtering people who are protesting not having enough food.

      Literature
      • In Robert Heinlein's novella "If This Goes On-", the U.S. has become a theocratic police state.
      • U.S.S.A.. A military coup turns the U.S. into a police state called the United Secure States of America.
  • May 2, 2012
    TwoGunAngel
    Moving this from Fallen States Of America, since IMHO, it fits this trope much better.

    Tabletop Games
    • The 80s action movie-inspired free game The Hard Way features an America much like the one from Escape From New York, with MICOM (Military-Industrial COMplex) and the Yuppies controlling everything, Manhattan being turned into a state penitentiary, political dissent being considered treason under the "Freedom Act," HOMSEC goons blackbagging people at night and sending them to FEMA camps, Chinese-Americans being interned because of the current war against China, survivalists, death cults and racial supremacists thriving outside the big cities; and everyone with slave wages, potato chips and TV sets -- basically a corporate-fascist America nightmare. All this in the backdrop of a three-way conflict between the US, the Chinese and the Soviet Union for the last remaining natural resources, with the rest of the world not being much better than America.
  • May 2, 2012
    TwoGunAngel
    Real Life
    • Both eras of the Red Scare in general were a bad time to hold progressive political views in America, due to the prevalent anti-communist hysteria that was going down.

    This was the only major Real Life example I could really name without going into controversial territory, to be honest.
  • May 2, 2012
    katiek
    Might want to avoid Real Life Examples. I can imagine a flame war over "Obamacare" being "worse than Hitler".
  • May 2, 2012
    TwoGunAngel
    Yeah, I'm pretty much in favor of No Real Life Examples as well.
  • May 2, 2012
    ayjazz
    I mean, there are some actual historical examples that could fit, and I would like to see in there. I don't want flame wars either, but I don't think many people will argue against Japanese intermittent camps, suspension of Habeas corpus in the Civil War, and Mc Carthyism.

    I love Real Life examples in TV tropes, interesting way to learn about the world.

    I think enough common sense will allow us to knock out modern day examples, which will probably be anything involving Bush or Obama.
  • May 2, 2012
    ayjazz
    @Two Gun Angel. Remember that it is possible for Fallen and Oppressive to overlap. it is possible for a weak US to go dictatorial because of its weakened status, or it fell because it went dictatorial.
  • May 2, 2012
    TheEvenPrime

    I'm in favor of No Real Life Examples, at least recent ones.
  • May 2, 2012
    ayjazz
    When I say in all but name, I mean that officially, on paper, the US is still a representative democracy, and the powers-that-be will claim this, but in reality, this is not the case.
  • May 2, 2012
    GuesssWho
    I have heard that most people outside the US think we're a plutocracy, but that might be Too Soon.
  • May 2, 2012
    elwoz
    As a sometime American history buff, the things that I think belong in the Real Life section are: slavery, the systematic dispossession and oppression of American Indians, the American Civil War, Prohibition, the internment of Japanese nationals during World War Two, and the various RedScares.

    There are a depressingly large number of less severe incidents of failing to live up to the nation's ideals (e.g. the Alien and Sedition acts, which get a lot of press in history textbooks, and certainly shouldn't have passed to begin with, but were never actually taken seriously), but we should probably keep it short.

    Wasn't there a "No Real Life Examples less than Xty years old" standard for this sort of thing? McCarthyism was 1954, that seems like a good cutoff for this one -- anything more recent hasn't had enough time go by for historical perspective.
  • May 2, 2012
    JackSlack
    I'm in favour of No Real Life Examples as well; that said, Bertram Gross argued that America had become this in 1980. So, y'know.
  • May 3, 2012
    TheHandle
    Yeah, No Real Life Examples! {forgive my vigilantism, but please don't bait flame}
  • May 3, 2012
    GuesssWho
    Maybe went overboard? Maybe?
  • May 3, 2012
    cathstuart
    The corporation-as-government or Mega Corp in Robo Cop.
  • May 4, 2012
    AwayLaughing
    Not sure if these fit entirely well, but here's a few.

    Western Animation

    • Justice League episode "A Better World" takes place in an Alternate Universe where the Justice League has become the tyrannical Justice Lords after the death of the Flash, and the subsequent murder of Lex Luthor. The Justice Lords appear to have an iron grip on everything, even going so far as to lobotomize their enemies, and keeping them in a place that is decidedly not a Cardboard Prison.

    Live Action TV

    • Charmed's 6th season has Chris who comes back in time to help prevent an accident that causes Wyatt to lose all sense of morality and take control via magic - it's not clear whether this is actually just America or the whole world.
  • May 7, 2012
    SharleeD
    • Prior to 2056, in the Shadowrun game-setting, elections in the UCAS had been conducted via a "remote-vote" system. That year, it was revealed that this voting system had been rigged to ensure a reelection; the incumbent administration was ousted, followed by an immediate Special Presidential Election in 2057 to restore legitimate democracy and avert this trope.
  • May 7, 2012
    elwoz
    ^ Is it really appropriate to call Shadowrun an aversion of this trope? It's the megacorps in charge regardless of who's President of the UCAS.
  • May 7, 2012
    mdulwich
    Superman Red Son involves virtually the whole world becoming Communist thanks to Superman solving various economic problems. The US in an exception: its economy is on the verge of collapse and there is a mention of tanks in the streets of New York to suppress food riots. There's also a mention of a President Friedman.
  • May 7, 2012
    KTera
  • May 7, 2012
    cygnavamp
  • May 10, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Literature

    • The Handmaids Tale: The fascist, theocratic Republic of Gilead is (one of?) the USA's successor states.
  • May 10, 2012
    Topazan
    • The Fallout series. Before the war, the United States government had become increasingly paranoid and militaristic in the face of the threat posed by China and the resource shortages. They also signed off on the amazingly inhumane "vault" experiments. After the war, the last remnants of the old government form the Enclave, a brutal paramilitary organization that's willing to cause the death of almost everyone in the world to achieve its goals.

    • Implied in Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri. One of Pravin Lal's quotes references a painful lesson about the importance of free flow of information learned by Americans in Earth's final century.
  • May 10, 2012
    Gabel
  • May 22, 2012
    NimmerStill
    I don't remember how to find it, but there was a short released one 4th of July about an American family that had been in Australia for vacation, and when they get back it has turned into a fascist state where women have no rights and have engaged in a civil war.
  • May 22, 2012
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
  • May 22, 2012
    ChrisX
    • In the What If story of Captain America, the USA is turned to this because Cap awakened from the popsicle way later than expected. When Cap noticed what happened, he's ends up really furious and interrupts a parade done by his impostor and then chews out the whole country. And it awesomely works.
  • May 22, 2012
    ayjazz
    I still feel like that Real Life should be given another chance, the rule being that any example set after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s will be zapped on sight. Most people will agree that segregation wasn't a shining moment of freedom for America, and there are other historical examples that will work well here; Mc Carthyism, Japanese internment, martial law during the Civil War and during labor strikes. The list goes on.
  • May 22, 2012
    zarpaulus
    • In Transmetropolitan the police are pretty corrupt and oppressive to begin with, carrying riot shields with SUBMIT printed on them and stomping of protestors' faces. When the Smiler takes over it gets worse, culminating in the City getting put under martial law.
  • May 23, 2012
    SonofRojBlake
    Just one comment on the discussion of real life examples: the USA interned the mostly-US-citizen Japanese-Americans. As in, forcibly relocated them to secure camp, in order (you might say) to concentrate them all in one area. So that's "internment". It was continuous. It was not intermittent. They were locked away all the time.

    Sorry. In summary intermittent <> internment. Sorry again.
  • May 23, 2012
    ayjazz
    @Sonof Roj Blake yeah...that's me using the wrong word out of haste. Thanks for pointing that out. Purty embarrassing.
  • May 23, 2012
    TBeholder
    even omitting the obvious jokes - your definitions flow around. Is it "ceased to be a democracy", "became oppressive" or "no longer the shining beacon"? It's three different things.
  • May 23, 2012
    ayjazz
    I guess the definition example is a little too broad. The most typical example of this trope being played straight would be the US under a dictatorship, rather than a representative democracy.

    Since this would vary from work to work, you may have a US that still is a democracy in some ways, but not as it is in the real world, such as a suspended Bill of Rights, but still have say, elections (although they could be sham elections), government that favors corporate wishes over citizen wishes, or a theocratic US government
  • May 23, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Literature: In Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here a facist government gets voted into office and proceeds to turn the country into an oppressive dictatorship.
  • May 23, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Literature:

    • In Allen Steele's Coyote, the United States has degenerated into the fascist and theocratic "United Republic of America" where intellectual dissidents are rounded up with their families and carted off to forced re-education camps.
  • February 10, 2013
    SeptimusHeap
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=bc392trvd3p7ftlmp47mlwpx