Literature / Joe Steele

"Stalin was a Democrat."
Janis Ian, "God & The FBI"

Joe Steele is an Alternate History Short Story by Harry Turtledove. It was published in Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian in 2003. Essentially it is the answer to the question: "What if Josef Stalin were born in the USA?" Why he'd run for President of course! Armed with his Four Year Plan, Joe Steele sets off to battle his chief political opponent Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Capitalist decadence that brought on the Depression, The US Supreme Court, Adolf Hitler, Trotsky, and the very notion of term limits.

Turtledove later expanded the short story into a novel, published in April 2015.

This story provides examples of:

  • Alternate History: Diverges at the point where Stalin's father isn't an alcoholic and stays with his family, whereupon they choose to emigrate to the US. Joe Steele is the 32nd President of the USA while FDR is assassinated by J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI is the Government Bureau of Investigation, WWII is not ended by the atomic bomb and a bloody invasion of Japan ensues, followed by a Japanese Civil War that mirrors the East vs West proxy wars of Korea and Vietnam with Trotsky as Lenin's successor.
  • Evil Power Vacuum: Shortly after being elected to his sixth term, Joe Steele dies and J. Edgar Hoover, The Hammer, and Steele's Vice President all scramble for control.
  • Full-Name Basis: Joe Steele is always Joe Steele.
  • Happy Ending Override: After Steele finally dies, John Nance Garner becomes president, who has Steele's closest cronies Reassigned to Antarctica , and things seem to be looking up... but Garner is successfully impeached, and with any other possible successors winding up dead, J. Edgar Hoover and the GBI take over.
  • Historical In-Joke: John Nance Garner is described as "not worth a pitcher of warm spit," which was a common Bowdlerisation of his description of the Vice Presidency: "not worth a bucket of warm piss."
  • Insistent Terminology: FDR is almost always Franklin D.—D for Delano—Roosevelt, to contrast his haughty "old money" image compared to Joe Steele's son of immigrants out of Fresno image.
  • Landslide Election: Hoover takes Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Joe Steele takes the country. In his subsequent terms, the landslides get even bigger.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: J. Edgar assassinates FDR by setting a fire. No one raises any alarm at a guy in a wheelchair being caught in the blaze.
  • New Era Speech: Joe Steele makes several, talking about plans for the country and his love for the people.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: "The Hammer" is a shadowy backroom political dealer who gets things done.
    • May be based on Molotov, whose name means "hammer".
    • In the expanded novel, "The Hammer" is the nickname of Vince Scriabin, a longtime Steele aide. Vyacheslav Skryabin was Molotov's birth name so the novel name seems to be an Americanization of it.
  • Oppressive States of America: Under Joe Steele and his series of Four Year Plans, people are rounded up into camps and forced into labor for massive public works projects.
  • Permanent Elected Official: Joe Steele dies shortly into his sixth term. Due to the time period, the 22nd Amendment is nowhere in sight.
  • Police Brutality: the people who don't quite agree with Joe Steele's way of doing things, "get it in the neck."
  • Secret Police: In this universe, the FBI has become the oppressive GBI.
  • Shout-Out: Joe Steele's attorney general Andy Wyszynski is famous for prosecuting Belva Gaertner, a Chicago jazz singer who shot her lover and got off through slick lawyering. They wrote a musical about it.
  • The Stoic: The Hammer, "he wouldn't say boo to a goose."