Oppressive States of America
"If this were a dictatorship, things would be a heck of a lot easier...just so long as I'm the dictator."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, 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, harassing innocent citizens for arbitrary crimes or by virtue of simply "being there." Civil rights have been suspended for the "greater good," and political dissidents are shipped off to concentration camps or made to "quietly disappear", never to be seen again. A La Résistance of sorts will be featured usually, made up of fed-up citizens, and sometimes former or dissenting military or police personnel that are 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 Right Wing Militia Fanatics (who turned out to be Properly Paranoid after all) who are little better than the system they are fighting. In a political work that is left-leaning, expect to see this trope overlap with The Boorish version of Eagleland, an America where separation of church and state no longer exists and in which the government is in the pockets of crooked businessmen and warmongers. Right-leaning works will favor a Commie Land America, with shades of either old-style Stalinism or '60s radicalism depending on the period the work came from. Libertarian works will often take elements of both of these portrayals. 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 by 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. Needless to say, many ideologues and conspiracy theorists on all extremes of the political spectrum believe this trope to be Truth in Television, and let's just leave it at that.
— George W. Bush. He was joking, obviously.note
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Anime and Manga
- In Black Bullet, the light novels mentioned many countries that treat cursed children much worse than Tokyo. United States happens to be one of them, as cursed children are hunted down and captured like wild animals, forced into slavery (usually either sold into sex slavery or to civil security companies), and used as experiments to unlock their superhuman abilities and implanting Varanium parts in their bodies.
- 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 What If? #44, the USA became an increasingly fascistic police state (complete with rounding up of blacks and jews) because of the influence of a jingoistic impostor Captain America… until the real one awakens in 1983..
- 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.
- In DMZ, the US is in the midst of second civil war, and while the lines of territory aren't very clear, (as the rebellious "Free States of America" is much closer to an insurgency than a nation state) the territory that is firmly controlled by the original US Government is kept under martial law, the government has essentially taken over the media and turned it all into propaganda, and it has few if any qualms about murdering or ruining the lives of innocent civilians, especially if it somehow gives them an edge against the Free States.
- Liberality for All is set in a United States that has become a left-wing dictatorship under the UN thanks to Al Gore winning in 2000.
- Watchmen: Richard Nixon is closing in on his fifth term, crime is rampant all over the country and Zeppelins from Another World are shown to be watching over all the streets.
- This example is not quite as extreme as some others, though - a free press of sorts still exists, and at the end of the comic it looks like Nixon is going to lose the election to Robert Redford.
- Also in Before Watchmen, it is revealed that because of the Red Scare, the Costume Vigilantes were made to show their identities and prove they were not involved with the Russians.
- Quite a few of the Chick Tracts are set in these sorts of futures.
- In Judge Dredd, America has been split into three independent mega-cities, each of which is a fascist police state. Somewhat atypical in that the main characters are the Judges, i.e. the ones who are enforcing the police state, yet they mostly aren't portrayed negatively. Primarily because the Dreddverse is an extreme Crapsack World that has been on the brink of total destruction each time the Judges weren't there.
- Conquestof The Planet Of The Apes: The United States has become this in 1991, with the Governors now holding very powerful authority. Since the movie was released around the time of the Vietnam protests, it's probably taking a real life situation and turning it up to eleven.
- CSA: The Confederate States of America. In the Confederacy (which now includes even the Northern states and most of the Americas after their conquests) the entire black population is enslaved, gender equality is non-existent, sexual orientation is not a free choice, and there is not much political freedom.
- Demolition Man: Set in a future where the US has gone totalitarian, banning virtually anything that could possibly be considered unhealthy or offensive. Heavily implied to have come about after a period of mass privatization and civil unrest.
- The Running Man. The U.S. has become intensely repressive, including (among other things) slaughtering people who are protesting not having enough food.
- Escape from L.A., the sequel to Escape from New York, has the U.S. going fascist when the Big One hits Los Angeles, and a religious nut uses this as a platform to get himself promoted to President for Life, even relocating the Capitol a little ways south to his hometown of Lynchburg, VA (a Take That to Jerry Falwell, the founder of the "Moral Majority", whose Thomas Road Baptist Church is in the town). Anything he considers to be against his new "Moral America" laws (read: anything he doesn't like — tobacco, alcohol, red meat, guns, profanity, non-Christian religions, atheism, non-marital sex and more) is banned, with those who break the laws having to choose between getting deported to Los Angeles Island, which is every bit the hellhole that Manhattan Island Penitentiary was, or being executed in the electric chair. Snake lampshades it when he sarcastically calls the new states "the land of the free".
- Similarly, in Back to the Future Part II an alternate timeline is created where Richard Nixon is still President in the 1980s following the repeal of the 22nd amendment, the Vietnam War rages on and crime and corruption are at endemic levels as Casinos spread nation wide.
- The corporation-as-government or Mega Corp. in RoboCop.
- 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. After the Republic collapses, it is effectively taken over by a united South and Central America to form the Western Hemisphere Union, a socialist/communist society. While it's quite a bit better than the Republic, they are very imperialist and seek to control the former U.R.A. colony of Coyote.
- Strongly implied in Illuminatus!, and would naturally come up in any work of fiction where The Illuminati (or a similar Ancient Conspiracy) are the ones REALLY running the country.
- The country isn't actually depicted as any more oppressive than the real life United States during the Vietnam war, but it is depicted as incompetent and monomaniac, and easily manipulated by The Illuminati towards the total loss of personal privacy and permanent state of martial law. Supposedly. But even that is just another case of misdirection, since the conspiracy's true goal is the near-extinction of all humanity.
- In the first book of James Blish's Cities in Flight series, America is rapidly becoming a totalitarian state ruled by the hereditary head of the FBI, Francis X. MacHinery.
- In The Hunger Games, after an unspecified collapse of civilization (possibly involving some major geographic changes) the U.S. has become a tyrannical autocracy renamed "Panem" and is split into twelve districts. This name is derived from the Latin phrase "panem et cicenses" or "Bread and Circuses," hence Peeta being the son of a baker and the eponymous "Games" serving as circuses to entertain the masses and keep them in check.
- In Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler, the U.S. has become this. The United States is ruled by Jarrett, an Evangelical Christian who uses all non-Christians as a scapegoat and puts them in concentration camps. The country is in shambles and Alaska has seceded from the union and is at war with Canada.
- In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, all of Earth is an oppressive state to the lunar colony, but "North America" is the most vocal and aggressive.
- In the 2060s storyline of Star Trek: Federation the Optimum Movement takes over much of the world, including the United States. There the Constitution has been suspended and only the fifteen states with Optimum majorities are allowed to send representatives to Congress.
- The Harry Turtledove Short Story, Joe Steele has Joe Steel-an Alternate History version of Josef Stalin whose parents immigrated to the United States-turn America into a Communist dictatorship after being elected President.
- The Timeline-191 series by the same author features a US that, having lost two wars to a Confederate/Britain/France alliance, has allied closely with Imperial Germany. The nation is increasingly regimented and militarized, everything is strictly rationed, and conscription is universal. A series of Mormon uprisings causes the government to simply ban Mormon church, and the administration of occupied Canada, Texas, and Kentucky is extremely brutal, with suspected criminals executed without trial, the taking of hostages in retaliation for guerilla activity, and (oddly given that the main political divide in the setting is the Democrats and the Socialist Party) virtually no safety or labor rights laws. The Confederacy is much worse.
- In Animorphs, the fourth Megamorphs book suddenly opens here with no initial explanation; it quickly comes out that Visser Four managed to find the Time Matrix and rewrite history. As a result the United States is an empire trying to wipe out "primitives" in South America, slavery is legal (though based on disability rather than race), Jake is a Sociopathic Hero and Rachel is in a reeducation camp to "learn her place." Fortunately this circumstance is inconvenient for both of the series' Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, who restore the Animorphs' memories and send them through time to fix things.
- In Christian Nation, the United States becomes an oppressive Christian theocracy.
- 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.
- This happened in an alternate universe on Stargate SG-1, after the Stargate program went public. The world was not ready, and a scramble for control over the Stargates led civil unrest and geopolitical power-mongering.
- The Sliders visited several examples of this, such as 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.
- Those are skirts, thank you very much.
- And the worst part is, there's no rock 'n' roll.
- Likewise, an alternate universe in Lois and Clark brought us President Charlton Heston. One person, one vote, one semi-automatic rifle! It's implied that the reason America has degraded into a wild west nightmare is because Alt-Clark married Lana Lang, who forbids him from fighting crime.
- Dark Angel is set in a world where the US was devastated by a terrorist EMP attack in 2009. Little more than 10 years later, the US has degenerated into a 3rd world banana republic kept in check by periodic martial law.
- Person of Interest The fourth season's plot is basically the story of how The Samaritan artificial intelligence system begins constructing one before moving onto the world. Building a large network of politicians to do its bidding, creating the means to brainwash the next generation of American children and manipulating the intel given to counter-terrorist operatives are just the tip of the iceberg of the steps it takes to achieve its goal.
- In Paul Kantner's 1970 science-fiction concept album, Blows Against the Empire, the increasingly oppressive and fascistic government of the US, which has outright declared rock-and-roll illegal, inspires a rag-tag band of hippies to hijack a starship and set off on their own.
- The setting of Styx's 1983 concept album, Kilroy Was Here, was of a futuristic America where a theocratic dictatorship has banned rock music.
- In Trinity, the United States of America will socially collapse due to conflicts with the super-powered aberrants. The military and key corporations take control from the broken civilian government and establish the Federated States of America, a fascist nation where the voting system is rigged to give the wealthy and corporations the lion's share of votes in all elections. All media is censored and civil rights are purely at government discretion. The FSA also annexed large chunks of Canada and Mexico as part of a resource grab.
- 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.
- The US is well into this trope in GURPS Cyberworld ... before the government gets around to formally suspending the Constitution. The Provisional President makes regular speeches about the upcoming end to the Permanent Emergency and a return to democracy, but no one with a working brain believes those speeches.
- The US, as well as most of the world, have become this in the RPG Brave New World (no relation to the novel) after a super-villain Delta nearly killed President Kennedy.
- 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 Great War, the United States government had become increasingly paranoid and militaristic in the face of the resource shortages and the Sino-American War. The Enclave (the éminence grise of the federal government) exacerbated geopolitical relations and ignored of the Constitution of the United States, put into motion a series of unconstitutional, inhumane, and war criminal projects; (For example; the robobrain manufacturing process - id est human brains, the various vault experiments, the various bio weapons programs, et cetera). While After the war, they were willing to cause global genocide to achieve its goals of wiping out communism and being the sole heirs of the planet.
- 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. Out in the boonies, the militia fighters are just as bad as the Koreans.
- Metal Wolf Chaos has the United States turned into a dictatorship after a takeover by the Vice President.
- The US in Shattered Union became this way under the Presidency of David Jefferson Adams, who put the West Coast put under martial law and sailed to a second term through a blatantly rigged election (because there's no way he could've been re-elected under any other circumstances). The nuclear terrorist attack on Washington, DC during his inauguration, and the ensuing decapitation of the federal government and the line of succession, triggers the Second American Civil War.
- The Alternate History Decades of Darkness is about the development of the United States into this. The War of 1812 spills into a much earlier civil war that sees every state north/east of Pennsylvania seceding and forming the Republic of New England. The remnant US, dominated by the southern states and their slave-holding elite, becomes an imperial power built upon white supremacy, expanding across Latin America and co-opting the local white elites while keeping the black, indio and mestizo masses in slavery and peonage. New England also goes through a period of fascism (known here as "vitalism") from the mid 1920s through the early '30s due to an economic crisis, fear of socialism spreading in Canada and Newfoundland, and a badly lost war with the US.
- The Alternate History A World of Laughter, a World of Tears explores a world where Eisenhower had a heart attack in 1952 and Walt Disney became President instead. Under him the United States maintains segregation and goes in an increasingly paranoid and authoritarian direction. Many celebrities flee to Europe as The Mickey Mouse Club and its eager children and parents use patriotism and accusations of Un-American activity to browbeat (or just beat down) 1950s counterculture. Much better than it sounds.
- Another Alternate History story, Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72, features this in its Sequel Series. Donald Rumsfeld gets elected President in 1980 despite losing the popular vote by a decisive margin, chiefly due to the vagaries of the Electoral College system and left-wing voters being divided between two candidates. Under his watch, political dissidents (including George Carlin, Barry Goldwater, James Gavin, and Roger Ebert) are "disappeared", Hollywood becomes a far-right Propaganda Machine pushing the US government line, rapacious yuppie capitalism and religious fundamentalism rule the land, the civilian internet is strangled in its cradle in the interest of "national security", the military-industrial complex grows increasingly bloated and overstretched, and interstate travel is restricted. The 1984 election saw blatant vote fraud (and even then, Rumsfeld once more lost the popular vote and had to rely on the Electoral College), and it's implied that there will be a False Flag Operation to justify support for apartheid South Africa.
- Capto Iugulum: Scottist America was definitely this, with the military controlling all aspects of society, the practice of slavery expanding into industry and lasting into the 20th century, even harsher Indian Wars, and much of the west ruled by generals via "Military Districts."
- In Reds, due to William Mckinley not being assassinated by Leon Czolgosz (the rewrite re-imagines the point of divergence being a more unified Socialist movement by the end of the 1890s) a socialist regime takes control of America by revolution in 1933, and becomes the Union of American Socialist Republics (UASR). Not surprisingly, it was the attempt of previous administrations to suppress radical socialism that caused this revolution. This trope varies in its severity throughout this timeline:
- The suppression of dissidents that occurred during our World War I is slightly worse, resulting in the arrest of socialist politicians, and even respected statesmen like Robert La Follette.
- When a Worker's Party wins the 1932 election in a landslide, Douglas MacArthur successfully pressures Herbert Hoover to suspend the Constitution, and to arrest the Worker's Party members. The so-called Freedom Corps attempt to put down any opposition, notably massacring Huey Long and disloyal members of the Louisiana State Legislature. This is the final straw sets the stage for the UASR.
- The remnants of the US government and their supporters flee to Cuba and establish a new government, with Douglas MacArthur as President Evil. He proceeds to oppress the Cuban population. It's implied that this will be subverted in the later years of the Cuban-US nation.
- The early years of the UASR are a downplayed version of this trope. Many people are dealt with by Kangaroo Court and firing squads, but it is nowhere near the scale of the Soviet Union, and many of the sentenced were responsible for suppressing American democracy. These actions are still seen in-universe as a black spot on the history of the UASR, but none of the UASR leaders are portrayed as evil for them.
- The 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.
- The Alien and Sedition Acts passed by President John Adams during the "Quasi-War" with Britain and France, which were a major factor in destroying Adams' presidency and getting Thomas Jefferson elected President in 1800.
- President Woodrow Wilson would later revive these as justification for the imprisonment of anti-war activists, socialists and other dissidents during WWI.
- Sadly true for the Native Americans who saw their rights undermined from the beginning of the US and were forced to migrate westwards, it got worse for them.
- Both sides during The American Civil War engaged in oppressive actions. On the Union side, Maryland was put under martial law to prevent it from seceding, and suspected sympathizers to the Confederacy could be arrested without warrant or trial. In the Confederacy, meanwhile, Union sympathizers (especially in Appalachia) found themselves terrorized by the secessionist governments, to the point where northwestern Virginia (a solidly pro-Union area in a Confederate state) counter-seceded and formed the pro-Union state of West Virginia. The Confederacy also continued the rather oppressive practice that caused the Civil War.
- For as much as Confederate apologists use "state's rights" as a cause of the war today, the Confederate central government put any attempts to increase local autonomy down HARD.
- If you were black during the era of segregation in the US, you were in for a bad time. In the South, this saw "Jim Crow" laws being passed in many states that restricted where black people could go, what jobs they could have, where they could live, etc. In the North, this was most often economic segregation, with black people being forced into ghettoes through discriminatory housing and real estate policies, and a thick glass ceiling preventing them from getting decent educations or careers. And across America, black people and other minorities were not even allowed to live in certain towns. In certain parts of America, a black person who did or said the wrong thing (or was even accused or suspected of doing the wrong thing), especially to a white person, was pretty much doomed — even if he or she was proclaimed innocent by the court, he or she was in very real danger of being lynched by an angry white mob.
- During the two Red Scares during the early to middle part of the 20th century, holding differing opinions from the American mainstream could land you in a lot of trouble. The most notable was McCarthyism during the '50s, which was effectively witch hunts for suspected Communists. Those caught in the hunts, even if they weren't Communists, could and frequently did have their lives and careers destroyed.
- The Japanese Internment during World War II, in which 120,000 people, about two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were relocated to camps with little warning, and some were only able to take the clothes on their backs. Conditions in the camps varied greatly, from perfectly livable to downright horrific, due to the varied legal status of the camps (some were governed by the Geneva Convention and other international treaties, where conditions were the best, and others were governed by different areas of American law, which ran the gamut). In some camps, the internees were strictly confined to what amounted to barbed-wire enclosures, and internees were even shot on occasion. In other locations, the internees were allowed to wander outside the camps, engaged in agriculture, and even simply moved away to areas outside the West Coast "exclusion zone." Some especially fortunate internees were permitted to move back into the exclusion zone, though under "supervision."
- Italian- and German-Americans were interned as well, although in much smaller numbers. However, they were free to leave the camps as long as they proved their loyalty to the U.S. and were able to get a job or go to school outside the defense zones, and many joined the military to prove their loyalty. Unfortunately, these camps pushed many Germans who were not previously sympathetic to the Nazis into the arms of what would eventually become the core of the modern neo-Nazi and White Power movements.
- The great irony of the Japanese Internment is the case of Korematsu v. United States, in which the Supreme Court held the internment program to be Constitutional. It's a widely and rightly reviled decision, along with other infamous decisions like Dred Scott v. Sanford, but it was also the birth of the Supreme Court's most rigorous and most important level of scrutiny: strict scrutiny. Most laws treating people differently based on their race or national origin are subject to strict scrutiny. Under a strict scrutiny analysis, a law is essentially presumed unconstitutional, and it requires an enormous showing from the government in order to survive. The government has only been able to meet this burden a handful of times. Through this standard, American courts demolished much of the racism inherent in governance, including segregation, Jim Crow, forced sterilizations, immigration quotas, court enforcement of racially restrictive covenants, and, more recently, affirmative action (though some especially mild forms have been held constitutional).