REUTERS / Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump attends a listening session with CEOs of small and community banks at the White House on March 9, 2017. (REUTERS / Carlos Barria)

“What do you suppose is the life expectancy is of a country that’s lost its grip on reality? Whose national consciousness is based on delusion and fantasy? Whose dominant mode of expression is the language of advertising and sloganeering?”

—Soldiers on the Fault Line: War, Rhetoric, and Reality, The Seventh Annual David L. Janetta Distinguished Lecture in War, Literature, and the Arts, 9/10/13 U.S. Air Force Academy delivered by Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

One of my favorite creative writing exercises with teens is to have them make a list of 10 current issues, technologies, or laws and then make second column where they extrapolate 50 years into the future and imagine how the things they’ve written in column one might affect society.

Have laws been taken to the extreme? Are technologies being used for good or have they taken a less benevolent turn? Teens then write a story using some of the ideas in column two.

Last night, I read Ben Fountain’s lecture as research for a novel I’m writing, and it prompted me to ask a few “what if” questions of my own:

What happens when a country’s head of state isn’t media literate? What would happen to the foundations of our democracy if a head of state, someone with the entire national security and intelligence community available to him, made a series of tweets accusing his predecessor of illegal acts and called him a “bad man, sick!” based solely on the claims of an extreme right-wing radio show host, repeated by an extreme right-wing website?

What if a so-called “Leader of the Free World” made such claims without even having the intellectual curiosity to find out how, in fact, one would go about obtaining a warrant for a wiretap on an American citizen, presumably because they hadn’t covered that on “the shows” he’d previously said are where he gets his advice and information. What if subsequent events seem to back up that this is where he gets his information and advice?

What if a leader who ran on a tough-talking national security platform appears dead set on antagonizing and damaging the very intelligence community that we need to keep us safe?

What if a so-called party of “fiscal responsibility” is so intent on taking away healthcare from millions of Americans for ideological and political reasons that they rushed through hearings in the middle of the night, without the proposals having been scored by the Congressional Budget Office?

What if that bill, contrary to all promises made about it during an election campaign, would to take away mandated coverage for people with mental illness and addiction, despite those being major problems in some of the very constituencies that got that party’s leader elected?

What if that bill will also increase premiums for people in the 50 to 64 age bracket, and cut long-term care coverage for people on Medicare? (I hope nobody in this hypothetical situation has a loved one with Alzheimer’s).

What if the White House press secretary then tried to cast doubts on the accuracy of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s figures in order to justify the fact that his party was trying to ram through a bill without CBO scoring of the financial consequences?

What if the leader of a country promoted a policy, (such as publishing a list of crimes committed by only one subset of a nation’s population for the purposes of demonizing them) that had been used in the past by a genocidal dictator, and instead of learning from history, his party stood up and cheered, and pundits said he sounded “more presidential”?

What if every time there’s a story that a head of state disagrees with, he claims it’s “fake news” or someone on his communications team uses Orwellian terms like “alternative facts?”

What if a leader who put his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s bible and swore to uphold the 1st Amendment, constantly degrades and disparages reporters (unless they provide him with favorable coverage, that is) and goes so far as to call the press “the Enemy of the People”?

What if we’ve reached the point where journalists in a neighboring country, (say, Mexico, for the sake of argument) felt compelled to issue a statement of support to US journalists:

“So many times we have only known the truth about our own country by reading the stories followed and uncovered in the U.S. press. We urge you to continue to uphold freedom of expression as your society, institutions, and values depend upon it.

You have stood with us during the darkest hours of press freedom in Mexico and, although we never could believe this day would come, we now stand with you.”

What if all of this actually happened and nobody cared enough to do anything because they only got their news from a narrow range of sources and never challenged their point of view, or were too busy putting the good of their party over the health of our constitutional republic?

What if?

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and as such is an AAUP member), and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of

Sarah Darer Littman is a critically-acclaimed author of books for young people. Her latest novel, Some Kind of Hate, comes out Nov. 1 from Scholastic Press.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.