Katrina A. Templeton

Alt Futures of America

May 14, 2001

Final Paper


Future Tense


            To the Past:

            By all accounts, the Future was supposed to be great.

            I hear you.  You’re saying everybody in every time thinks the future is going to be great, and it comes out as somewhat of a mixed blessing.  But at the turn of the century, on the eve of Y2K, most people were pretty optimistic about the future.  And I don’t think you can blame them.  I mean, the previous twenty years so much had happened to make people think the Future was going to be great.

            For example, there was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union in 1990.  Nobody denied they were big events.  For the first time, America stood alone, as the world’s only superpower.  That changed the way Americans thought of themselves and of their role in the world.

            Another thing is the sudden uprise of the Internet.  Well, I should back up a bit.  The rise of cheap and ubiquitous computing was one of those big ideas that led to people being optimistic about the future.  When the first microcomputer was invented about 1976, nobody realized that this pile of circuitry all jammed together was going to mean anything.  But then Steve Wozniak managed to stuff all that circuitry into an elegant design, and Apple Computers was born.  The Apple II was the first mass-market computer, and it was a beautiful thing.  Also this new frontier lead a couple of boys from Seattle, Paul Allen and Bill Gates, to create a program that ran BASIC programs that would later be parlayed into the biggest tech company in the world.

            The Internet was big too, and it led to a lot of changes in how people interacted with one another.   These changes happened fast, too, and before anybody knew it, we were right in the middle of a revolution.  What happened next is part of the reason the Future wasn’t so great.  But I’ll get to that.

            Of course, I would be amiss in not mentioning the Y2K crisis.  Even though it turned out to be a non-crisis, the world was quite ready for disaster to strike at the turn of midnight on January 1, 2000.  In fact, if you can believe it, there were people disappointed by the fact that disaster DIDN’T happen.  How’s that for funny? 

            If nothing else, the big event in Y2K, and the one that led the most quickly to the future we have now as opposed to the grand Future people were dreaming of was the election.  As we all know, Bush edged Gore on a few hundred votes in Florida.  Now, it was mostly legit, but it gave all those would be crooks an idea how to swing elections, like they were famous for doing up in Chicago.  The only thing that cancelled it out is that both sides were doing it.

            Of course, there was the proliferation of bad laws.  Technology had sped up so fast that politicians couldn’t keep up, even if they spent all their time doing so.  The world was in many ways an ever more difficult thing to keep up with.  The Internet didn’t help with this proliferation of information.  Anyway, the end result is that bad laws were passed.  At first the Supreme Court caught most of these bad laws, but with an already conservative majority, and things getting worse because of Bush’s election, some of the more insidious pro-business and anti-government slipped through.  Most notable of these was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a plan to restore copyright to the Internet.  Well, that’s what they said it would do.  It in fact outlawed reverse engineering and left people in the interesting spot of owning media and not legally being allowed to play it.  The biggest of these was a program called DeCSS, which allowed Linux users to play DVDs on their computers.  The Motion Picture Association of America got mad, sued the hell out of a bunch of people for simply linking to the code, and the case managed to make its way to the supreme courts in 2005.  The Supremes threw it out, and ruled in favor of the MPAA.  It was a bad precedent for the first amendment.

            And of course I would be amiss in not mentioning the uprise in globalism and terrorism.  Between these two –isms, the world would grow horribly scary, and in many ways they were two sides of the same coin.  Globalism was the spread of one country’s influence into another (think McDonalds, and all those other multinational companies).  Terrorism was the use of terror to promote a culture.  For example, the Arabs were notorious for using terrorism to return Israel to Arab hands.  Timothy McVeigh was another example.  He wanted to return America to its old values – so he blew up a building.

            Anyway, the bright Future people dreamed about in the year 2000 turned out to be a future that was dark and not at all the shining happy image.  So what’s it like on this fourteenth day of May in the year 2020?

            First of all, the loss of confidence in the electoral system reared its ugly head in the 2004 elections.  Protesters spent most of the summer screaming “Re-elect Gore and Lieberman!” even though the Democratic Party had nominated California Governor Gray Davis as their presidential candidate, with Senate Majority Leader (the Democrats had retaken the senate in the off year presidential elections) Tom Daschle of South Dakota as the vice-president.  The Republicans countered with Bush and Elizabeth Dole (Cheney had died of a heart attack on the campaign trail), and on the strength of a sitting president, the Republicans won the presidency and the Senate back.  However, the smile Bush wore on the day he was re-elected was frozen in our minds a few short months later, as Washington went up in a nuclear explosion just as George W. Bush started to take his oath of office for the second time.  Half a dozen terrorist groups claimed responsibility for the bombing, and to this day we still don’t know who did it.

            What happened afterward made me happy that the last Republican martyr we had was followed by a Democrat.  John Ashcroft, by virtue of being out of town on business on the day of Shrub’s second inaguration, took the Presidency.  He declared that he would carry out Shrub’s ideals, just as Lyndon Johnson pushed through civil rights because “it was what Jack would have wanted.” 

            In his first hundred days, President Ashcroft managed to make G.W. Bush look like a liberal.  Prayer in school, bans on affirmative action…hell, he nearly came close to having a state religion.  Where Bush had talked about dark hearts on the Internet, Ashcroft talked of the hackers and thieves.  It was a very tenuous time to be interested in the Internet.

            Indeed, it was a very tenuous time to be a liberal.  Most of the protest groups went underground or to California, where Davis had enjoyed a thirty-point margin over Bush, and Davis remained governor.  A few of the more vocal Californians talked of leaving the United States, but nobody expected it to ever happen.  After all, California had stayed in the Union even when Bush had been insisting that its energy problems were all because of lack of foresight.

            To cut off the underground movements, Ashcroft urged Congress to pass a bill that would censor indecent, obscene, or critical speech off the net.  Congress passed this law after nearly being split along party lines, and it entered the law of the United States.  The ACLU filed an immediate challenge to the bill.

            Now.  Keep in mind most of the Supreme Court perished in the terrorist attack on Washington.  Keep in mind Ashcroft was a conservative.  The court swayed decidedly right, and when this case finally reached the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court shocked the world by saying that this law did not diminish the freedom of speech that Americans enjoyed, and thus was not unconstitutional.

            Pandemonium erupted in California, as people purposely posted rants critical of President Ashcroft and the Supreme Court.  They also took to the streets in protests, which hadn’t been seen since the days of Berkeley in the 1960s.  Ashcroft sent troops to California, Davis countered by calling up the National Guard and declaring them the “independent army of the California Republic.”

            It was a daring gambit.  It worked.  After a ten day war, in which hackers for both the US and California tried to bring down each other’s systems. (The military had taken to recruiting hackers by catching them at the side in criminal proceedings and saying, “You can go to jail or you can hack for us.”  Most hackers took the second choice.) But when California hackers somehow managed to take over a server that held codes for launching nuclear material, the US surrendered, but not after the threat to take out Philidelphia (the new capital of the US) was issued.

            But California as an independent nation didn’t last too long.  About 2015 they came crying to the rest of the United States asking to rejoin.  President Joseph Williamson, Ashcroft’s predecessor and a young congressman from Massachusetts during the December 2008 Ten Day War accepted, and he wrote: “The healing of the union that Ashcroft nearly destroyed was well worth it.  California has committed some sins, yes.  But so has the rest of us.  It is in our best interests to accept the apology and allow the nation to heal.”

            Williamson turned out to be an able President for the four years he held the office, but he lost it to an assassin who was upset that he had allowed California back into the union so easy.  Williamson’s vice president made Dan Quayle look like an intelligent man, and so the Period of Hope (as Williamson’s brief presidency was known as) was lost to a Republican.  However, the Republican, Anthony Scalia, fancied himself of the John McCain mold, and although he didn’t take some of Ashcroft’s laws off the books, he didn’t add any new bad ones.

            This year is another presidential election year, and it looks like it is going to be as close as the 2000 election that got us all into this.  On the one hand, you have President Scalia.  On the other, you have California’s young and energetic senator, Patrick Campbell.  Both promise not to provoke another split as bad as the one Ashcroft did.  Both also propose rebuilding Washington DC.  Campbell has also proposed going through the law books and attempting to make us relive up to the ideals of the law.

            Interestingly enough, the multinationals favored Ashcroft, they kept their distance with Williamson (there are rumors, though that one of them hired the man to shoot Williamson), and didn’t really touch Scalia.  But they are scared to death of Campbell.  In their minds, he’s a socialist (he did earn a Political Science degree from Cal, and worked for Gore in the ill-fated 2K elections) and a rabblerouser.  It should be an interesting election.  Either way, it looks like we won’t have a repeat of the crazy times of the turn of the century.

            So, that’s one possible way that your future could look.  I’m sealing this up and attempting to test our time machine by tossing this at 2001.  Vote Davis in 2004, and none of this will happen.

The Future.


[This letter was found inside a library book on the University of California at Santa Cruz campus.  Officials are debating whether time travel actually exists, or whether it’s a clever hack placed there by people who want Davis to run for president.  We may never know.  The idea of a nuclear bomb exploding in Washington as a presidential inauguration is taking place is improbable, but not impossible.  Everything else seems to extrapolate logically from that point, except perhaps making Ashcroft into as much of a villain as the author did.  It is obvious there is a strong Democratic bias in this piece.  But then again, the future is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine.]


{I hope this works for a paper; I didn’t follow the guidelines quite right.  But when it comes to predicting the future, you have to allow for weird things to happen, and I did that in a few places.  That’ll prolly make this whole thing dead wrong, but I attempted my hand at social predictions, which are much harder than predictions in other areas.  My apologies for the bias.}