Fear Is the Mind Killer

Why Dune, not Star Wars, is the perfect sci-fi parable for the 2020 election

We don't have spice IRL, but we're all living on Arrakis.

One thing that sets Dune apart from most other sci-fi epics, is that it's not really about perfect heroes. Yes, Dune has despicable evildoers, but the people who rise-up to deal with the baddies aren't pure and innocent like Luke or Rey. Just like real-life politics, the heroes of Dune are hardly perfect, and the entire point of the novels, according to author Frank Herbert himself was, "beware of heroes."

As America arrives at one of the most contentious presidential elections in history, people will be looking for metaphors to explain how to feel about the state of the world. In 2016, some Star Wars fans tried to compare the Democratic Party to the Rebellion, and the Republicans to the Death Star-obsessed Empire — someone please tell Trump the Empire are the bad guys. But that analogy gets dicey when you consider that the Rebels are a heavily armed militia and a lot of pro-gun Republicans love Star Wars. (There are a lot of guns in Star Wars and they are designed to look like real guns.)

So, if you're looking for a pop-science fiction metaphor that explains the 2020 presidential election, you're going to have to go to Dune. And yes, Biden is pretty much Duke Leto Atreides, while Trump is very clearly the Baron Harkonnen.

Duke Leto Atreides (right) with Paul Atreides.

Warner Bros

The principle conflict of the first half of Dune is mostly about a transfer of power that's anything but peaceful. House Atreides has been tasked with taking over operations on the planet Arrakis from the Harkonnens. Duke Leto doesn't necessarily want this job, but for the good of the galaxy, he recognizes that he's the least corrupt politician to take over the planet.

But Leto isn't really the only ruler. The other aspect of his power comes from Lady Jessica. In some ways, this is a lot like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — Biden is the guy who has to make the hard decisions, but Harris is likely going to be the true power behind this administration over the next several years, assuming they win, of course. (Saying Jill Biden, Joe's actual wife is more like the Lady Jessica might seem like a cleaner analogy, but in terms of the political power, Harris makes more sense.)

Leto is hyper-aware that everything about the job on the planet Dune is a trap. He's a savvy politician who knows how hard it is to walk a fine-line between instituting new policies and making people happy. He knows that the Fremen on Arrakis weren't treated well by the Harkonnens, but he also knows that a ton of people benefited from corrupt Harkonnen activities. Basically, Leto isn't trying to revolutionize Arrakis, he's just trying to make it a tiny bit more decent than it was prior to his arrival. He's also hyper-aware — and mentions this to his son and others — that everyone is trying to sabotage them on all sides.

In other words, he's the Joe Biden of science fiction, offering a moderately better alternative to the blatantly corrupt and evil leader who preceded him.

This guy remind you of anyone?

Warner Bros

Meanwhile, it's pretty obvious how easily Trump and his cronies fit the mold of the Harkonnens. Not only are they power-hungry, they're also short-sided. The Harkonnens' corrupt and brutal policies have not only wrecked the economy of Arrakis but its ecology, too. Of the many things Dune is "really" about, the biggest one might be climate change. Herbert was deeply interested in how and why ecosystems can be impacted by human beings, and one of his underlying themes is how to transform the inhospitable climate of Arrakis into a sustainable planet for everyone. The Harkonnens, very clearly don't give a shit about this, just as Trump Republicans have openly mocked the very real problem of climate change on Earth. Climate change may not be the biggest issue for most voters in 2020, but several polls indicate it could still play a deciding factor.

How does all this shake out in Dune? Well, while it's true the Harkonnens do lose their power on Arrakis, it's not like everything turns out great after that. Dune doesn't present the transfer of power between the Atreides and the Harkonnens as the simple defeat of an evil Empire. This is why Dune is so much more applicable to real-world politics than Star Wars. Leto has to make a lot of sacrifices — both literal and philosophical — and it doesn't necessarily work out for the best. Spoiler alert: Although Leto "wins" his election, so to speak, it's not like the world, or universe, is automatically saved.

The larger political message of Dune is simple: Things change, and corrupt politicians tend to get taken down over time. But what replaces them isn't always clear, and the future is often much, much strange than the present. That said, fear of the future doesn't work either. And the biggest challenge voters face in 2020 is to try and let their fear pass through them.

Dune is scheduled for release on October 1, 2021.

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