They say that those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it.
And there’s a less well-known but corollary idea, that people who create realistic fictional content end up pulling their ideas from recent events.
But every once in a while, both ideas converge: a piece of speculative fiction, drawn from elements of real-life, ends up over time looking like a retroactive prediction of real-life events.
Remember how Back to the Future II predicted this year’s Cubs World Series win? I recently stumbled onto a similar phenomenon, with even bigger consequences.
A campaign with a surprise ending
Playing through the new single-player campaign of Titanfall 2 (which I’ve been very impressed with, by the way), brought me back to one of my favorite video games of all time. The year was 2001, and Microsoft had just introduced the Xbox to compete with Sony’s runaway hit, the PlayStation. And the killer game that everyone was playing was Bungie Studios’ Halo: Combat Evolved.
The storyline of that game seemed pretty similar to what I’d seen in other video games. You played as human space warrior, whose military agency is locked into an ever-raging battle with an alien race called The Covenant.
The plot goes something like this:
The humans find this giant planet that looks like a ring, or a halo (hence, the name). They find out that the halo is a very powerful weapon. They try to seize control of this weapon before their enemies, The Covenant, do the same.
In the process of trying to take control of the Halo, which involves fighting battles with the Covenant at every turn, the humans discover another race of alien parasite space-zombies called The Flood. The Flood quickly become a huge problem for humans, and they spend a bunch of time battling The Flood instead of The Covenant.
Eventually, the humans gain control of the Halo, and convinced that activating it will clear the planet of The Flood (which will enable them to more effectively fight the Covenant), they almost do so — until they realize that detonating the Halo would kill all sentient life in the galaxy, including humans and Covenant. The Flood are still a problem, though, so the humans decide to do the next best thing and blow up a ship with most of the Flood inside, which ends up destroying the ring. During the conclusion of the first Halo game, your human space warrior (called a Spartan) ends up fighting both Flood and Covenant forces, but because the Flood is also fighting the Covenant just as much, it makes the job a bit easier.
It ends up being a kind of the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend kind of situation.
Until the next game, that is.
Because in Halo 2, the Flood have become even more of a widespread problem since they were unleashed from the initial halo ring. Also, a religious militant sect of The Covenant is bent on firing another halo installation, despite the risk of total annihilation, because it suits their religious value of ancient ritual. Forced to adapt, the humans form an uneasy truce with another sect of Covenant (called The Elites), in order to more effectively battle the Flood and stop the detonation of a second halo. Halfway through Halo 2, you end up playing as one of these Covenant Elites, a warrior called The Arbiter. All of the aliens from the previous game end up becoming allies in the fight.
It ends up being a reverse of the previous situation; instead of the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend, it’s more like the-enemy-who-I-thought-was-my-friend-because-its-also-my-enemy’s-enemy-was-really-an-even-bigger-enemy-so-I-joined-forces-with-my-previous-enemy-who-became-my-friend.
Quite a twist, right?
A real-life political crisis
If any of this feels urgently familiar, it’s also because it tracks somewhat loosely with the details of this latest presidential election. Looking back, the storyline of Halo and Halo 2 almost look like allegory.
First, consider that the halo ring — like that other legendary ring — is an enormous symbol of power, just like the presidency. Conservatives, being strong on defense and patriotism, are human space warriors (in Halo, they’re called the UNSC, or the United Nations Space Command). And the Covenant are liberals, the enemies that conservatives have been trained to battle against.
In this last election cycle, establishment Republicans spent a long time trying to get their more moderate candidates elected. When Donald Trump complained early on about the RNC being against him, he was partially right, because during the primaries, they had their sights set on a number of more traditional conservative candidates, any of whom would’ve been more preferable than Trump. But people like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich, could not generate the same level of enthusiasm from voters as Trump. Even a self-proclaimed “true conservative” like Ted Cruz was no match for Trump, because Trump energized a portion of the electorate that was fed up with political correctness and viewed diversity as a threat to white identity. That faction was epitomized by a movement, defined by the website of one of its founders as the “alternative right,” or alt-right.
Yep, the alt-right is the Flood.
And just like the UNSC with the Flood, conservative Republicans initially battled against the alt-right because of its ties to an ideology of racial hatred. (Remember all those quotes from establishment Republicans who complained about how Trump was unfit for office?) But as Trump’s momentum grew, the alt-right got further and further into prominence. Eventually, most mainstream conservatives stopped fighting the alt-right as hard, and then once Trump secured the nomination, not at all. Their justification was that even a Republican as unstable and inexperienced as Donald Trump would be preferable to a Democrat in office. They justified their complacency in addressing the plague of extreme racism and white nationalism in their party because they knew that those fringe actors, even though they despised mainstream conservatives, despised liberals even more. The enemy (alt-right) of their enemy (liberals) was their friend.
Well, in this analogy, we’ve reached the end of the first Halo. Remember when the UNSC tried to blow up their ship to get rid of the Flood? Well, it didn’t work. In the same way, what mainstream Republicans thought would happen — Donald Trump would lose, and the alt-right would be repudiated as extreme and out of touch — didn’t happen. Instead, Donald Trump actually won the presidency. And like the Flood, the extreme alt-right sentiments are no longer on the fringe. Instead, racism and white nationalism are entering the mainstream.
A dangerous opportunity
So now we’re in an interesting time.
Republicans are gearing up for four years of power, not only having won the presidency, but owning majorities in both houses of Congress. Meanwhile, a large and vocal contingent of liberals are absolutely aghast at several of Donald Trump’s staffing and cabinet selections, especially his appointment of Steve Bannon as strategic advisor (more on this in a bit). Because a large majority of white evangelicals voted for Trump, they’ve been conditioned to think of this outcry is little more than sour grapes over a lost election, or the eternal lament of “social-justice warriors” who are forever wallowing in victimhood and political correctness.
But there are two important truths about this election that rarely get stated at the same time.
The first is that, despite what some partisan Democrats will tell you, most of the Donald Trump voters were not directly motivated by racism. From what I can tell, what motivated Trump voters was a combination of economic populism (promising to bring back more American blue-collar jobs) and cultural conservatism (promising to protect traditional Christian values and religious freedom for conservatives). In this sense, it makes sense that plenty of hard-working, good Christian people would vote for these things.
However, it’s also obvious that Donald Trump’s candidacy and election was indelibly marked by racism and xenophobia, from his own well-documented list of racial rhetoric, to the endorsements from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan (which he refused to condemn until the week of the election), to the uptick in hate crimes and other instances of racially-motivated incidents following his election. In this sense, it’s understandable that progressive Christians (including many people of color) would interpret a vote for Donald Trump as a vote for racism. As the Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj mourned in a post-election segment, many people of color (especially those who are professing Muslims) feel that Trump voters are people who “don’t hate me, they just don’t care about me.”
So if you are a conservative Christian who voted for Trump, you are facing a unique danger attached to a great opportunity.
First, the danger. Just like the UNSC in Halo 2, the Republican establishment’s plan backfired, and now they’re dealing with an alt-right insurgency. And because the Republican candidate won, the alt-right insurgency may not seem very dangerous to most conservatives still crowing over their election victory.
But you have to remember that Republican politics aren’t always synonymous with Christian belief.
In fact, a case can be made that the alt-right is neither Christian nor conservative. Consider the appointment of Steve Bannon, who was quoted as recently as three years ago describing himself as a Leninist and proclaim his goal to destroy the political establishment, who only very recently denied being a white nationalist, despite receiving public support from prominent white supremacists and previously admitting that they were part of his support coalition. Consider that many alt-right voices are not exactly anti-abortion, since abortion supports their goal of racial purity. Consider that one of the typical alt-right put-downs is the term “cuck” or “cuckservative,” a reference to cuckolding, which implies not only sexual infidelity but a disgust with racial intermingling. Consider that Richard Spencer, alt-right spokesperson and coiner of the term, was recently seen at a white supremacist rally full of Nazi imagery, rhetorically wondering whether or not Jews are even people.
It’s a long way from Galatians 3:28, right?
And that’s where the real danger lies… not just politically, but spiritually. One of the most basic, pro-life, fundamental Christian truths is that as humans, all of us are created in God’s image. But our American foundation of historic racism challenges this most basic truth, and implies that some of us are more in God’s image than others. So if unbelievers can’t tell the difference between alt-right activists who don’t care about Christ and actual Christians doing their best to live out the gospel, especially when actual Christians are either blind or willfully ignorant of the suffering their brothers and sisters are going through, then there’s little hope that America will be a place where Christian faith will thrive. After all, there’s a reason why religious affiliation is declining most steeply among millennials.
But here’s where the opportunity comes in.
I have a few conservative friends who were genuinely shocked over the outcry of mourning regarding Trump’s election. Not having many relationships with people of color, they were genuinely baffled. For many of them, they had no idea there was a racial angle to any of this. For others, maybe they knew racism was a problem, but thought it was being exaggerated for ratings or clicks.
But now that the issue has taken center stage, many white conservative Christians are motivated to disassociate themselves from the racial ugliness that has dominated the Trump news cycle. I’ve seen it over and over on my social media feed. Stop saying that we’re racists!
As a black man, here’s my response:
If that’s where your heart is, great! Now show me that you mean it. Don’t just go back to business as usual. Take the time to learn what racism is, instead of just assuming you know what it is. Read an article or two. Read a book, or three. Initiate conversations with people who have been affected by it. Once you’ve done so, speak out against racism in the church. Speak out against racism in your community. Don’t allow your silence in the face of racially-motivated harassment or violence to be interpreted as capitulation, or worse, assent.
Because if the 80% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump want to shed the accusation of racism, it’s going to require a whole lot of humility. Just like the UNSC and the Covenant had to humble themselves into joining forces to defeat the Flood in Halo 2, progressives and conservatives are going to have to humble themselves if they want to do something about the race problem in America. Most of what I see is progressives blaming conservatives and conservatives denying that there’s even a problem.
As brothers and sisters in the faith, we can do better. And we must do better — for the sake of the gospel, and for the soul of our nation.
And if that’s not enough motivation, then do it for Spartan 117, a.k.a. Master Chief, star of the Halo franchise. ‘Cause when he joined forces with The Arbiter… that was SO EPIC.