Are you a fan of alternative facts? Take a peek at this alternative future.
Nobody had been into the White House living quarters for about three months. We hadn’t seen him coming or going for a while. People would report a light going on in the evening, then off later; sometimes a brief silhouette would pass before the shade. Food was left, dishes retrieved in the hall, but it seemed he wasn’t interested and we pretended not to be as well.
We knew he was sensitive and perhaps we should have respected that back when it all started, but it was too tempting, too easy, and maybe at times we weren’t showing our best selves. It could have begun with his tantrum about the altered pictures showing nobody came to the inauguration, as if he’d never heard of Photoshop. Or the first act of insubordination when the Rangers got their own Twitter account and tweeted that funny though admittedly dubious mashup of him with the goat. The first humiliations, really just flesh wounds, but drawing enough blood to chum the waters.
We look back on his early days of rage wondering why we hadn’t seen it coming, as if up to that point it had all been a joke, and too late we realized we’d handed both the pen and the sword to a petulant and dangerous lunatic. He wasted no time proving this when during the first week he cancelled not only health insurance, but healthcare itself, tweeting something about “culling the heard [sic].” This was followed by decreeing that the newly idle hospitals be converted into “holding sells [sic]” where all impregnated women were to be housed until their babies could be delivered by government-volunteer midwives. He ordered the borders closed and invited the remaining Muslims and Latinos to city halls across the country to sign a loyalty oath, where they were instead herded into buses and driven to Canada, a country that had been pressured into accepting “Americas [sic] detritus,” as he called it, by his promise to allow the fracking industry to dump its oil into the Mississippi River for safe passage to the new refineries going up in New Orleans’ Ninth ward. As for pesky Mexico, it turned out to be easier to dig a trench than build a wall. When it reached the California coast, seawater poured in and traveled all the way into the Rio Grande, salty enough to float another layer of oil from the offshore rigs to the Gulf. We’d like to think that the night he set it afire, creating a “wall we can see from space, unlike the sad Chines [sic],” was the night we said, “Enough,” but remarkably mobs assembled along the trench, tailgating and dancing in the light of the leaping flames. Chants of “America First” turned into “Burn it Down,” a phrase that soon appeared on millions of hats and shirts manufactured by American laborers working sixty-hour shifts at the new minimum wage of $1.52 per hour.
Many of us applauded the muscularity of his foreign policy: the nuclear subs in the Rhine River, the Eastern White House in Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Adjustment Protocol, and after Mission Accomplished Part Two even the best of us might have thought we don’t really miss Iraq. Netanyahu was invited to the Tower and was never heard from again. Meanwhile the American economy was realigned by new bilateral trade agreements: nuclear centrifuges to North Korea in exchange for kimchee, ice to the Eskimos for narwhal tusks, pigs’ feet and fish heads to China for more red hats, red shirts, and red shoes that could be rebranded “Made in America.” A caviar and Vodka free-trade corridor was established with the newly revived Soviet Union. Supply chains were cancelled and Detroit laid off thousands of workers as the car industry was automated to churn out the All-American Ford Focus, whose $75,000 price tag didn’t seem so high if you factored in the patriotism.
It became harder to track all this after the Internet became pay-to-play and the FCC’s new jurisdiction over the cable companies cancelled all news outlets except Fox, then that as well. Newspapers suddenly found it hard to get ink. Pencils were traded on the black market until all the paper was locked up in government warehouses. With no talking heads on the screen we were unsure what happened to the president’s advisors and surrogates, not to mention his family, but feared the worst.
In the hinterlands we looked for travelers to give us the news from the capital. We learned that the new, glitzy hotel next to the White House had gone broke and was reformatted to house what was left of Congress, the Capitol building still not rebuilt after the Resistance had driven a crane up Pennsylvania Avenue and taken a wrecking ball to the dome. Word spread about the Pussy Riot, when allegedly hundreds of thousands of disaffected citizens massed at the White House, finally willing to admit they were part of some terrible experiment gone horribly wrong. They expected to be met by force—police at least, likely the military—but to everyone’s astonishment there was no one guarding the front of the White House. No police, no National Guard. No secret service was visible. No reporters. No signs of life behind the iron gates. Protesters looked among themselves for tall, suited men in dark glasses with earpieces, fearing this was a trap, but none stood out from the mostly female crowd, which soon dispersed in a state of shared bewilderment.
Since then there have been no new edicts, no more purges. The few remaining schools were left to do their business. The oil fires burned themselves out as pumps stopped operating. Border guards wandered back to their families. Mexicans floated boats across the trench, but few got off. Bills sent from congress to the oval office never returned with signatures, and eventually the disaffected senators and representatives went back to their districts and resumed their civilian lives. There were a few suicides among the longtime career pols, but for the most part the major political parties died a peaceful death. All signs of inhabitation vanished from the business part of the White House and nobody was willing to risk upsetting this welcome state of affairs by entering the doors that, if locked, could easily be jimmied. At the most, people would stand outside the Ellipse at night, hoping to glimpse a shadow, to see the light click on or off, and some would occasionally report hearing a moaning sound, like a low tone erupting from the unfortunate bowels of a fallen, flatulent beast, perhaps covering their ears in order to not be overcome by its voice of sadness and loss.
Someday, we know, the light will not turn on; there will be no shadow, no late-night lament, but until then we will not approach, will not investigate. We give it a wide berth, stepping lightly around the periphery, knowing as we do that no good thing ever comes of poking at a dying beast.