One of the sadder misconceptions about a fascist dictatorship is that life will at least be clear and predictable. There will be clear rules, laid out in black and white, and if you keep your nose clean and do as you’re told, you’ll be safe and your family will be safe. Only trouble-makers will get in trouble. In this view, Democracy seems like a cool idea, but in reality, there is endless discord and disagreement. Some begin to think that we’ll all be so much better off if we just have one source of information that we all agree on, regardless of how bogus that source is.
What will actually happen under a dictatorship is the opposite of this promise.
There will be more chaos, not less.
Think about it. In our current society, truth ultimately rules over power. Yes, of course, there are people who are afraid to speak truth to power. And most of us have had that boss who is simply inept or opinionated and doesn’t care much about reality. But they are the exception. Most people in a corporation can be brought round if you have truth on your side. For some decision makers, convincing them of what is best for the organization as a whole is enough. But sometimes, you also have to find a way to explain that it’s also in their personal interest to do what’s best for the company. But most bosses and managers don’t act like complete jerks. And part of the reason is that they know they will be held accountable in some way if they behave too far outside the norm.
In a culture where power trumps truth, however, the only thing that matters is power, not truth. Some people will nonetheless have a tendency to be regular in their behavior. So, you can count on that, at least. Except, of course, that you cannot count on that. Because at any time, and for any unforeseen reason, that person who follows some principles or values or code or flow-chart or best practices — they can be over-ridden by someone higher up. If they don’t toe the line, they will be fired and someone else will replace them who will do as they’re told.
You might be doing a great job when all at once you’re fired — not for anything at all related to your performance — no, you could be fired for telling the truth. And, you could even be fired for your brother telling the truth.
There is no predictability. There is only chaos. Chaos is what a dictator thrives on. By continual change, dictated from the top in completely unpredictable ways, the dictator gains more and more control. For instance, let’s imagine that the dictator (or even a would-be dictator with inside knowledge) brokers a wonderful trade deal with China in which both parties benefit; a real win/win situation. If this happens in real life, word will leak out and eventually there will be confirmation and the stock market will tend to go up. But it’s a lot of work to make such a deal.
Imagine instead that you decided to grant some monetary favors to some of your largest donors. You tell them that you’re about to make a big announcement of a wonderful trade deal with China. They buy stocks low. You make your announcement. The stock market goes up. They sell stocks high. Everyone discovers there’s no “there” there and the stock market goes back down. Meanwhile, your friends made millions.
For everyone else though, it’s simply chaos. It makes financial planning hard; it makes career planning difficult; it makes all planning difficult. Remember: at any time and for any reason, an “order from headquarters” could render all your previous planning useless. The person you have teamed with for years could be hauled off suddenly for a political crime. Of course, at first you’ll find it hard to believe. After all, you’ve known Frank for years. He never seemed like the type to step out of line. But there is no-one to plead the other side in a dictatorship — not honestly. All trials become sham trials. The outcome is known in advance. If the powerful like you, you go free, no matter how heinous your crime and how strong the evidence. If the powerful don’t like you, you’ll be jailed, or executed, or (most fun of all) tortured until you give the names of five or six of your friends as also being enemies of the state. Truth doesn’t matter any more. The rule of law doesn’t matter any more.
More and more wealth will be funneled to the already very rich. That will make everyone else more desperate and crime will increase. More and more people will be incarcerated essentially being a slave work force. They will literally be working and surviving and nothing more. No more attempts at rehabilitation. Who wants them rehabilitated? They are cheap labor. And, what’s equally important, they serve as a great reminder to everyone not in prison that prison is theirs for the asking. All they have to do is utter the truth or fail to shout “Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!” loudly enough and they too can have a one way ticket to hell.
What happened when Mao became dictator of China? Educated people were sent out into the fields. Many were executed. Society was turned completely on its head. Russian Revolution: Same. Hitler’s Germany — much of it was bombed, millions killed, turned ordinary people into monsters. It’s always the same. The founding fathers had seen it over and over in country after country in age after age. Absolute power cannot be safely bestowed on anyone — not even a person of great character and wisdom.
George Washington faced danger, exhibited leadership and helped our young nation survive.
Yet, he did not want to be king.
Donald Trump ran from danger, exhibited no leadership and will have needlessly killed a quarter million Americans. He’s isolated us from our allies. He’s divided the country against itself. He’s railed against the free press since day one. He’s replaced non-partisan experts throughout government with inept lackeys. He is preparing for a fascist state. He’s a willing accomplice in the destruction of American.
Yet he does want to be King.
And if he does? Life will be less regular and less predictable and less organized. It will be more chaotic as well as more sadistic. Is that really the world you want your kids and grandkids to grow up in?
Tu-Swift’s eyes darted immediately to what he most wanted to see. There she was, her back turned away, with only a tress of hair across the back of her ear, but he recognizer her. Cat Eyes poured over more of the writings she had discovered. “Books” — that was they word they had learned for such large sheaves of knowledge marked down. Six of her “students” nearly encircled her. As he neared, he noticed his heart beating fast and hard, though he only caught momentary glimpses of her. At a distance of a medium-sized fallen tree, he stopped and gulped hard. Cat Eyes was still turned away from him when suddenly, she turned her head and looked him straight in the eye. What happened next seemed inexplicable to Tu-Swift. She turned, saw him, smiled and then — she flew to him — or perhaps floated to him — or ran to him. After a very long time and a very short time, she wrapped her arms around him tightly and he responded in kind. He loved the smell of her, though now, he noticed a slight tinge of spicy mint. If anything, that made her smell even better!
After far too short a time, they drew apart slightly, still holding on and they began exchanging news. After a few moments of over-talking each other, they both laughed and promised that they would take turns, just as any civilized Veritas knows how to do. They played a game they called “make five” and thus, it was determined that Tu-Swift would begin. He described how the red death had spread through the tribe and how the solution had appeared in a dream of She Who Saves Many Lives. Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker had gone to reconnoiter the giant stone encampment of the Z-Lotz and they had been captured. At this point in the story, he backed off enough to look into her face. He saw that her eyes already brimmed with a score of urgent questions. He smiled at her; spoke gently; put a hand on each side of her face as he said, “Cat Eyes. There is no hurry. I am here for as long as it pleases you. I will answer any question from you. Ever.” Then, he kissed her on the lips.
Instead of resuming his narrative uninterrupted (as was common practice among the Veritas), he smiled and asked, “What is your most pressing question?”
Cat Eyes said, “I have so many, but are they okay? I mean, if they were captured, in a large city, they must have died! Is that what happened?”
Tu-Swift shook his head and answered, “No, they are both okay. More than okay. Shadow Walker killed NUT-PI and became king of the Z-LOTZ!”
Cat Eyes’s eyes widened. “But how is that possible?!”
Tu-Swift shrugged. “That’s the thing. We do not yet know. We’ve only sent a few messages back and forth on eagles. They say that Shadow Walker is King & both are fine, but they haven’t gotten to the how part yet.”
Cat Eyes shook her head. “What? What!? What could be more important to tell than to tell how they escaped?”
Tu-Swift smiled. “I’ll tell you, given half a chance. Cat Eyes, your parents are alive! They will likely arrive here themselves in a half moon’s time. They will be among a larger party of visitors. Many Paths has an idea that she wants to discuss among all the Veritas.”
“My parents are alive!? What? How? How? What? Tell me!”
“I’m really sorry, Cat Eyes. Believe me, I’m curious too. We have been sitting around a campfire speculating about so many things. But soon, we will know. A small party is coming from the Z-Lotz city and that includes your parents. We will absorb their story and send them on, if they are able, along with a few others. You and I will find out at the same time, if I may stay here, of course.” Tu-Swift lifted his eyebrows.
“You’d better! Or, I swear, I’ll break both your knees!”
“You wouldn’t be the first to try that.”
Tu-Swift meant it as a joke, but Cat Eyes felt she had been insensitive. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it, of course. I forgot about your knee. But you were strong enough to make the journey here so, I guess it’s better?”
“Yes, thanks. I’m not back to full speed quite yet, but I’m getting there. I meant it as a joke, though. I’m not bothered. Even if I am never the fastest one in the tribe, what of that? I’m alive; I’m well. So many died. Do many of us.” He paused and looked at Cat Eyes.
She bit her lip and asked the question that Tu-Swift willed her to ask, “Tu-Swift, how is Suze? Why isn’t she here with you?”
Tears welled up in the eyes of Tu-Swift, soon echoed by those Cat Eyes.
Cat Eyes gently said, “I’m so sorry, Tu-Swift. I loved her too. Without her help, and yours, of course, we would still not know how to decode these messages. But, that aside, she was so … alive. So much, herself.”
“I know. I know.”
“Who else? Who else is gone, Tu-Swift?”
So Tu-Swift told of Stone Chipper and his son Horse Viewer and of so many others. And, he could see each time that he told of a person, Cat Eyes felt sorrow. In her relatively short time at the Center Place of the Veritas, she had come to know every one of the people there as an individual. She understood as well that each death was also a blow to the whole village and a special blow to those closest to the person who had just died.
Tu-Swift himself felt a great heaviness. The recitation of every single name on the list felt like another tree trunk had fallen on his drooping shoulders. At the end, at last, he spoke of Many Paths and She Who Saves Many Lives.
“Many Paths grew very sick, Cat Eyes. She Who Saves Many Lives and I took care of her. Many Paths is fine now, but She Who Saves Many Lives herself became quite ill. She was still alive when I left to see you, but — but quite ill — and talking a lot about the Tree of Life and how we were all just parts of it. It makes me think that she thinks she’s dying. But I don’t really know. But the last piece of my news is about the nature of Many Path’s dream.
“The dream of She Who Saves Many Lives,” he continued, “allowed us to save many lives in the Center Place of the Veritas. Now, none are any longer sick. It may be that the dream of Many Paths that will end up saving even more lives, not just now, but for the future as well. She was much taken by the notion that all these — books — that you study — that they came from another time when there was more — so much more — but also less — so much less. And, she is — she wants to prevent that from happening again. She wants to bring all the tribes together. But she wants to know first, whether the Veritas here could agree to such a plan. And she would like to know what more you have learned from all these books. And, I do want to hear your news, but … I want you to know that I am so happy to see you. I missed you, Cat Eyes.”
They embraced again, each feeling the pain and comfort of the other.
Dmitry paced the fifteen feet of his fifth floor studio apartment, sat down, immediately got up and began pacing again. “Damn!”he muttered under his breath. “I should have never gotten involved in this to start with.”
Natasha knew better than to follow her instincts and try to comfort him. She knew from their decade together that Dmitry never liked to be comforted when he paced. Instead, she tried to reason with him. “Why are you so sure you’re in trouble? Maybe … “
“Because I know, dammit. How many times has Vlad called someone in for a “special meeting” and that person simply disappeared?”
Natasha nodded. “OK,” she admitted, “but this time may be different. Do you have any idea what it’s about?”
“Oh, hell yes. I know exactly what it’s about! The GRU took up my idea to morph the American political party known as GOP into a death cult. They double checked my computer modeling and eventually most everyone agreed it was worth a try, however absurd it seemed on the face of it. But in six months of work, we have yet to find anyone depraved enough to come on board. We’ve compromised quite a few GOP Senators, but none of them will go along with actually killing tens of thousands of their countrymen.”
Natasha frowned and said gently, “Should you be telling me this?”
“No, but what the hell. I’m going down anyway. We couldn’t find anyone that crooked. No-one.”
Natasha realized that if Dmitry really did get disappeared, she was in mortal danger as well. After all, her job was to ensure his success. And, if he really did fail big time, the axe would fall even harder on his handler. He knew damned well that he shouldn’t be saying anything about this to his ‘girlfriend’. Maybe she would report him. Maybe not. First things first. “Hey, what about a prominent actor or businessman? It doesn’t have to be a politician does it? Didn’t they have a popular President who was only a second rate actor?”
“You don’t think we thought of that? We tried … we got close with a few. They’re okay with stealing money, but actually killing people — so many wimpy Americans. For some weird reason, they draw the line at murder. We need someone who has no grasp of reality. On the edge of insanity. Most business successes — unless they just inherited all their wealth — and even then, they’ll just lose their inherited wealth if they can’t face reality so … and actors? Sure there are a lot on the edge. But not over the edge…well, none that would be popular enough. We’ve tried successful people in religion, business, show business…but no luck. There has to be something. But we haven’t found it. What are we missing?”
Natasha spoke quietly. “What about unsuccessful people, Dmitry?”
“What? What are you talking about? Why would we want someone unsuccessful?”
“OK, Dmitry, just hear me out. Someone who is actually successful has some sense of accomplishment. They are not going to be that easy to puppetize. On the other hand…if you could find someone who is actually a failure as a politician, or a failure as a businessperson or a failure as an actor….”
Dmitry stopped pacing and looked at Natasha. “Wait a moment! You might be onto something, Natasha! We have been baying at the moon all this time when we really should be baying at the streetlight!”
Natasha smiled, “Or, even a porch light. Or a picture of the moon.”
Dmitry frowned. “A porch light? What are you talking about? What picture?”
Natasha tilted her head and clucked her tongue. “He — or she — but probably he — he could be a complete failure. But someone who wants to be seen as successful. Someone who has lied about his success would be perfect.”
Dmitry began pacing again. “I see what you mean, but there’s one problem. Someone that inept would be too inept to carry out the assignment even though — I agree that they might be willing — how can they be inept and competent at the same time?”
Natasha thought for a moment. “Their ineptitude could actually be an asset, Dmitry. They could be saying and doing all sorts of random and idiotic things. But that would distract the American people from the real action. See what I mean? The more inept and stupid he is publicly, the more people will discount the effectiveness of our puppet — to the point where they won’t see our operations and plans at all.”
Dmitry walked over to the window and stared out at the harsh sodium lit streets of Moscow. He wondered why he hadn’t thought of this himself. Someone who was actually an abject failure but who liked to project the image of a success. Someone who was a complete sociopath, obviously, and so hungry for success, they would betray their country, their party, everything. But does such a person even exist, he wondered. He turned back toward Natasha.
“It might just work. If I could go in tomorrow with a few likely names, I might just turn this thing around. Can you start searching? I’m not sure how to find such a person, but it’s worth a try. I’m going to call — it’s late — but not too late. I’ll get a research team on it too. I can’t tell them why. I just need the names of some complete frauds, maybe even someone in legal trouble but not in jail. There has to be someone in a country of 370 million people.” For the first time in many days, Dmitry laughed. “Maybe we can put an ad in FORBES or FORTUNE. Wanted: Complete business failure. Must be vainglorious and divorced from reality. If only we could be that open about it!” He laughed again.
Natasha smiled. She wondered whether Dmitry would ever discover her own assignment. She liked Dmitry. She really did. She enjoyed their love-making sessions. How would he react to discover that their falling in love had been orchestrated by the GRU. All their so-called geniuses had to be overseen. After all, how else could the Kremlin ensure that people such as Dmitry didn’t become jaded, compromised, or even double agents? Maybe she could make him see that. But maybe not. When it came to mathematical modeling, not to mention chess, Dmitry really was a genius. But when it came to people, his career would have been minor indeed without Natasha taking care of the people side of things.
She had grown genuinely fond of him. It was sad to think that if she succeeded in helping Dmitry carry out his audacious plot, she herself would probably have to be the one to poison him. Maybe she could talk her superiors into making it a quick-acting one or even a fall from the balcony? She had to be careful though. Too much push in that direction would bring suspicion on her. Her handlers might think that she had “gone soft” — really fallen in love. She couldn’t let that happen. No, she’d carry out whatever plans they had. There was always an outside chance that the powers that be would not want to “tie up the loose ends.” After all, he did do excellent modeling. And, teamed up with her, they might even be rewarded with a bigger apartment and a higher salary. Natasha doubted it, but — one never knew.
First things first, she thought. She sat down at the keyboard. How the hell to find someone who is both a gigantic failure but also a con man who has always portrayed himself as a success? Rich. That’s where to start. Someone who inherited a lot of money but never actually accomplished much on their own. As for Dmitry…she really hoped the GRU decided to keep him on. It would be a pain to be assigned to someone else. Ah, well, she thought, such is life.
She typed: fraud loser business failure con man
She smiled and thought to herself: This may be easier than I thought.
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments….”
— W. Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
I once dreamt that I was an octopus. I was not, as you might imagine, a psychoactive octopus tending to a garden for the benefit of a yellow submarine housing the best band ever (prove me wrong in comments). Nor did I exist as a free-ranging creature of the deep blue see who had a rich life evading predators and predating prey. Nope. Not me. I occupied the body of an octopus who had the misfortune of being in a small tank inside a lab. Inside my mind though, I was still me. I had no idea what they were going to do to me, but I knew my first priority had to be finding a way to communicate with them!
It’s no easy task. You might want to take a few minutes and just consider how you would go about it. Answers like “I would simply steal and pencil and write ‘I am here’?” Are not fair game. How are you going to get out of your little tank? How are you going to crawl around with no water? Although the octopus’s tentacles are pretty cool, there’s no guarantee you could exercise the proper control. Anyway, the point isn’t so much to solve the problem as to do these two things:
First, really imagine that you are an octopus and you have all the pros and cons associated with that in the real world but that you also have exactly your same sense of selfhood and you want to live.
Second, how would you go about telling your captors that you were alive and conscious and wanted to be put back in the ocean — and then, how would you successfully convince them to actually carry out your wishes? As I say, it isn’t so much the solution but the process of trying that I think is valuable.
Our communication with animals is actually quite remarkable. We have learned a lot from a host of scientific studies about things we did not previously know; e.g., how bees dance to communicate to other bees about the location of pollen sources. Even before the advent of science however, humanity has learned to to communicate to an extent with many kinds of animals. That ability has helped us survive. We have somewhat cooperative, somewhat exploitative relationships with numerous other species. And, we’re not the only species with those kind of cooperative/competitive relationships either.
I am experimenting, in a small way, with trying to understand more about the minds of other species and how to communicate with them. I generally greet all the “obvious-sized” creatures that I encounter in the garden in a friendly, cheerful voice. Why not? The price is right! And, although I am more than somewhat doubtful that they understand my words, I think that on average, they understand my love quite well. It’s possible that a tone of voice that is pleasant to one species is very unpleasant to another. But in general, I would expect sounds that are violent, discordant, loud, and suddenly loud would be unpleasant to most species and trigger a fight or flight response.
On the other hand, music or singing or speaking gently and re-assuringly is felt by most species to be pleasurable. Most will still scurry away, but they will let you get much closer. At least, that’s been my experience. Can you really imagine it otherwise? Meet a deer in the woods and scream at it and it will approach you? But if you walk up slowly and talk gently or sing, it will scamper off more quickly? If humans were that tone-deaf to other species, we would have never “domesticated” cattle, dogs, cats, birds, horses, etc. and our own lives would be immeasurably less rich as a result.
Now, we come to the issue of cats. It’s fairly easy to tell whether a dog understands you. I am not saying it is always easy to make a dog understand you, but you can tell when they do. A cat? Not so much. Oh, sometimes, sure. If you say, “Time for Dinner” and they all gather around, they know what’s happening and they show it. But in other cases, where there is no immediate reward, it’s hard to tell. I love my cats. And, I think, in many ways, they even love me back. But they’re out for themselves. You know it. I know it. They know it. And they know I know it. A dog is eager to please you. A cat believes in their very bones that you want nothing more out of life than to please them. And the ironic thing is, that because of that, it’s harder to communicate with them (which is actually bad for them). It’s very difficult to distinguish between their not understanding and their not caring.
Hence, I decided to make some communication attempts with my cats that were not aimed at getting them to do anything. Of course, that already happens with petting, for instance, but let’s see if further common ground can be shared in a conscious way.
Shadow is now our oldest cat. She is jet-black and bad-tempered except when it comes to Luna, our smallest cat. With Luna, she is homicidal. With the others, she’s just mean, particularly right before dinner. She’ll bat any other cat who comes within striking distance including her own two daughters who were adopted at the same time. On the other hand, she is very affectionate to humans and loves to sit in my lap and be petted.
At night, generally around midnight to 1 am, but it could be earlier or later depending on what would be most disruptive to our sleep cycle, Shadow has for years taken to finding cloth of various kinds and loudly crowing while she carries it about the house. Not terribly surprising, and more pleasant than the “partially eaten dead bunny” version.
After several years of this, it slowly dawned on me that she was often pairing things. She would put two paired socks down next to each other, often in lines that were close to parallel. She would not — or at least I never observed such — to put a sock next to a dish towel, for instance, while there were many instances of two socks or two dish towels. Sadly, this cannot be completely explained because socks are always closer to each other than they are to dish towels in our house. At first, the number of dish towels was limited because I would always put one where Shadow couldn’t find it. Over time, however, as she discovered more and more ways to find the dish towels she couldn’t find, the number of dish towels in any one … “arrangement” … grew.
Somewhat jokingly, I began to refer to the dish towel arrangements as her “works of art.”
But then, it occurred to me. Maybe they are exactly that.
Or, maybe they are moves in an elaborate game of cat and human that she is trying to teach me.
Or, maybe they are her attempt to communicate with me that she is a person — a cat of a person — or a person of a cat — who just happens to be inside a cat body. She cannot speak, or write. Her brain doesn’t allow her to do all the things I can do (or, vice versa, by the way). But to her, inside her heart, it’s much like me inside mine. And, if that’s true, then maybe we can learn to “communicate” using the dish towels.
For such an endeavor, I want to try to keep an open mind. I’m going to try not to assume that it’s a game or that we need to take turns or that she’s paying any attention to the world in the same way that I am. Of course, I will fail at this, but I think I will still learn more by trying than by not trying.
Democrat still clinging to the Rule of Law: “Are you against the Affordable Care Act? Do you realize destroying it would put the health of millions of Americans at risk and that we are in the middle of a pandemic?”
AB: “I don’t comment on things in the abstract so I can’t say.”
Democrat believing in the Rule of Law: “But you did write opinions that it should be trashed.”
AB: “Oh, that!. Oh, sure. But I was just writing as an academic. Just expressing my opinion as an academic. It has nothing whatever necessarily to do with what I would do in a specific case. I’d have to read the law, listen to the arguments, pray for guidance, confer with my colleagues, understand the facts of the case and then rule however the President told me to.”
Democrat: “And you do realize that the President read your opinion…well, no, didn’t read it I’m sure, but he was no doubt assured by the Federalist society that you could be counted on to do whatever he says. Right?”
AB: “Oh, I’d be so flattered if he read it, but I didn’t know that. I’m sure it’s just my sheer brilliance that made him pick me.”
Democrat: “You realize that he has said publicly that he would pick a judge who would tear down the Affordable Care Act, right? So, he at least thinks he knows how you would vote. Correct?”
AB: “Oh, my. I have no idea what such a stable genius as the President might think. Who knows? But I can assure you and everyone listening that I would look to the law and the facts and make a fair and informed decision. You know, justices have to swear to be impartial.”
Democrat: “Yes, I’m familiar with the concept of ‘Oath of Office.’ After all, Trump swore an ‘Oath of Office’ to defend our country. But what he’s actually done is sell it out to Putin and the Russian oligarchs to whom he owes half a billion dollars. And, the GOP Senators swore a solemn oath to run a fair trial after Trump’s impeachment. And, all the while Mitch McConman laughed, smiled, and said he could guarantee that Trump would walk free and that he would “coordinate” the trial with Trump’s legal team. And, the GOP Senators refused to call witnesses or subpoena documents, so, again, I’m pretty clear how much an oath is worth when it’s made by the Gang Of Putin. But let’s examine another issue. Trump has also said he wants to be lifetime dictator. If he claims he wants to be dictator and the case comes to the Supreme Court and you are confirmed, can you assure the American people that you will not take his side? Is it ever okay for the President to become a dictator?”
AB: “Well, as I have said so many times in the last few days, I’m a strict constitutionalist. I don’t believe it’s up to us to re-interpret the Constitution but to hang instead on its every word. That said, I can’t comment on hypotheticals. So, who knows? But I can assure you that I would read the applicable law and the facts of the case and make a decision based on the constitution.”
Dem: “So you cannot — right here — today, assure the American people that you will not approve Trump’s bid to become dictator?”
AB: “It would depend on the specifics. I can tell you this though. The word ‘dictator’ does not appear in the Constitution. So, apparently, the Founding Fathers must have thought it would be just fine. Otherwise they would have put a clause in specifically forbidding it. And they didn’t. So…but I am in no way promising that I would approve his dictatorship. It would depend on the arguments and so on and so forth ad nauseam.”
Dem: “Putin’s Puppet seems to think that it is vital to get you on the court right now so that you can rule on his bogus claims of voter fraud. He has publicly said that’s why he needs you on the court.”
AB: “I’m flattered, of course, that he needs me. I had no idea he said that. How sweet. But I would have to look at the arguments on both sides, and the applicable law, and the facts of the case. Then, I would make a determination.”
Dem: “You realize that study after study has found that voter fraud is a nearly non-existent problem?”
AB: “Since the President has already said he’s going to put this case before the Supreme Court, I can’t really comment on a case which I may have to rule on.”
Dem: “Since the President has said that he is putting you on the court now because he will need you to make sure he wins regardless of the vote totals, don’t you feel you should recuse yourself from such a case if it does come to the Court? Otherwise, even if you were trying to be fair, don’t you think a reasonable person would infer that there is a conflict of interest?”
AB: “Well, my mentor Judge Scalia did not recuse himself from a case where Dick Cheney and he had an extended hunting trip together right before the case. Cheney had a material interest and I want to be more right wing than Attila the Hun. But I can’t actually say. You know? I’d have to see exactly what the case was and then decide not to recuse myself. I mean, why would I? I’m always fair in my own mind, so why recuse?”
Dem: “Do you think black people should be allowed to vote in this country? Are you aware that we are in the middle of an election right now and that the Republicans are suppressing the vote in a whole host of ways? In rich white neighborhoods, people might wait five minutes, but in many areas where there are a preponderance of people of color, there are lines that are up to eleven hours long. Is this equal protection under the law?”
AB: “Well, you know, I don’t want to give opinions on things unless I actually know the facts of the case. You say there are long lines and that the black vote is being suppressed but who knows? What does reporting prove? What does eyewitness prove? Unless it is brought to court and we have a chance to review the law, check with the President and see what he wants to do, who knows?”
Dem: “Did you say you would have to check with the President?”
AB: “Absolutely. Oh, wait. Did you think I said President? I said precedent. Maybe if you’d take the damned mask off, I could understand you better. The pandemic’s over anyway. Our fearless leader already said that. But whatever. I don’t see what my religion has to do with it.”
Trumputinist Senator: “Exactly. The Constitution guarantees religious freedom and yet the Democrats here today have repeatedly said you shouldn’t serve because of your religion! It’s preposterous!”
AB: “I know! I have a right to believe the earth is the center of the universe and that it’s 6000 years old and that women should be utter slaves to their husbands and that birth control, abortion, and in vitro fertilization are all tools of the devil if I want! And, yet the Dems keep saying I can’t serve because of my religion! I don’t see why a Catholic can’t be on the Supreme Court. It’s not like I’m Muslim or something weird like that.”
Dem: “What Senator has said that you could not serve because of your religion?”
AB: “I forget. Lots of them. All of them. None of them. But they intimated it.”
Dem: “Which Senator intimated that you are unworthy to serve because of your religious beliefs?”
AB: “Somebody. I don’t know. Maybe they were wearing a mask. Which is silly. Because the pandemic’s over. It’s over. Our Fearless Leader said so! You were asking me about voting rights. That’s one example. The Bible says only white people should vote — people like Jesus.”
Dem: “You think Jesus was white?”
AB: “Well, sure. That’s what the picture looks like in my church. Blond hair like me and blue eyes like me. See, there you are again, questioning my religion.”
Dem: “No, I’m not. I’m questioning your history. Jesus was almost certainly dark-skinned and dark haired and brown eyed.”
AB: “Where does it say that in the Constitution?”
Dem: “Constitution? What are you talking about?”
AB: “You know, the law of the land, the … oh, I mean … I mean, the Bible. Where does it say in the Bible that Jesus wasn’t Aryan? And, anyway, did you know I adopted colored children?”
Dem: “That’s very nice. I firmly believe that you, like other Americans, can believe as you wish. But it concerns me that you may sometimes confuse what the Constitution says with what the Bible says. Does that ever happen?”
AB: “Absolutely not! But if it did, let’s not forget that the country was founded by Evangelical Christians!”
Dem: “Partly, perhaps. Thomas Pain was an atheist. Thomas Jefferson was a deist. As was Benjamin Franklin. As was Alexander Hamilton in his later years. Anyway, would you support the idea that America should be a religious theocracy?”
AB: “I wouldn’t care to speculate about hypocrites or hypocrisy. They have a long and stories history in American politics. It would depend on the specifics of the case.”
Dem: “Hypocrisy? Do you mean hypotheticals?”
AB: “Yes, that’s what I said — hypotheticals. I don’t do hypotheticals.”
Dem: “So, if the President intentionally killed a quarter million Americans, and a class action lawsuit were brought by the families of those intentionally killed, you could not say whether that was okay or not?”
AB: “Of course not. That’s a perfect example. The President is so gentle, I’m sure he wouldn’t hurt a fly intentionally. Well, not unless it were stealing the show from Pence. But you know. I would need to know specifically which quarter million Americans were killed and many of them were probably nobodies or old, sick people anyway. And many of them just didn’t take care of themselves. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes…aren’t these really just the products of bad decisions?”
Dem: “Sometimes. Often people are born with pre-existing conditions. And sometimes, people get those diseases from bad luck although certainly lack of financial resources can play a part as well.”
AB: “Well there you go! If you’re not born rich, whose fault is that? But as I say, it would depend. I can’t say anything. I was told not to say anything and I’m pretty sure I succeeded.”
Dem: “So, just to recap, if the President breaks the law and then argues that he should have absolute power and be able to break any law he wants, you would say — what?”
AB: “I can’t say. I really can’t say. I’m under orders not to say anything about anything. And — we’re done! We’re done! I’m in! I’m in! No-one has a conscience and no-one will vote against me! I avoided saying all those bad things you were trying to get me to say and I win! I win!”
Like all writers, I’ve had my share of rejection letters. I happened to run across this (fictional) rejection of a proposal for a TV sit-com based on Presidential politics and set early 21st century America.
“Dear Dr. Thomas,
Thank you for sending your intriguing outline for your proposed TV sit-com, “The Mango Mussolini.” While there are some clever lines, the entire concept is way too fantastical for modern audiences. We don’t have the time or frankly, the motivation, to point out all the times you’ve broken all bounds of credibility, but here are a few.
1. The idea that an American President would openly ask for help from the Russian government is completely unbelievable. None would be that stupid, but if they were, he or she would soon be impeached and out of office — no more episodes!
2. Why would the Republican Party choose one of the most failure-prone businessmen in US history as their leader? The Republicans are well known for supporting business. They might nominate a successful businessperson, but not one with a long string of failures. Yes, of course, it is ironic and, to an extent, funny. But at some point, it becomes too unbelievable for the audience. And, then, as though the joke was not unbelievable enough, you doubled down and had your main character also be sued for a fake university and a fake charity. Come on. Seriously.
3. Imagining the Mango Mussolini as a sexual predator and pervert despite (or perhaps because of his obesity and repulsiveness) seems like a cheap trick to get more obese old guys to tune in. That aspect, as well as the fear, hate, and lies that spew out of his mouth make it unsuitable for prime time network fare. “Grab them by the pu$$y”? No-one even talks that way. Even if we could overcome the other issues, we would have to rate this R.
4. We did find the notion of a pandemic intriguing, but why on earth would a President near the end of his first term lie about it when simply telling the truth, showing empathy, and putting experts in charge of the manufacture and distribution of PPE, masks, testing, and contact tracing would have guaranteed an easy win?
In summary, some nice contrivances, but no-one will believe characters could be so evil, inept, and without redeeming qualities. And, even if they were that evil, why wouldn’t they simply be deposed by their own party?
Suppose in your neighborhood a certain little boy lived — a boy who was rather naughty. I don’t mean naughty as in one day the kid’s baseball rolls into your yard and smashes into the basement window and breaks it and then they all run off and you end having to pay for the new window yourself. No, not that kind of naughty. I mean more like the naughty where pet after pet in the neighborhood seemed right as rain for years on end and then met a most untimely death. Sometimes, they would look a bit as though they got hit with a car — various pieces gone, etc. Sometimes, they would simply disappear without a trace. (You’d be surprised how undetectable a cat is when it has run through a chipper along with a large amount of brush). Mostly though, they simply died from what was at the time said to be “natural causes” though pretty much everyone in the neighborhood privately thought that a cat screaming endlessly until it clawed itself to death sure didn’t seem like “natural causes.” Nor did it seem all that “natural” when Billy’s Bull Terrier ran head long into a brick wall. They are called “Bull Terriers,” I grant you, but they don’t charge things the way a bull does and bulls certainly don’t charge into brick walls. Even bulls are too smart for that.
Did I mention that the little boy was known as “Donnie Boy”?
Anyway, speaking of running into brick walls, Donnie Boy loved to play croquet at the Country Club. It gave him plenty of opportunity to practice his cheating skills and Daddy always said to take every chance to do that because those were the most important skills of all! Why just the other day, Fred had told his boys how he had ripped off someone for a million dollars!
“And you know what the best part was, Junior? The best part was that that sucker was paying big bucks for a high-falutin lawyer with a degree from HAHVAHD. And, his lawyer tells him not to hand over the cash without a signed contract and witnesses. Of course! Duh! And I look this sucker right in the eye and I say, ‘Joe, I’m an honest man. Always have been. Always will be. And, when I give you my word, there is no need for a contract. My word is my bond. My word is my contract.’”
At this point, Fred snorted and slapped himself on the thigh to emphasize how funny he thought this was. Then, he lowered his head and used a stage whisper which naturally drew Fred Junior and Donnie Boy closer. “You know who he believed? His own lawyer? Or me?”
Fred Junior knew the answer of course, but he felt uncomfortable being an unauditioned-for part in someone else’s play.
Eager Donnie Boy though supplied the line. “You!!”
“That’s right, Donnie Boy! That’s right! That fool-cake gave me the cash and then of course I denied it! Idiot!”
Many such experiences led Donnie Boy to revel in cheating at croquet (just as in everything else). He would loosen the mallets of other players. He would kick the balls when no-one was watching. His favorite though was when someone went through a wicket and hit a ball. Then, the sucker-player would start taking his extra shots and Donnie Boy would scream: “HEY! What are you doing? You already took your extra shots!”
“No, I didn’t!” Some of the other players weren’t sure. But those who had kept track told Donnie Boy he was wrong. Then, he would attack them by saying that they were in cahoots with the person with the extra shots; that everyone else was a cheater anyway! Often, the person who still had an extra shot coming would give in. But sometimes, everyone would get mad and eventually and go home. And, when that happened, they would leave the set up in the courtyard because no-one felt responsible for putting it away.
And, that’s how the trouble began.
Other folks liked to go for a walk on the lawn at night. Some were rather elderly and almost all were somewhat Martinied up. And, some avoided wearing glasses in public for reasons of pure vanity. Murphy (of “Murphy’s Law”) was not only alive and well but actually prospered as never before during the last few years; he now owned a little island chain in the South Pacific. Therefore, it should come as scant surprise that the very first night the young croquet players “forgot” to put away the set, not one, not two, but three club members tripped over an unseen wicket at various times. One sprained an ankle; two each ruined her gown. All three spilled their drink and ended up smelling as though they had had too much to drink….which was probably true, but not really the point. Being drunk was perfectly fine. Being perceived as being drunk was definitely not fine.
Needless to say, Fred Junior and Maryanne were severely punished for their (supposed) part in leaving the croquet set out. Maybe it isn’t really “needless to say” because they actually had had nothing to do with it. Donnie Boy was the only family member involved. For that matter, you could even say that it was mainly his fault because he had intentionally created the chaos that led to everyone quitting in anger. True enough, there was nothing physically preventing the other kids who were playing from taking it upon themselves to put the game safely away. But none did. All of them were punished in one way or another.
Except Donnie Boy of course. He heard about the accidents from his mother.
“Oh, Mommy, that’s awful! I’m so sorry. I’m afraid it’s all my fault!” Donnie Boy hid his face in his hands, grinning from ear to ear, while making sobbing noises.
“What do you mean, Donnie? How is it your fault?”
“I’m sorry Mommy. I just couldn’t find a way to make them put it away. I mean, when they quit their game, I knew it was dangerous. I reminded Maryanne & Junior, but they just got mad and told me to mind my own business. Junior said, ‘So what if some fat old lady falls and breaks her ankle? Who cares? I don’t care. Do you?’ So, I just shook my head. I didn’t know what to say. I started to put the set away myself but Junior said he would … he said he would ….”
Here, Donnie Boy faked sobbing again. It was several moments before he could pull himself together. He was on the verge of bursting out with laughter. At last, when he thought he could control himself, he went on, “would beat the ever-loving … the ever-loving … something I can’t say … out of me.” And, he clenched his fist like this (and now Donnie Boy clenched his teeny fist to emphasize the point).
“I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m so sorry I wasn’t braver. I should have made them listen to me!”
“That’s okay Donnie. But those two are in for it!”
Donnie Boy was still small enough to spend most of his time in the same neighborhood. Soon, no-one wanted to play croquet with him. To Donnie Boy, this seemed a horrible thing. He wanted to practice his cheating so he was losing out there, but he also was looking forward to some more old people tripping over the unnoticed wickets.
A few nights later, he was at a family dinner at the boring old people’s Country Club. Fred Senior was waxing eloquent about himself but the stories were all ones Donnie Boy had heard many times. It was early fall and the days were still warm; at least this one was. Donnie wandered over to the equipment shed. He glanced at the croquet set. It was unlocked. Maybe I can practice my shots, he thought for a moment. Nah, what’s the point? It’s a lot easier just to cheat. But no-body wants to play any more and there’s no more excuse to leave it out… Donnie’s train of thought was interrupted by the loudspeakers at the clubhouse. They were announcing awards of some kind. I should be getting one, he though to himself. So what if I never played?
Wait a minute! Thought Donnie Boy. Who says I have to play croquet to set it up?! I can just put out a few well-placed wickets and old people are sure to fall over them again.
Sure enough, that very night, three people had again fallen. This time though, one of the injuries was serious. Old Mrs. Barrett fell and broke her arm in three places as she smashed against a nearby brick wall.
Fred Senior broke the news over dessert. Everyone did a nice job of feigning concern except Donnie Boy who burst out laughing. Fred tilted his head sideways and stared at Donnie. He walked over and took the small boy’s head in his normal-sized hands and said in a hard menacing stage whisper, “Now Donnie Boy, you are going to tell me the truth. Look at me. Tell me true. Did you put those wickets out?”
“Wickets? I didn’t play croquet today! Honest!” Donnie Boy’s pants were getting a little wet.
Fred Senior ground his yellow teeth as he spoke: “That is NOT what I asked you. Did you put those wickets out today?”
Donnie yelled, “It was probably Fred and Maryanne again! I didn’t do it! And anyway, there isn’t any brick wall out by the croquet! It’s all lies! I’ll prove it.”
Donnie Boy jumped up from the table and ran out to the croquet lawn. He ran and skipped and sang, “I’m right! You’re wrong! No brick wall! None at all!” Suddenly, Donnie Boy tripped on one of the croquet wickets and smashed his head into the nearby brick wall. “ARGH!” he began to scream. “Why didn’t you pick them up?! I thought you’d pick them up! What’s wrong with you people?”
Mommy nearly fainted when she saw how much blood was trickling down by Donnie’s ear. “Oh, Donnie, Donnie. We have to take you to the Doctor’s.”
“Mommy! Mommy! Why didn’t they pick up my wickets? Why did they leave them there?”
“So sorry, baby. I guess they were busy calling an ambulance and everything for Old Mrs. Barrett. How’s your head? Try to stay awake. Daddy called an ambulance. What do you mean by ‘my wickets’ Donnie? Why do you say ‘my wickets’?”
“I didn’t say that, Mommy. You must be hearing things.”
“Donnie, the ambulance is here. They’re going to X-ray your head and make sure everything’s OK. You’re Mommy’s little hero now, Donnie. Be brave.”
She shook her head and took the hands of her other two kids and the went back inside to gather up their things. She felt she had to sit for a moment to collect her thoughts though and she toyed with her cake with her fork. The chocolate smelled good, but she had lost her appetite. She looked over at Fred Junior who was slowly shaking his head.
“What’s wrong, Honey? Are you also worried about our little hero?”
Junior snorted. “Hero? How is he a hero? First he doesn’t put away a croquet set and people trip and fall. Then, he blames it on us. Then, he intentionally puts wickets out so people will fall and then he lies about their not being a brick wall — which anyone can see! There’s always been a brick wall along — actually along two sides of the croquet pitch. And, then, he trips over one of his own wickets and smacks his head! How is that being a hero? That’s not what the word means, Mom. Not even close.”
Other purely fictional tales about a child sociopath.
“Cicadas” thought Many Paths, her eyelids heavy in the sultry afternoon. “Cawing crows.” She had thought she was well, but the simple walk to see Tu-Swift and the walk back up to her own cabin had exhausted Many Paths again. After helping the old shaman drink the tea, she saw She Who Saves Many Lives drift off again. This made Many Paths herself tired. She lay down just to rest for a moment and tried to still her racing mind. Maybe it was crazy to try to bring six tribes together. How could she be sure the other tribes would not simply use the occasion to lie, cheat, and steal — or even try to attack the Veritas? How can one trust those who steal children, she wondered. She turned the problem over and over, but she kept thinking in circles.
Many Paths at last gave in to the waves of sleep that lapped over her. In her dream, she lay on the shore of a giant lake that smelled of salt. She sat near, but apart from a circle on the beach. Here sat seven of her grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmothers. Each wore a silver gown and each sat on a log which had apparently been arranged for the purpose of their council circle. In the middle of the seven of them a campfire burned. But were they grandmothers she wondered? For now, they looked like the Seven Rings of Empathy, but with human faces.
They were speaking much like the manner of the Veritas when engaged in serious dialogue. That is to say, each one spoke clearly, slowly, calmly, but with emphasis. Their voices were clear but rang as though each ring had now grown to a large chime. They sang to her and to each other. Not in Veritas, did they speak. Nor did they speak in any human language she had ever heard. A kind of music swelled — harmonious, unhurried, and yet, she knew what they were saying. She knew not the names of the seven grandmothers. She had never seen them. Yet they spoke to her as old friends, one by one, in a circle, turn by turn.
“The time has come to put war behind us forever,” said First Grandmother.
“The branches must sway together in the wind,” sang Second Grandmother.
“Our animal cousins eat to live. Our plant cousins take nourishment from the earth, the sky, the sun, the rain.” Thus sang Third Grandmother.
“Our animal cousins do not kill all day. They mostly love and play,” sang Fourth Grandmother.
“Our cousin Ant becomes one of a Colony, yet the Colonies fight each other,” sang Fifth Grandmother.
“Our cousin Wolf becomes one of a Pack, yet Packs may fight each other,” sang Sixth Grandmother.
“What may Ant learn from Wolf? What may Wolf learn from Ant?” Asked Seventh Grandmother.
“While the Hare is running from Wolf, he does not think how Wolf is his cousin. Nor does Wolf think how Hare is also his cousin,” sang First Grandmother.
“Yet, when the forest is afire, both run for their lives without regard for stopping to feast,” sang Second Grandmother.
“We Veritas have come to know and work with many of our cousins that move and many cousins that are rooted to the ground. We work with trees. We work with wolves. We work with bees. We work with eagles. We work with the corn,” sang Third Grandmother.
“It takes patience to work with our cousins. We have to see how they are and what they need. We learn a bit of their tongue and they learn a bit of ours. We give them something they need and they give us something we need,” sang Fourth Grandmother.
“Now, the earth herself ails. The Tree of Life herself ails. It is time for Colony not to fight Colony,” sang Fifth Grandmother.
“It is time for Wolf Pack to work with Wolf Pack,” sang Sixth Grandmother.
“The Great Tree of Life herself must be calm; must remind all her children that they are all her children. These are dangerous times. These are times wherein fear may cause cousin Rabbit to run into fire. These are times wherein panic may cause cousin Buffalo to run off a cliff. These are times when cousin Monkey may try a jump too great and fall from high branches to death,” sang Seventh Grandmother.
Suddenly, the Seven Grandmothers rose as one. Each turned to her left and walked a few paces before sitting back down. The sweet singing continued.
“The flower opens to the bee. The grass bends in the breeze but holds tightly to the ground with its roots. The tree who falls does not resent her chance to nourish the beetles. It is time. It is time to sing together now,” sang First Grandmother.
“We must learn each other’s dances. We must learn each other’s songs. We must learn each other’s ways. It is time. It is time to sing together now,” sang Second Grandmother.
“We must learn each other’s crops. We must ensure that everyone has enough so that none feel they must kill human cousins to survive,” sang Third Grandmother. “It is time. It is time to sing together now.”
“We have enough. We must spend our time learning from each other; dancing with each other; singing with each other; playing with each other; exploring with each other. It is time. It is time to sing together now,” sang Fourth Grandmother.
“We have enough time now that we may be patient as a tree. It is quicker to understand those whose tongue is the same. It is easier to play the games we already know. It is more comfortable to wear the clothes we wear. And, yet, if we do not try a new tongue; if we do not play a new game; if we do not try new clothes, how will we really know which suits us more properly? It is time. It is time to sing together now,” sang Fifth Grandmother.
“All the human children of earth now; all the human branches of The Great Tree of Life; all the Tribes and all the Peoples — we call upon you now. It is time. It is time to sing together now,” sang Sixth Grandmother.
“The Great Tree of Life does not desire to shed more tears for her human children. The Great Earth does not desire to destroy her human children. The Great Bear of the Sky does not wish to send Rocks like Rain to destroy her human children. Enough is enough. It is time. It is time to sing together now,” sang Seventh Grandmother.
The Seven Grandmothers arose as one, turned, and moved one seat to the left. They sat and sang again and again until each of the Seven Ancient Grandmothers returned to the seat she had occupied at first.
They rose one last time and sang together standing — a long and haunting song full of sadness and joy; full of disappointment and hope; so full of love that tiny flashes of fear or anger only amplified the love. As they sang, they began to shimmer and enlarge. Then, they joined together as a great luminous ring and rose high into the sky. In her dream, Many Paths watched them sail high into the dark sky until at last they became seven stars sparkling together as a kind of misty dipper.
When Many Paths awoke, she felt at last as though she had finally and completely defeated the illness that had struck her. She glanced over at She Who Saves Many Lives. The old shaman’s breathing was slow but steady. Many Paths felt the shaman’s head with her left hand and found it only slightly warm. As she did so, Many Paths noticed that she had slipped four of The Seven Rings of Empathy onto her left hand. Then, she looked at her right hand and saw the other three rings. In a flash, she remembered her dream. She swung her legs over the edge of the cot, arose and searched for Tu-Swift. She found him down by the stream. He had harvested more yellow dock, elder flowers, and rose hips. He had quite a pile in a small basket beside him but he stared hard into the middle of the river. He stared so intently that he did not hear Many Paths approaching and when she touched him gently on the arm he started violently. Many Paths embraced her brother and she sent her love to him silently. At last, he pulled away and looked in her face, his eyes brimming with tears.
She gently touched his cheek and said, “I miss her too, Tu-Swift. I miss her too.” She paused and stared at the middle of the creek with him. They sat shoulder to shoulder for a time.
At last, Many Paths turned and said, “Tu-Swift. I know what we must do. I need your help. Will you help me?”
Tu-Swift set his jaw and looked into the eyes of his sister. “Yes, Many Paths. Yes, I will.”