ULTIMATUM (U.S. as De Facto Theocracy)
Prologue: July 4th, 2:00 PM
...And the rockets' red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Even though I was not personally there at the Lincoln Memorial on this hot and glorious Independence Day, raising my voice along with a crowd of hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens, I was proud anyway. Proud of our country, proud of what we'd accomplished in the past two and a quarter centuries, and proud of our president, Edward "Teddy" Stendhal. Even though he was of a political party that I usually didn't vote for--Republican!--I still thought he made a lot of sense. He loved and believed in his God, his family, and a "level playing field" for everyone--including people like me, Moira Lee, who were between jobs and between a rock and a hard place.
Unlike some people--and some Presidents--Stendhal actually seemed to give a crap about those who were on the lower side of the U.S. income tax bracket. He was in favor of tax cuts, of course, and plenty of them, but primarily for the middle class and families who were less fortunate. Families that I knew I could join if I didn't find a new position soon. I had visited a temp agency right before the Fourth of July weekend--Redi-2-Work Staff Solutions--and was hopeful, but wasn't exactly holding my breath. I knew how these places worked. They'd tested me on how fast I could type and sort tags into bins, but how was I going to stack up against the hundreds of other people looking for work in my neck of the woods? I didn't know, and the tests didn't show.
Anyway, back to Stendhal and the Fourth of July. Enough depressing stuff! He was going to give a speech today in front of the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial. I couldn't wait! Usually, I skipped Presidential addresses, including the State of the Union, because I thought they were boring and bureaucratic, but this one was different. Our President was here to celebrate the birth of our country, not the budget deficit or the state of our economy. The Great Depression of the 1930's had not yet been superseded by the Great Collapse of 2025, but it was coming closer to doing so every day. People were angry, and Teddy Stendhal seemed like the only one who could quell that anger...
Well, he and his trusty "veep", John Dunn--the self-righteous bastard! For every speech Stendhal gave about a "level playing field", and for every effort he made to try and stem the tide of corporate greed and unbridled financial perfidy, John Dunn tried to "unlevel" the playing field and give the banks free rein. Why had they even become running mates in the first place? One reason only: money. John Dunn had it. Stendhal didn't. Dunn financed the campaigns, and Stendhal governed. A true win-lose situation.
At least for the American people. For Dunn, it had turned out quite well!
There he was, right up there on my flat-screen TV next to the President, standing next to the President with a feces-eating grin on his face. I wished I could wipe it off! He grinned and waved for the camera like an idiot, and Stendhal did nothing. Come on. Show that iron backbone!
Suddenly, the crowd quieted down. At last! The President cleared his throat.
"My fellow Americans," he began, "we stand here on this Fourth of July to stand up for our country. We're here to honor those who fought and died, who sacrificed their lives, to pay the price for our freedom. From the Revolutionary War, to the two World Wars, even through to our most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, America has battled long and hard to keep herself an independent nation. We all rely on our brothers and sisters, including our partners in trade around the world, for none of us can be truly self-sufficient. No man is an island, and no one can stand alone. Together, we have won, and we shall still win. As Lincoln said: 'United we stand, divided we fall'." Loud applause from the audience, and I found myself inspired as well.
"No matter what race, creed, or gender we happen to be and believe in, we are all Americans, and today we celebrate our common ground. Today we revel in the opportunities that Providence has granted us, and we thank all of those who have helped us along the way. Our nation was born in 1776, and yet the guiding spirit of our Founding Fathers--and their great Declaration of Independence--lives on. In peacetime, we give everyone a chance--even a second chance--but in war, we give no quarter. These United States are our United States, and no enemy, foreign or domestic, will give us cause to cower and resign ourselves to tyranny. That, we will NEVER do!"
More applause. President Stendhal waited quite a while for it to die down.
"We acknowledge that--"
All of a sudden, Stendhal gasped for breath and bent over double, with his suited chest pouring out a cataract of blood. I gasped, and then screamed.
"Oh, my holy God! Teddy!!!!" I stood up and dashed over to my TV. Hugging it as tightly as my muscles would allow, I clenched my teeth and started to cry. Shrieks were heard over the speakers in my living room, but it was as if I didn't hear them. My President had been shot.
That's pretty good. That president had potential. I suspect the VP had a hand in his assassination.
Chapter 1: July 5th, 12:00 PM
Here I am, glued to my TV screen again. More often than not, this is how I glean information about the world, along with the Internet. Of course, I talk to my family, friends and neighbors--"my fellow Americans", as the (...late!?) Teddy Stendhal had put it. However, they had precious little information about the President's assassination. Naturally, I turned to the news for that. Sure, it may have been biased, but then again, what news isn't, especially if it comes from one of our major media channels? Avoiding bias was about as difficult as avoiding breathing or blinking. You could do it, but not for long.
"As of this morning, a suspect has been apprehended in our nation's capital for the successful attempt on President Theodore Stendhal's life. Mr. Andrew K. Smith, calling himself 'Muhammad al-Jilani", has claimed responsibility for this heinous act. He says that, since converting to the religion of Islam five years ago, he has joined the militant group AFJ, or 'Americans for Jihad'. Smith also states that it was the Vice-President he was attempting to assassinate, and not the President. 'I hit the wrong target', he claims..."
I blinked. This nutjob had been trying to kill VP John Dunn, and not Stendhal? That was a surprise, in a way, and in another way it wasn't. After all, Dunn was the one with the money and the anti-Muslim sentiment. The President had nothing but skill, brashness, and tolerance on his side. People who would attempt to kill the President were--well, people like John Dunn, if they weren't already his political bedfellows. Still, I didn't think this Andrew-Smith-cum-Muhammad-al-Jilani character deserved anything but the needle. The death penalty abhors me, but in this particular case...yeah. I'm all for it.
"Prosecutors are advocating for capital punishment, while Smith's lawyers are reported to opt for the 'not guilty by reason of insanity' defense. They state Smith has been brainwashed by the terrorist group, AFJ, and thus is not competent to receive the death penalty. This is Karollyn Johnson."
Her face faded to black, and then to a Lexus commercial. I stared at the sleek, black car, amazed at how the purveyors of luxury vehicles could continue to demand our attention at a time like this. Didn't the President of the United States deserve more than that--more than to have the dissection of his brutal murder interrupted by the clamor of the Almighty Dollar in its various guises? Then again, if there weren't commercials, there wouldn't be any TV news, would there? We'd all have to go back to reading newspapers--which were, I reflected, chock-full of ads as well...
The phone rang. Scanning my caller ID, I snatched up the receiver:
"Moira! Isn't it terrible! Our President has been shot!"
"I know." I paused for a good, long while. "Do you remember JFK?"
"Of course I do. I was thirteen years old when it happened. I was at school, and suddenly we heard the news..." My mother paused. "Your father says--said-- that as the day wore on at his school, one of his teachers got angry at the kids goofing off. He said, 'Do you know that if the Russians, the communists, wanted to attack us, then this would be the perfect time to do it? That shut them up..." Mom trailed off again, and I gave a wry chuckle.
"I miss Dad."
"I miss Teddy."
"Me, too..." Mother sniffled, and I found myself trying to hold back tears, too. "It's so awful. The news is even saying that some American did it..."
"Yes. That's his name, except that he's converted to some false religion. A faith that advocates killing people in the name of God. Islam supposedly means 'peace', but that ungodly religion has brought us nothing but war."
I fell silent. "Mom," I said after a while, "not all Muslims are terrorists."
"I know, but they still don't believe in Jesus. Not as their Savior and Son of God. They're miserable sinners, and unless they get saved, they're all lost."
I was glad that Mother didn't see me shaking my head on the other end of the line. There was no way I could convince her to change her views, or even to find some 'middle ground' with me. My sister was the same way. It's not that I wanted to force them to believe what I believed, but at the same time, the oppressive weight of their church teachings pressed down on me like a boulder. I would just shut up and talk about Stendhal, our mutual President. He was what we had in common, at least in terms of politics.
"He's dead," I said, my voice curiously flat. "I still can't believe it."
"Me neither. One bullet, and one of the finest men on the face of the Earth expires."
"Do you think he went to Heaven?"
"Yeah! He was a Christian, although one of those liberal ones. I don't know how he went so long without reading the Bible. That's what I've heard."
"Anyway," I said, "is there anything else that you wanted to tell me?"
"Have you found a job yet?"
"No. The temp agency still hasn't called."
"Keep looking." Of course I'd keep looking. What else could I do?
"Well, supper's ready. Goodbye, Moira. Nice talking to you!"
"Nice talking to you, Mom!"
I hung up the phone, suddenly feeling even emptier than before.
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