Questions were swamping the mind of the president, questions he had never had before. For the first time in his life he was questioning the ideology of his heroes, the ideology that was instilled in him as a child and fostered as he grew. He still believed in justice, both economic and social, but was it truly justice if the majority of the people considered it unjust? Could you give justice to one person by taking it from another?
His mentors and teachers had instilled in him the deep seated belief that the people didn’t know what was best for them, that they chose their leaders to think for them, but the people were expressing a different view. Was it really right to force people into a direction they did not want to go just because it was what he thought was best? For the first time in his career, or even his life, he was not so sure.
“Glad to see you’re getting some sense,” came a deep voice though a body had not yet appeared.
Feeling beaten down, defeated and a bit dejected, the president made no response, instead waiting contritely for the ghosts to appear. As he watched, the two forms took shape and they were easily recognizable. One, James Madison, because he had seen him speak on the trip to the past; the other George Washington because he was in uniform. As before, the men did not wear particularly welcoming expressions.
“Are you ready to see,” came the same voice, now identified as belonging to James Madison, “where your policies will lead the nation?”
The president shook his head. “I don’t think I want to see. It can’t be good or you wouldn’t be here. Please,” he pleaded, “can’t we end this now.”
“Stop being a sniveling coward,” barked Washington. “A leader has to know the consequences of his actions and should never shrink from the results of the decisions he’s made. Your decisions impact the lives of millions and insulating yourself from those impacts serves no one. Especially not the people you serve.”
“Not to mention,” said Madison, “that I have no faith that your new found contrition will last beyond the break of day without these images burned into your memory. It is one thing to know intellectually, it is another thing entirely to see it absolutely.”
“And you’ve been dealing with things too much on the theoretical and intellectual basis,” added Washington. “You’ve stuffed your cabinet with people who have theorized everything and done nothing. It’s time to step out and smell the bullshit you’ve shoveled onto the heads of the people.”
Madison chuckled a bit at Washington’s phrasing, but couldn’t disagree with him. In order to take that first step to enlightening the president, Madison waved his arm gracefully.
The president watched in awe as the walls of the oval office became one large screen which began to fill with an image that the president recognized. It was a talking head on a news station and the statements of the anchor sent a chill through the president.
“The White House announces that the economy has turned a corner as the unemployment rate drops to16% for Febrary. However, millions of people are still waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel. As the threat of lowering America’s credit rating has banks scrambling and interest rates soaring, even those still employed face troubling times ahead.”
The broadcast appeared to be lost as snow covered the image, but it was quickly replaced by another talking head.
“Six more confirmed dead in Minneapolis as freezing temperatures war with skyrocketing energy prices. There are literally hundreds of stories of people forced to choose between heat and food or medication. The hardest hit by rising energy costs has been the elderly as the result of high energy taxes and lowering social security benefits. Four families were arrested for burning wood for heat in direct violation of EPA regulations. When asked for comment, one suspect stated that at least in prison they’d be warm.”
“Riots broke out all over today,” said the handsome, exceptionally groomed man in the new image, “as election results were announced. The citizens are crying foul and stating that the declared winner was not the recipient of the majority of the vote.”
“Why are you showing me this,” the president asked. At the raised brows of the ghosts he continued. “I understand the first two, but why this one? This kind of thing is already going on in Iran now so why are you saying this is my fault?”
His question was answered as the news anchor continued to speak. “The Stability Police have been deployed in seventeen states now to deal with the riots. Though each of the Secretaries of State claim that there are no irregularities in the vote counting, the populace remains unconvinced.”
“Twenty-five people are dead in St Louis where the Stability Police fired into the crowd of protestors. Shots have been fired in numerous cities in an attempt to bring the populace under control but we have been unable to obtain confirmation of any other deaths as information is currently in a strangle hold by the federal government. The president has stated that the voting process is secure and the appointed winners were duly and democratically elected. This in spite of the exit polls showing the declared winners trailing by 20 points.”
“Tennessee joined the growing list of states considering secession today despite the president’s statements that any talk of seceding from the union would be treated as treason. The count is now up to fourteen states with rumors of at least another dozen prepared to join.”
The president felt a knot developing in his stomach, the pain causing a cold sweat to break out on his forehead. Is this really what he was doing? He had wanted to change the shape of the nation, yes, but he had not wanted to break it up. Surely the states wouldn’t go that far. Surely it was all just talk.
James Madison leveled a heavy stare upon him as the image on the wall changed again. This time the news feed was from China, the words translated by an unseen force and broadcast into the room. “Civil war broke out in the Unites States yesterday leading to concerns over how the struggling country will repay the trillions in dollars it owes to China. Foreign diplomats fled the nation as it erupted into violence but many UN officials are still unaccounted for. Thousands of US military have abandoned their posts and rumors are flying that they have joined up with the rebels in fighting the growing Stability Police Force.”
The president tore his eyes from the screen to look into the disapproving countenances of the founding fathers. “No more. I don’t want to see anymore.”
“But there is more to see,” said Washington. “You must see the impact of the war you created.”
“I didn’t want this,” the president cried. “I didn’t want civil war. I didn’t want any kind of war at all.”
“You dare to say you didn’t want war,” Madison cried. “It was you who waged war on our form of government and our way of life. It was you who found a way to undermine the democratic process. Did you really believe that the people of our great nation would meekly submit to the stripping of their God given rights and freedoms?”
“Of course he did,” came Washington’s more modulated tones. “How could a man who does not believe there is anything worth dying for, even begin to understand the people who do?”
“This isn’t real,” the president said. “It can’t be real. We want peace and equality not war. This can’t be true. It just can’t be.”
“But it is,” said Madison. “You can’t force people to bend to your will and call that peace and equality. A freedom loving people will never go easily into tyranny and it appears that you underestimated…”
“Seriously underestimated,” Washington interjected.
“….just how much the American people love their freedoms and liberties,” finished Madison. “This was always the path it would take. Only a fool blinded by his own ego, or his own need for control, could fail to see that.”
The president hung his head at this admonishment, ashamed of himself in a way he had never been before. “Are we done now? Can it stop?”
“It can stop,” said Washington, “we would not have shown it to you if it could not be changed, but there is more to show you. You need to see the realities of the battles being waged.”
The president steeled himself against what he feared would greet him as the room faded around him and was replaced by the sounds of gunfire, the smell of blood, and the vision of hundreds of dead and dying. Lying there before him was an older version of John Alexander, his idealistic speech writer, dead in the mud on a field of battle that never should be.
“They killed him,” the president said. “He was nothing but a speech writer and yet they killed him. How could they do such a thing?”
“Look closer at him and you’ll find the ‘we’ you’re condemning is not the ‘we’ you think you are. The ‘we’ is you.”
The president knelt beside the body and there he saw it, the patch that identified him not as US military or the Stability police, but as a rebel fighter.”
“Yes,” said Madison, “It was your troops who killed him. First you took his ideals and then you took his life.”
“But I didn’t want war,” the president cried again. “I wanted peace. All I wanted was real peace.”
“Peace is not solely the absence of violence,” said Washington, “and sometimes, all too often, the only way to achieve peace is to wage war.” The general and former president swept his arm in a gesture to indicate the destruction around him. “Peace is all these people wanted as well. The peace that only freedom from tyranny can bring, and you took from them every path by which they could achieve it. Every path but this one.”
“I see now,” the president sighed. “Please don’t show me any more. I don’t know if I can take it. Please let this be it. Please let it be over.”
The ghosts stood over the president who still knelt in the mud and said nothing. Tears seeped slowly from the closed eyes of the newly humbled powerful man as he continued to beg, to plead, to be shown no more. His requests were met with continued silence. Finally, unable to bear the lack of response he opened his eyes to confront the ghosts of the final founding fathers and gasped in shock. He was alone, and he was in the oval office, safe and clean.