It is 2065, fifty years after the Obama Administration has set America on a new course. Things are different now. Food is distributed at huge government-run Food Stamp Emporiums that have taken the place of grocery stores since 80 percent of the nation went on food stamps. The Department of Gender has declared pregnancy to be a “disability” so that new mothers go on welfare instead of getting married. Relieved of their family responsibilities, adult men spend most of their time in Virtual Reality Parlors where they live computer-generated lives as war heroes or lovers of famous movie stars. The TSA, now the largest military force in the country, has been thwarted in an attempted coup by the negotiating skills of Jean Armageddon, the Mayor of San Francisco. This nation-saving feat has catapulted Armageddon into the White House as the nation’s first transgendered President.
But life in this Brave New World is about to be brutally interrupted. The Chinese are looking to collect on the $64 trillion we owe them. They also have a few other demands to make. And they’ve sent a portion of their fleet into Pearl Harbor just to prove the point.
What happens to a declining America as it faces up to a rising world power across the Pacific? Follow the story as it unfolds over the next three months on The American Spectator website.
ON THE MORNING the Chinese fleet sailed into Pearl Harbor, President Jean Armageddon, the nation’s first “hermie” chief executive, was admiring the big black squawk box on herm desk in the Oval Office. It was oversized gizmo with an art-deco façade, said to be modeled on the Chrysler Building, with horizontal bars across and a big lightning bolt across the front — the only electronic tool in the office not designed by Apple. It was Franklin Roosevelt’s original Intercom, installed on his desk in 1934 and rescued by Jean only three months ago from the Smithsonian.
Jean had insisted on securing it as a gesture against what s/he perceived as was one of the most critical problems in America — Virtual Reality. As far as s/he was concerned, VR had become a national disease. No one could tell what was real from what virtual anymore. Herm predecessor — whose name s/he still did not deign to pronounce — had fallen victim to this. He had covered the walls of the Oval Office with 3-D monitors and holographs, thinking he could be aware of what was going on in every corner of the country. Yet he had missed the TSA Rebellion, which happened right under his nose and shook the country to its core. It had been the immediate cause of his downfall – and, not incidentally, the key to Jean’s improbable rise to power. As Mayor of San Francisco, s/he had proved far more adept at handling the situation than the President.
So now Jean was reversing course. S/he had had all the 3-D monitors, holographs, and other VR paraphernalia removed from herm office on the first day. The holographs of the electronic debris being carted out of the White House were herm first big press moment. The country had loved it. Instead, s/he promised a return to old-fashioned communications — face-to-face talks, intimate, personal conversations and if absolutely necessary, phone calls and texting. “Back to Reality” had been one of herm most effective campaign slogans and the Intercom the symbol of the new regime.
The first shaft of sunlight made its oblique passage through the Rose Garden window, resting on the top corner of the western wall. Slowly it crept down until it met the portrait of President Denise Fagin, making her auburn hair radiate around her earnest face. Jean had always loved Fagin, ever since the moment s/he first saw her on television. It must have been around 2024, when Jean was only ten. S/he still remembered walking into the living room while herm parents were watching their wall-sized screen and seeing Fagin standing on a stage waving to a sea of people, red white and blue placards bobbing, balloons falling from the ceiling and people crying and embracing each other in the crowd. Jean knew right away s/he was witnessing something terribly important. Somehow s/he knew this beautiful woman in her pink pantsuit was accomplishing something no one had ever done before. In that brief instant Fagin’s smiling face had penetrated to herm core. “That is who I want to be when I grow up,” s/he had said to hermself. And now it had happened. Overcoming extraordinary obstacles all herm life, s/he had finally found herself sitting at the same desk once occupied by Denise Fagin, basking in her reflected glory like soaking up sunshine on the beach.
Next to Fagin’s portrait stood a bust of Lincoln. S/he had intended to remove that as well but was waiting for the debate of the Great Slave Rebellion to be resolved. For two centuries Americans had been taught that Lincoln and his Union generals were responsible for the Northern victory in that historic conflict. Now, as the country neared the end of the 2061-2065 Civil War Bicentennial, that view was being challenged. Recent scholarship had determined it was actually Free Blacks and rebellious slaves who had won the Civil War. Slaves had undermined the Southern economy by refusing to work the plantations while their masters were off fighting for the Confederacy. The enlistment of thousands of Free Blacks in the Union Army had turned the tide just as the farm boys from Illinois and upstate New York were growing weary. Several scholars, particularly in Africa-American Studies departments, were agitating that the old “War Between the States” be renamed “The Great African-American Slave Rebellion.” It was part of President Armageddon’s agenda to make sure these voices were heard.
Yet for now all Jean really wanted to do was admire this May morning — the sunlight invading the room, the blossoms glistening outside in the Rose Garden. Traffic was starting to rumble up and down Constitution Avenue. Congressmen and Congresswomen slogged toward their offices while healthy young bureaucrats took their morning jog. Soon the protesters would be assembling across the street in Lafayette Park, chanting slogans, bobbing life-sized puppets, and searching for the television cameras. Jean’s blood had always thrilled at the sound of protest but now s/he was beginning see things differently. You couldn’t be against everything. It was important to get things done. People had to accept responsibilities. The world of political power wasn’t as simple as it seemed to those on the outside.
It was gratifying to be able to have time for such thoughts. As Mayor of San Francisco, s/he had always been able to set herm own agenda. Since being catapulted into the White House, however, it had been a non-stop round of conferences with Congresspeople, sessions with the secretary of this and that, Cabinet meetings, handshaking with the visiting Single Mothers of Dubuque, tense confrontations with the press. So Jean had reserved this time for hermself. In another ten minutes the secretary would buzz the Intercom and the daily mayhem would begin. For now s/he could gaze out the window at the Rose Garden and watch hummingbirds dance amidst the spring flowers.
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree…
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
Jean sneaked a look at the pocket mirror she kept in herm desk drawer. Herm cut looked good. True the circles under herm eyes were getting worse but s/he was not going to resort to makeup. That was too feminine. The important thing was to maintain that harmony between the sexes that had brought herm to the Presidency, carefully balancing masculine and feminine without giving in too much to either. It was what the country needed. History had been too much the story of hyperaggressive males and hypersensitive females. It was time for something new.
“Massa’ President.” The gravelly voice of the Secret Service came over the Intercom. “Massa’ President, are you there?” The Service had not yet been able to master “Mizza” and frankly did not seem inclined, either. Behind Jean’s back they had invented code names such as “Swinger” and “Bothways,” which s/he did not appreciate at all, although fortunately it had not yet made it into the press. Instead of the formal “Mizza,” which was easy enough to pronounce, they had deliberately slurred it to “Massa,” which recalled the stereotype of sleepy-eyed plantation slaves. In fact, the Secret Service was still a hotbed of racism and genderism. Especially since the TSA Rebellion, they had managed to weed out women and people of color so that it now had the aura of a sheriff’s posse. S/he was going to have to deal with it some point.
“Yes, what is it?” Jean said into the Intercom.
“Massa President, your National Security Adviser wants to talk to you right away. Something in the Pacific.”
“You know I don’t want to be bothered before 7 o’clock,” s/he said testily.
“We know. But this seems like an emergency.”
“Well, it will just have to wait. I’ll see him in five minutes.”
Over the Intercom Jean could hear a buzz of voices. There seemed to be a lot of scurrying up and down the hall outside as well. Maybe something unusual was happening.
“Alright, Massa President. We’ll do as you say.” The sarcasm fairly dripped from the Intercom.
“It’s ‘Mizza’ President, if you don’t mind,” Jean shot back. “If you can’t master that maybe you’d better find yourself another job. I don’t want any of this ‘Massa President’ stuff. It makes me sound like a 19th century slave-owner.”
“I’m sorry,” said the voice, only half contrite. “But the NSA says it’s urgent. He’s outside your door right now.”
“Tell him to knock.” Jean switched off the Intercom.
There was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” said President Jean Armageddon.
It was Darwin Slater, herm National Security Adviser. Completely bald except for a monk’s tonsure, he was a frumpy, disheveled man of about 60 who always seemed to have just brushed crumbs off the front of his baggy suit. Slater was the rarest of birds — an old white male who seemed to have survived on servility. Jean had intended to replace him with a person of color but he had been the first of herm inner circle to master the “Mizza” protocol and Jean appreciated that.
“Mizza President,” he began with perfect diction, “we have a serious situation in the Pacific.” He fumbled through his armful of briefing papers. “The Chinese Navy has sailed into Pearl Harbor…” he struggled to find the right place… “with three battleships, two destroyers and two troop transports carrying an unknown number of infantry.” He looked apologetic. “We knew they were doing naval exercises in the region but had no inkling there would be anything like this. They seem to have hacked our satellite system overnight. We had no reports of movement in the area.” He was a bit embarrassed. “They have two aircraft carriers waiting outside the harbor as well.”
Jean stood dumbfounded. “What’s going on? What are they trying to do?”
“I’m told there’s a hologram communiqué from the Prime Minister,” said Slater. He began fishing into his pants pockets, finally pulling out a shiny black obelisk, the latest version of i-World, along with a few crumpled Kleenex. “I’ll play it for you if I can figure out how this thing works.” He fumbled with the gadget, pointing it toward the wall and jabbing the screen to no avail. Then suddenly there was an effect. The neatly tailored figure of the Chinese Prime Minister appeared before them — but only from his waist down. His top half was missing. “CShitizzdenf offfff thehia Undietedf STatjls . . .” began an obviously garbled audio transmit. “Just a minute,” said the flustered National Security Adviser and ran to the door and called outside. “Madam secretary, could you send in that intern?”
The two of them stood for a moment in embarrassed silence. Slater fanned himself with a briefing memo. Then a 22-year-old youth rushed into the room. He had spiked hair and tattoos on his neck but still managed to project the fresh, innocent look of a poli sci major just arrived in Washington.
“Could you make this thing work?” Slater handed him the device.
“No problem,” said the intern, as if taking a rattle from a child. He sneaked a look across to Jean and rolled his eyes. S/he did not respond.
The young man tapped the screen a few times and handed it back. “There you go,” he said, “just double-click the icon. Press this to pause.” Slater double-clicked and immediately the imposing, well-tailored holograph of Prime Minister Ling Chou stood before them. He was a man of about 60, elegantly dressed, his face showing no sign of wrinkles, his hair black without a trace of gray. Although his eyes were fixed directly upon them, he could see nothing. Although Jean had long become accustomed to people sending holograms to each other, s/he was still impressed.
“Everything alright?” said the intern, stealing Jean another look.
“Yes, thank you. That will be all.”
“Citizens of the United States,” began the ghostly figure. “Today the People’s Republic of China takes title to the Islands of Fang Wen, known to you as Hawaii.”
“Is he really speaking that or is it dubbed?” whispered Jean.
“We’re not sure,” whispered Slater, adopting herm conspiratorial tone. “He speaks pretty good English.”
“The People’s Republic has several reasons for returning Fang Wen to proper ownership,” the Prime Minister continued. “First, we claim it as settlement for the $64 trillion owed by the United States to the People’s Republic. We have no hope of recovering this debt in a currency of its original worth so therefore we are foreclosing on property. Our assessors have determined the value of the Islands to be equal to the value of the debt. We have filed a claim in World Court.”
“Just a minute, stop that thing,” said Jean, incredulously. “They’re claiming Hawaii? Did I hear right?” Hawaii was Barack Obama’s birthplace. S/he was scheduled to go out there next summer to commemorate his childhood home as part of the ceremonies for making his birthday a national holiday.
“There was a claim put in to the World Court last month,” explained Slater. “We haven’t gotten around to responding. We didn’t take it very seriously.”
“Alright, go ahead,” said Jean in frustration.
Slater tapped the screen and again the Prime Minister, who had dissolved into a cloud of static, became animated. “The Chinese people own Fang Wen by ancient rights. Our scholars have located maps from the Qin Dynasty that show Fang Wen as Chinese territory. Our navigators reached these islands during the reign of the First Emperor and claimed them for his court. This antedates the arrival of imperialistic powers.
“Finally, we act on behalf of the Chinese Polynesian people. We have heard their cries for liberation and we respond. We trust the imperial American government will not want to continue to reign as a colonial oppressor.”
Jean interrupted. “Turn that thing off,” s/he said. “What’s he talking about?”
“Well, Mizza President,” began Slater, “as far as we can tell, it has to do with something going on at the University of Hawaii. The Polynesian Studies Department has been carrying on a campaign about so-called Polynesia Identity and freeing themselves from what they call the ‘American occupation.’ There have been a few academic conferences and a couple of student demonstrations but it all seemed quite harmless. Apparently the Chinese have taken it seriously.”
Jean was almost at a loss words. “I supposed this is like Hitler taking over the Sudetenland,” s/he finally managed. More than a century after the Führer had blown his brains out in the bunker, invoking his name was still the quickest route to moral superiority. “What’s this business about the Qin Dynasty? Are they serious?” s/he complained, trying to get herm bearings. “Do they really expect us to roll over? I mean, we have scholars who can run circles around them.”
“There are a couple more things,” said Slater. There was a note of dread in his voice. He leaned against the desk as he fumbled again with his i-World.
“Don’t start that thing again,” barked Jean. “Just tell me.” S/he was becoming exasperated with his obsequiousness.
“They want two seats on the Federal Reserve Board,” Slater said sheepishly. “They say it’s necessary to make sure we don’t devalue the currency any further.”
“Didn’t they ever hear of national sovereignty?” Jean exploded. “Don’t they know we’re an independent country?”
“I’m just reporting what’s been said,” said Slater, looking down at his shoes. “Mizza President, there’s one more thing.”
“The Chinese women.” He paused for a moment. “The girls who have been raised over here, the ones that were adopted as orphans?” He paused again. “They say they’ve been kidnapped. They have a lot of unmarried men in that country, you know. The one-child policy. They say they want them back.”