Just My Imagination, Running Away With Me.
*Whitfield & Strong
The President fumed, crushing buttons on his cell phone, as if each tab detonated an explosion. On the big screen Wolf Blitzer, voice flat and controlled, droned on how the President continues to lag in the polls.
“Fake news,” he muttered out of habit, and switched the channel.
Perched on the edge of an upholstered armchair, he clutched his remote in one hand, and his cellphone in the other, seething at the unfairness of the coverage.The broadcast cut to a political commercial; a carefully spliced montage of his public faux pas, ending with an endorsement from his adversary.
“Ukraine,” he muttered, “Got to talk to Mitch and Kevin about a new Ukraine investigation.”
“You cannot coerce them, you know.” The voice came from behind. “The people. They cannot all be manipulated, much as you may try. Most are not fools, and any goodwill must be earned by deed.”
Not accustomed to direct insolence, the President twisted around in his chair snapping, “Just who the hell are . . .,” then trailed off. A tall, painfully angular man stood near a white paneled door. Attired in a long black coat with tails, the visitor sported jawline whiskers, mid-19th style.
“And they will never all love you. Ever. Such is the raucous nature of American democracy. Sowing divisions through fear and vitriol is not governing, and you shall fail.” The visitor stepped closer as he spoke, prompting the President to leap out of his chair, his phone and remote dropping to the carpet.
“I recognize you . . .,” the President sputtered.
“We, all of us, sought this office fueled with purpose and ambition,” the visitor continued in a midwestern twang. “However, once under oath, the campaign is over. A president faces the duty of serving all Americans, a challenge in the best of circumstances.
From the flickering screen a news anchor admonished, “Aides have confirmed that the President knew of the virus as early as February.”
“It’s those hacks,” the President stabbed his finger accusingly at the big screen. The press is out to. . .”
His visitor laughed without humor. “Criticism of elected officials is as natural as the sun rising, and as perpetual. ‘Baboon’ was the nicest insult slung my way . . .by a serving general, no less. Then he up and challenged me in 1864.” The visitor chuckled lightly. “Still, the truth is we are all better with free speech than without. In our differing views we find our deepest strength.”
By now the President began tuning out much of what the visitor was saying, his irritation making him bold. “You need to leave,” he snapped. “I have a busy schedule.”
Unruffled, the unwelcome guest studied the President intently. “In my time an entire section of the nation disputed the results of my election.”
“You lost the popular vote, but won the Electoral?” The President couldn’t help but ask.
“Indeed. Eleven southern states chose the battlefield over a peaceful transfer of power.”
“What did you do?”
“I defended the Republic.”
His visitor continued sadly. “However the butcher’s bill for this unity came dearly; 700,000 American lives.” The visitor heaved a weary sigh. “And that delicate balance has endured through war, peace, depressions, and national crises, preserved only through considerable effort and executive leadership. A unity you undermine at every opportunity. ”
“Wrong, wrong, wrong. My supporters all love me. You should see the crowds at my rallies.”
“And the rest of America?” The visitor peer intently at the President. “Remember Sir, we are friends, not enemies. We must not be enemies.” His voice quietly trailed off in an echo, and he was gone.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.