It was the summer of 2035 in the American State. The old man woke to a spring in his step for his granddaughter, Hannah, was coming to visit. She wanted to interview him for a special project for an American History class. She had been a child when the change had come so was curious to know just what had happened, firsthand, from someone who had actually lived it.
As they settled into the lawn chairs, the old man felt a little nervous.
“Are you sure this is okay, honey? Who’s going to read this? You know it’s always good to be careful.”
“It’s okay,” Hannah said. “Just my professor will be reading it and he knows I’m doing this for my final project.”
“Okay. I’ll tell you what I remember. Just wish it had turned out different for you. But you were just a child so maybe it’s good you don’t have any memory of what happened or how it was before.”
“That’s why I’m doing this project, Grandpa. I want to know what happened.”
“Well, first thing you need to know is no one saw it coming. No one. We’d had all sorts of political trouble, riots, immoral stuff, even corruption before. But, until then, it seemed things could always be made right when they got off track. Too bad they don’t teach the Constitution anymore or you’d see what a good thing the original founders had in mind. Served us well until the change came.”
“So, what happened?”
“It all started, as you know, with the former President, Donald Trump. But, you have to go back before that to understand. Many say it began at a White House Correspondences’ Dinner in 2011 when Trump was the butt of jokes told mostly by then President Obama, you remember, the first black president. Jokes like that were told all the time at those dinners but they say Trump felt so humiliated he vowed right then and there to get revenge. And so, he decided to run for President and in June of 2015 he road down that famous escalator and announced his candidacy.
Right from the start it was clear he was totally different from anyone who had ever run for President – and not in a good way. First of all, he’d never held any kind of public office. None. And, mostly, he seemed to thrive on all the attention he got from saying shocking and even crude kinds of things. Like he would make up these names for his opponents, like “Little Marco” and “Lying Ted” and then put them down right in front of everybody. And, he’d talk about other nations in terrible ways, like the Mexicans, and then boast about how he could make them do anything. But, you know that wall we have now? We paid for it, every penny. Mexico never put up a dime like Trump said they would. And, he started the whole Muslim ban convincing everyone they were mostly terrorists. He didn’t seem to like black folks either. They say he had a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., removed from the Oval Office and chose a man to be a senior advisor who had racist views on things. But, your Grandma thought the worst thing was the way he’d talk about women when he thought no one was listening or how he’d talk to women he didn’t like.
I thought, though, worst of all, was how he’d just make up things and then act like they were true. Like for years he claimed President Obama was not a legitimate president – that he was not born in this country and was probably a Muslim to boot. Or, like when he said there were thousands of people, Arabs, cheering when the twin towers came down on 9/11. There wasn’t any proof of that but, when he got confronted, he’d just double down. He could never admit he’d made a mistake or was wrong about something. That happened again and again.”
“But, grandpa, how could somebody like that have become president? He got elected back before the change when people had a choice.”
“You’re right. Not everyone thought what he did was bad and if they did they just turned a blind eye. In fact, truth be told, a huge part of the population felt glad for it. You see, and this relates to Obama, there had been a great collapse of things in 2008 just before Obama took office and it took a long time for things to come back. But, for many, things never really got better. Mostly, there was this whole part of the population that felt left behind. A few folks got really rich but many more just got poorer. Lots of jobs were created but few paid anything. There were others reasons too like machines were taking over many jobs but when you’re hurting you don’t care about reasons. You just want someone to see and tell you they can fix it. Trump did that. He told them he could make America great again – just like the America they remembered. And, they believed him. He became the “anti-government” candidate and they loved it.
And, President Obama had pushed things that weren’t too unpopular with many of them or with Christians either like gay rights and abortion rights. So, most of the Christians supported Trump too. He was able to bring all those people together. It was too bad though because he never really cared about helping people or changing the laws to please the Christians. The whole reason he was there was to get even with Obama.”
“So, how do you know that Grandpa?
“Well, it showed right after the inauguration. Instead of going to work on legislation to help all those folks who had voted for him, he wanted to prove that his inauguration had been the most watched in history and, in particular, larger than Obama’s. Actually, side by side photos of the events and transit ticket sales showed that wasn’t true but he refused to back down. That was when the term “alternative facts” got coined. Looking back, it was the first clear sign of what was to come.
Then lots seemed to happen very fast. The whole Russian thing – you remember, how they hacked into the election to benefit Trump. President Putin of Russia didn’t want Hillary Clinton to be president. He hated her. He wanted a friendly ally – someone who thought like him and he got it in Trump. Do you know that when they actually met face to face Trump reached out his hand to Putin and said, “It’s an honor to meet you.” Can you believe that? An honor? Someone who’d just tried to trash our whole voting system – the only real way to tell if a country is free. We should have seen right then and there what was coming. Many believe that was why Trump never would release his tax returns like every other president. He didn’t want people to know just how deep his Russian ties really were.
Anyway, when the Russian investigations started heating up, out of the blue, Trump accused Obama of having wiretapped him in Trump Tower before the election. This really caused a stink. But, again, he never had to show any proof or apologize. No one ever held him accountable. That’s when I started to feel like we were really going down a bad road and I wondered if we could ever turn back. Later, he accused Obama for actually causing the whole Russian thing saying he could have done something when he was President. Anything to blame Obama. Then, about that time, he fired the FBI Director and tweeted more stuff about tapes that, they say, led to him being investigated. But, by then, it didn’t matter much because he’d already convinced many that the free press was the enemy of the people, except for the state sponsored channel we still have today. Any report that did not cover him in a good way was labeled fake. This was the next clear sign things were going bad.
Then, worst of all, to really get even with Obama, he tried to get rid of Obamacare, the biggest thing Obama had done. Oh, it had its problems for sure but it gave many folks insurance who, before then, couldn’t get it. Trump wanted to replace it with his own plan. Trouble was with the Republican plan millions would lose coverage and, even today, it’s why so many can’t afford to go to the doctor. Plus, the national insurance that used to take care of so many, new babies, old folks, the disabled and the poor got phased out. That was when your Grandma stopped going to church. She said she felt like all those Christians who’d voted for him and then just kept supporting him had really lost their way. She used to say it was not what Jesus would have done.
It took some time but he eventually got the best revenge ever on Obama. But, so many millions of people, including many of those poor folks who had voted for him, were hurt in the process. It was too bad but that was when it finally got real for them. They got to see firsthand what Trump’s America was really about and it wasn’t so great for them. But, it was too late. It was just awful.
“Why didn’t anyone do anything, Grandpa?”
Well, the Democrats and some brave Republicans tried but they were in the minority. It seemed like the most Republicans had decided they wanted to win above all. Way back in the beginning when they first saw the bad signs they could have done something – stopped him from running under their party. But, they saw all those crowds showing up at rallies. Oh, some gave lip service to being upset when he’d pull stuff but then they’d go right back to supporting anything he wanted, even praising him.
It all happened right before our eyes. Before the end of his first year, Trump was cutting back the press. White House press briefings became fewer and fewer and then sometimes all we got were audio recordings. It became harder and harder to actually see people from the White House getting questioned. And, he started only allowing a few people at important meetings. Worst of all, you could say that the truth had become whatever he wanted us to believe so only the state sponsored news channel was seen as respectable. All other channels were said to be running fake news and, eventually, got banned.
And, around the world, we started to become more cut off from the free countries because Trump kept doing things like pulling us out of the global climate talks supported by every other country in the world but us. Yet, he continued to cozy up to Putin making agreements with this leader he seemed to really admire. Oh, how we should have seen it coming.
In our old national anthem, it said we were the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Well, we’re not free anymore because, really honey, too many of us were not brave. I say “us” because I often look back and wonder why I didn’t do more. Instead, I have to say that, as a nation, we cowered. After all, we’d never had a bully in the White House before. And, that’s really what it was. We let all that terrible name calling of our fellow Americans slide. We kept quiet when there was disrespect shown for people having a different view. We put our President above the law when we ignored all those phony accusations and made up accounts of things. We allowed open and free talking to go away when news casts that questioned the President were called fake and those always praising him were said to be doing good. Most of all, we forgot we were governed by what was called the rule of law – not by a ruler. So, now we have a ruler. But, really, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Hannah was silent. Then, she quietly asked, “What can we do, Grandpa? I don’t want my kids growing up here…how it is now.”
“Really, honey, you have to decide what you’re willing to die for because, you know, speaking out can be dangerous. It’s why we used to honor our veterans on Memorial Day. So many were brave enough to go and die so we could be free.” And, the old man suddenly felt a lump in his throat.
“Thanks, Grandpa. I’ll send you a copy of my project. And, I’m going to think about how I can be brave. I promise.”
As Hannah left, the old man felt a tear roll down his cheek. For the first time in many years he actually felt, dare he say it, almost, hopeful. Hannah was just like her Grandma. He knew when she put her mind to something, something was going to happen. And, as he walked back into the house, he surprised himself by suddenly humming an old tune…
“…or’ the land of the free…and the home…of the…brave.”