November 8th, 2016. The day we were deceived and promised the world.
The wind howled through the abandoned shops, through the shattered windows, through the torn and yellowed colonies of star-spangled propaganda posters. Its foggy opaqueness, a consequence of the rampant tyre fires and coal power, transformed the derelict mall into a truly ghostly scene.
Its residents drew closer to the warmth of another fire, this one fed by the last remaining volumes of an encyclopaedia from a nearby overturned book shelf. By present standards, its occupants may be called homeless, but by contemporary ones, they had as good a home as any.
The smoke and gloom mixed to make them all spectres, and to fend off the shade and the cold, they once again retold the familiar stories everyone there knew, prayers to their past. Nostalgic attempts to transfer their consciousness to better days, to salvage their pride and the promise of a brighter future. Everyone was familiar with the ritual – those who knew how could write it like a play, yet they played it out once more. And so the leader, a gaunt man with a grey, defiant beard, started the sermon:
“I was a father once. I lived in a heated house, and we always had enough food to go around table. We would have a full roasted turkey for the thanksgiving feast.”
Everyone whet their appetite, and remembered a thanksgiving dinner. But as the ephemeral memory was eclipsed with a chorus of groaning guts, the man went on.
“Then the prices shot up. He told us it was temporary at first, that we had to endure, that it was better than getting stolen from through the worst trade deal in history anywhere ever. But they never came back down. We kicked out the southerners, the northerners, the easterners. The Latinos, the Arabs and the Asians. We took our country back. It was a carte-blanche, no need to be nice anymore to aliens, he told us. I felt safe again: I could speak English with everyone in my neighbourhood.”
A price tag drifted in from the barren supermarket: it didn’t even have a printed number, only a series of crossed-out, succeedingly higher prices. The man picked it up, and everyone drew in closer – this wasn’t part of the play, and opportunities to learn were scarce. The man pointed to the faded image and read out loud, for all to hear.
“This fruit is a to-ma-toe”. Everyone repeated it, linking the syllables to the signs squiggled on the humid card.
“For a while, I was content. Taxes were lower than ever. But as the subsidies started to kick in, there was less dosh for schools. No-one seemed to notice: we all got jobs anyway. The huge manufacturing plants that opened up would take you after passing a basic arithmetic and reading test. Not that you could all pass it now. I didn’t care, either: I was a doctor, and treated the factory owners.”
Everyone nodded solemnly. A little baby coughed, the regular exposure to coal particulates having clogged its lungs. His mother trickled some water into his mouth from a rusty canteen.
“That was when Molly died. She was such a fool – I wouldn’t have minded being a grandpa at forty. But with abortion being made illegal, she sought some clandestine remedy. I got a phone call late one night, and Molly never came home.” A moment of silence swept the vaulted plaza.
“Things started to break down. All the news showed was us winning everywhere, bombing the terrorists, blockading the Chinese. But things started to show fissures. Salaries got lower – they repealed the minimum wage. Soon, it didn’t matter if we were all white – we had thrown out respect and opportunity long ago. It got harder for a man to climb. When the war broke out, the factories churned out drones by the thousands, but prices got even higher. It was every man for himself: everyone carried a rifle to and from work; you’d shoot back at the guy who wanted your car. Wives, who weren’t hired and so only cook and cleaned now, had to become ad-hoc nurses. Many ran to Mexico or Canada, but there was a wall in the way and they wouldn’t take us.”
For the finale, Tiny Tim played his part:
“And how did it all start?”
“On the 8th of November, 2016. The day we were deceived and promised the world. The day we forgot what we stood for. The day the last election took place – every other was disregarded for being “rigged”. The day Trump won. The emails weren’t so bad in retrospect”.