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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”
—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
“Mr. President,” said Forteson. “How are things today?” Forteson stepped through the doorway and into the conference room aboard Air Force One. They had lifted off from Andrews AFB thirty minutes before. It was still dark outside, hours before dawn. The room’s lights were low, casting a patina of amaretto on the chamber.
“Swell,” answered the president. His tired and gray appearance suggested otherwise. He was flanked by the director of the secret service and his chief of staff.
“Where’s the judge?” asked Forteson, looking around the otherwise empty room.
“We expect him any moment,” answered Chief of Staff Gabe Truth.
“Don’t think this changes anything,” said the president.
“What do you mean?” asked Forteson.
“I’m still the president.”
“I’m not sure what you’re trying to say.”
“There’s no need to be coy, David. All I’m saying is that I’m not going anywhere. I intend to finish the job I set out to do.”
Forteson glanced over to the chief of staff who slithered towards the conference room door and closed and locked it. The director of the secret service was there as well, watching carefully in the shadows. His eyes shifted to Forteson’s. The chief of staff was about to speak but Forteson interrupted him.
“There are many people who are not as convinced,” Forteson suggested.
“Convinced of what?”
“That you can finish the job.”
“And who are they? Your handlers?”
“The judge and the photog are going to be here any moment,” advised the chief of staff. “Can’t this wait?”
“I have an offer for you, Mr. President,” said Forteson.
The chief of staff, standing halfway between Forteson and the president, interrupted. “This is not the appropriate time for—”
“I am the president. You are the vice president. If there are any offers to be made, they’ll be made by me.”
“I don’t believe that is how the joint chiefs see things, Mr. President,” replied Forteson.
“How they see things is not relevant. I am their commanding officer. I give the orders. They report to me.”
“No. Not exactly. Not any longer.”
The president leaned back in his chair and stammered incoherently. The wide eyes of Gabe Truth flitted between the two men. The secret service director remained in the shadows.
Forteson continued. “The joint chiefs have decided that it’s become necessary to accelerate their timetable for executive transition. They are assuming command of the executive branch, effective with my swearing in. You’ve been given ample time to rectify the domestic situation, yet the insurgency continues and you can’t seem to get inflation under control. The riots and demonstrations are doing irreversible damage to the prestige of the federal government. Intelligence is now reporting there are Russian and Chinese and even Islamist operatives working within our borders, coordinating and arming domestic insurgents. Let that sink in for a moment, Mr. President. The domestic situation has deteriorated under your watch. The foreign situation has suffered even worse. The overseas military humiliations are simply unacceptable. Our adversaries are having their way with us and our international hegemony is dissolving right before our eyes. America is in full retreat. The United States is the exceptional, indispensable nation. We cannot retreat from the world. We cannot allow that to happen. If we do, it will hasten a new dark age. It is our duty to defend democracy, both at home and abroad.”
“Democracy? And what would you call this coup of yours? Is this what you call ‘democracy’?”
Truth, still standing between them, backed away towards the bulkhead wall, as if he was trying to dematerialize and pass through it.
Forteson smirked for an instant as if to acknowledge that he had been caught. Then he laughed. “Sometimes you have to destroy democracy in order to save it.”
The president laughed at that. The chief of staff stood against the wall, mouth agape.
“We don’t blame you for everything, Mr. President,” Forteson continued. “We understand and acknowledge the unique challenges your office was faced with. We have simply lost confidence in your ability to put things in order. The job is bigger than anything a single man from Akron could be expected to handle.”
“Put things in order? Whose order?”
“Order is all that matters.”
“So whither the republic?”
“This is a national emergency. Don’t act as if you’re not familiar with national emergencies. How did my confirmation get fast-tracked? National emergency has been the pretext of every single one of your 1100 executive orders. ‘Whither the republic,’ you say? Spare me. It withered away to nothing long ago, by a million little cuts, many by your hand. The republic is long gone. Republic is just a buzzword for the masses to feel good about when they go to the polls and validate us and our rule. There is no fucking republic. Get real. America is the enforcer of the world order. The executive is the executor. Without it, this fucking planet would turn into Somalia.”
“We have the rule of law.”
“The executive is the law, the divine right of kings. The law is whatever the executive says it is. You following all this Gabe?”
The chief of staff twitched in affirmation, then he cast a sad look towards the president.
The president turned to the secret service director. “Have Mr. Forteson removed from Air Force One at our next stop. I rescind his appointment.”
A confident Forteson looked over to the director.
“I’m sorry Mr. President,” replied the director. “I can’t do that.”
The chief of staff, back still against the wall, looked to the president, then to Forteson, then back to the president and back and forth. Finally, he turned his body towards Forteson but hung his head in defeat.
“Don’t look so surprised, Mr. President,” Forteson said. “This has been in the works for months now. Everything’s essentially been transitioned. The joint chiefs are already operating autonomously. As of this very moment, were are moving a mechanized division into Montana to sweep and clear Bozeman.”
“You can’t do this,” said the president.
“Of course we can. And we have all the presidents to thank for it. The joint chiefs, they simply used the mechanisms that you and your predecessors put into place. We weren’t the ones who cited national security as pretext to suspend habeas corpus. We didn’t pack the courts with authoritarian-friendly judges. We weren’t the ones who turned the intelligence agencies loose to gather up the necessary blackmail data on every person in the country. We weren’t the ones who muscled those impotent imbeciles in congress into funding our black ops and secret prisons. You did that, Mr. President. You did that. You and your predecessors. And you sit there and look so astonished. We’ve simply decided that it’s time to stop fucking around.”
“It won’t work. The secretary of state will intervene. The senate, the house, they’ll impeach you.”
“No. I’m afraid not, Mr. President. The secretary of state is dead. I heard it on my way in here. Apparently she just died in a car crash…most unfortunate. She was burned alive. Congress? Don’t make me laugh. They’re puppets. We have access to everything the NSA collects. We know it all. We’ve got the goods on all of them. We know the names of their mistresses and whores. We know how much they received in kickbacks and how much they spend on porn and cocaine and booze. We know the front companies where they hide their wealth from the IRS. We know their portfolios and the untoward things done by the companies they own shares in. We know about their off-color jokes, homosexual escapades, and the shocking manifestos they wrote in their youth. Every time they, or their family members have slighted anyone on record, we have it. Every vice they bragged about, every depravity or petty crime or crude behavior or moment of human weakness. We know everything about their donors as well, and the companies they own and invested in and everything they’ve done. Guilt by association, Mr. President. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t done anything significant or even if they’ve been model citizens. We can take the most innocuous thing and spin it up in the media—the media that we control; the propaganda machine you created by throwing the real journalists out and packing the press corps with sycophants. And if that doesn’t work, we’ve partnered with the banks. We can yank anyone’s campaign funding and turn them out at the next election. And the people, they’re so damn dumb they’ll fall for it. The populace is a horde of mindless millions. You know that. All politicians know that. If you didn’t know that and use that knowledge, then you couldn’t have gotten elected in the first place. The people will fall for anything. Get ready for the show. The indictments and arrests are coming.”
“Does it really matter? Insider trading. Embezzlement. Tax evasion. Structuring. Campaign finance violations. Fraud. Drugs. Prostitution. Corruption. Racketeering. Drunk driving. Cruelty to animals. Jaywalking. Whatever. Do you really think the population is going to oppose the incarceration of the very scoundrels who wrecked the economy? They don’t give a damn about the validity of any charges. They just want to see them in handcuffs doing the perp walk. We’re going to give it to them, and we’re going to deliver it right into America’s living rooms on their big screen TVs.
“We can get to anyone, Mr. President. But we probably won’t have to go that far. Do you think any of those whores in congress would tolerate even a moment behind bars or a moment of financial insolvency or the humiliation of a perp walk if they could avoid it? Hell no. They’ll follow our orders.”
“Sorry. He was just arrested. Turns out he was structuring withdrawals from his bank accounts, a big no-no.”
“Then the speaker.”
“He’s being dealt with. He has some big skeletons in his closet.”
The president laughed. “The people will rise up,” he suggested.
“The people?” asked Forteson. “Are you suggesting they will rise up in your defense?”
“They’ll rise up to save their republic.”
“Have you ever read Machiavelli, Mr. President? ‘Those who build their hopes on the people build their hopes on mud.’ Don’t forget, you essentially nuked a major American city. At the time, I might have agreed with your decision. We had to cut the communications and make the populace amenable to control by rendering them dependent on us for survival. But regardless, it was your decision. You own it. If you were somehow able to refuse to cooperate with us, we would just distance ourselves from you and what you did. Once you are alone, being attacked on all fronts, we would simply foment your removal from office by impeachment.”
“So why are you telling me all this?”
“Because we want you on board. We just want to make sure that there is no confusion regarding the new rules of engagement. This is the Twenty-First Century, Mr. President. We don’t turn our legions against Rome any longer. We don’t ambush Caesar and plunge our blades into his ribs. This is a civilized age. The joint chiefs are going to assume control of the executive with me waiting in the wings in case you get off the chain. But they recognize the importance of maintaining at least the illusion of the republic. Americans love their illusions. They hold them dear. Their illusions override all their logic and good sense. They regard democracy as if it were some sort of deity. They want to believe in it. They need to believe in it. And we want to use that to our advantage.
“Now the DoD, they don’t want to do anything that might cause the mud of the masses to harden. They’ve come up with a proposal for you. You can reject it and go down fighting, and all the calamities that this nation has endured will be pinned on you. And that will be your legacy. You’ll be the American Nero who lost the republic; the tyrant who radio-flashed an American city and fiddled while it burned. Your name will be reviled for all eternity. You will be cursed two thousand years from now. Or, you can play ball with us. You can accept your new boss, retire in a year to your farm in Ohio, and be remembered as the president who gave his buckeye best against impossible odds. And then someday, some of the more intelligent plebes out there will rightfully regard you as the last real president. That’s the best we can offer.” Forteson turned to the chief of staff. “And you, Gabe, you have about three hours to convince me you are with us. Otherwise, the entire country is going to learn about your unorthodox sexual appetites…in high resolution.”
The secret service director glowered at the chief of staff. Gabe Truth bowed his head.
“The joint chiefs seem to forget that the president has his bosses, too,” said the president, slumped in his chair.
“Who? The bankers?”
“You continue to underestimate us,” Forteson continued. “That’s your fatal flaw. I think we’re both in agreement that our accommodating attitude toward them is at the root of most of our troubles. But unlike you, we don’t cling to any naive belief that they have a solution. They’d lend us the rope to hang ourselves if they could. I know. I come from their stock. Some of the banks will need to step up. Others will need to be brought to heel. And some will have to be liquidated.”
“What do you mean?”
“T is going to meet with the banks to get them on board with a revised version of your Amero Plan.”
“I thought you opposed it.”
“The joint chiefs believe we can work within the framework of it, with some modifications, of course.”
“So how do you intend to fund the Pentagon, then, in lieu of the proposed budget cuts?”
“We think the banks will be a little more open to suggestion after T meets with them.”
“And the insurgency?”
“We’ll have the Doc leadership knocked out in a matter of days. The ones we don’t annihilate with drones we’ll bring in by offering amnesty.”
“They’re just soldiers, Mr. President. When they see the military taking control and the threats mobilizing against us overseas, they’ll be all too happy to jump back on board the winning team.”
Three knocks came on the door.
“That must be the judge,” said Forteson. “Let’s get this swearing in business over with.”