Hacked to Death: excerpt
The fifteen thousand people packed elbow-to-elbow in the hot June sun were growing restless waiting for the guest of honor. Drenched in sweat and weary from more than two hours of standing, they were tired of hearing the Jefferson High School band pound out its repertoire of John Philip Sousa marches over and over and had long since tuned out to the endless parade of minor local officials boasting about their pet projects. And on top of their growing impatience a palpable edginess began to spread through the crowd as people realized that a small army of men and women in dark suits with curly black wires running from their ears were looking directly at each of them one-by-one, constantly scanning their faces with suspicious eyes.
At last the band broke into Happy Days Are Here Again and the throng sprang to life, raising a sea of banners and waving American flags. This was it, the moment they were waiting for. But their excitement was short-lived when they saw it was only Governor Francis X. Lenoir who emerged from the wings of the Paradise Valley Memorial Bandshell. He walked to the center of the stage in front of heavy curtains, waving and smiling as if the spectators were cheering for him. Lenoir extended his arms, encouraging the crowd to cheer louder and louder, then said, "OK, that's great, he can hear you. He knows you're fired up to see him. And I know you're not here to listen to me, so without further ado for a man who needs no introduction, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mayor Samuels, distinguished guests, and MY FELLOW DEMOCRATS, join me in welcoming THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, OUR OWN FAVORITE SON, A TRUE AMERICAN HERO, COLONEL ROBIN W. JENKINS!"
As Governor Lenoir retreated off to the wings of the stage, the curtains opened to reveal a thick plexiglass cylinder twelve feet high with a curved front and a domed roof. Inside the containment capsule Robin Washington Jenkins grinned from ear to ear and waved briskly with his upraised right hand. Trim and athletic at forty-seven, with military-cut jet-black hair atop his six-foot-two frame, the legendary former football star and Marine walked bolt upright as he skipped gracefully up the three steps of the podium to the lectern and its bank of microphones. Jenkins showed no signs of the severe injuries he had suffered in the firefight in Afghanistan when he had nearly died saving the lives of 17 fellow Marines, the act of valor for which he had been awarded the Medal of Honor. The crowd roared, hooting and cheering wildly and raising their cell phones aloft. Jenkins raised both hands and patted the air as if to silence the cheering, but inside he savored every moment—he was back home taking his victory lap. All the pundits and polls agreed: in just a few days he would be the Democratic nominee for president.
The broad smile grew even brighter as his perfect teeth glistened in the sunlight. Colonel Jenkins let the hometown crowd cheer and snap pictures for nearly five minutes. He could have basked in the unremitting cheering for hours, but he knew he was already two hours late and had three more speeches and a high-dollar fundraiser to attend. At last he said, "OK, OK, I love you all but that's enough. Enough!" Powerful amplifiers blasted his words so loud the crowd calmed down enough to be heard.
"Well," he began, then paused, chuckling to himself as more than half the crowd turned their backs toward him like a military drill team executing an about face. The first time he had found himself suddenly speaking to the backs of thousands of heads he started to worry that something must have happened in the rear of the arena that distracted the audience's attention. Or that it was some sort of protest and people would start marching out. But now he knew it was a good sign: young and old alike were just turning around to snap selfies. He resumed speaking. "What do you think? Are we going to win?"
The crowd screamed its approval, chanting "Jenkins! Jenkins!" until he quieted them again.
"I can understand your excitement. I share it, you know I do. We've all had a deeply unsettling four years. All of us, the people of the United States who really care about this country, are desperate for relief. We've had enough of that guy—you know who I mean."
Jenkins would never say the name of the incumbent, President Hugo H. Berzel. But he did not need to. A deafening chorus of booing erupted, which he let continue unabated for a full minute before continuing.
"That quixotic, foulmouthed, ill-tempered man cares only about himself, not about you and not about this wonderful country. He used his daddy's money to buy his way out of serving in the military. His deficits are bankrupting the nation just like he did his own businesses. He has undermined America's standing as the bastion of freedom and democracy in a troubled world. He has trampled on his duty to enforce the Constitution and laws of this country. He has destabilized one of the most brilliant creations of the Founding Fathers, the separation of power among three branches of government. Republicans in the Senate cower before him. His unscrupulous Supreme Court Justices rubber-stamp his disgraceful actions with unprincipled rulings. He has stoked the devilish flames of racism and given free reign to hatred and violence. He has no sense of decency whatsoever and no respect for women. He has trashed the moral authority of the presidency. He scoffs at the overwhelming evidence that global warming is consuming our planet and we may all be extinct before long. And all the while he has exploited the power of the presidency for his own financial gain and that of his billionaire cronies."
The crowd went wild with catcalls and booing. Colonel Robin W. Jenkins was their hero, their hope, the savior who would liberate them from the mindless tyrant who threatened to destroy the democracy they believed in. Once again he let them vent before speaking.
"I am ready to answer your call. We will right these grievous wrongs. We will restore the rule of law in an even and fair-handed way. We will hold him and his corrupt gang accountable for their crimes. They have drained the life from workers like you, stolen your money to fatten their bank accounts, choked off all the opportunities for you to live decent lives and assure that your children have hope for the future. You know," he said with a broad smile, "they call me 'Robin Hood' because we will make the disgracefully rich pay a fair share of taxes—well, I love that nickname! This country needs a Robin Hood instead of the robbers that have been stealing from the poor to make the rich richer."
More screams, wild cheering, prolonged chants of "Robin Hood! Robin Hood!"
"And that money will go to improve your lives and future—green energy, education, health care, mass transit, income supports. We will have an Attorney General who believes in enforcing our civil rights and antitrust laws. We'll stop cuddling up to the despots who would destroy us and return to working with our friends and allies in international alliances."
He was ready to take the reins. His team, a shadow cabinet he had cultivated for years, was geared up and prepared to hit the ground running on January 20th as soon as he was sworn in. A moderately left-of-center cadre of dedicated and experienced men and women diverse in age, sex, and color. Americans who had grown up in all regions of the country. People who had known hardship and lived the American Dream. Patriots who had served their country. Optimists who clung to the faith that America would return to its historical path toward becoming the country the Declaration of Independence and Constitution promised. They were the best and brightest and most purely motivated. They believed in him and he believed in all of them.
There was just one hurdle to overcome once he locked up the nomination: selecting a running mate who would further strengthen his position. The polls and focus groups confirmed that, yes, the populace was desperate to be rid of President Berzel. His supporters on the far left were exerting intense pressure on him to pick his closest rival, Annabaker Minion, as his running mate. But the polls and focus groups also showed that her presence on the ticket threatened to derail his candidacy. Too many of his supporters could not stomach her ultra-liberal views. She promised to nationalize the health care system, institute a massive wealth tax on billionaires, eliminate payroll and income taxes for the bottom one-fourth of wage earners, impose a 99% inheritance tax on big estates, break up mega-corporations, and—impossible for Jenkins to support—cut military spending by more than half.
Too radical, his gut and all the polls told him. Annabaker Minion was just too radical for America. He risked alienating key segments of his own base if he did not pick her, but he risked losing the election if he did. She was running a clear second behind him for the nomination and many of her supporters were willing to support him in the general election, but only with her on the ticket. True, with her as his running mate, young voters might be energized. But a disastrous number of people would not vote at all, or they would support a moderate third-party candidate and split the Democratic vote. Either way, Berzel would remain in office for another four years. Jenkins could not take that risk. His inner circle was pressing him to avoid Annabaker Minion once and for all and pick one of the two moderates currently running just behind her. But it would not be easy for him to keep Annabaker off the ticket.
He was running out of time to make a decision. What he did not know was that a far more serious and immediate threat was about to erupt. Some four rows into the crowd a tall, thin man with a dark beard typed a six-digit code into his cell phone and pressed the "send" button.