by Tess F. Stevens
Thomas Jefferson takes off his powdered wig and sits near a gas lamp that hasn’t been useful since 1774. In the ghostly hours of the early morning, he pulls out his quill, dips it in some ink and starts to write. The tip of the instrument glides across the parchment in beautiful swipes of metallic black liquid.
He then jabs the quill through the paper, ripping it like a tissue. The satisfaction of it drives him mad. He snaps his quill and stands up from the rolltop desk and fixes his eyes on the gas lamp burning and crackling. For a moment he considers burning it all down, setting fire to the work and the hours he’s poured into this document. Should independence ever be allowed to happen, or is it better to succumb to the rule of a glorified captor forever?
That was when Jefferson was alive. Now, November, 8, 2016, he’s meeting with the other founding fathers. George Washington is the first to show up to their ghoulish meeting. They’ve commandeered the top of the Washington Monument, because Independence Hall was booked by early voters in Philadelphia.
Washington is perpetually disappointed. The afterlife has consisted of a constant struggle because, well, he was first. The first president to ever be, and he thought he had set a pretty good standard. In 2016, nearly 300 years after he left office, he’s thinking that standard could have been higher, considering how far we’ve sunk.
Washington’s earliness always bothers Ben Franklin, who could care less about the whole thing. Democracy was meant to allow people to choose, and he believes if the people have chosen Donald Trump it’s their will and that should be respected. The two sit on opposite sides of the top of the obelisk, its pointed roof causing their cascading sides to echo.
“Grab her by the pussy, huh Franklin,” says Washington with disdain.
“Well, it’s the will of the people.”
Nobody really cared about John Adams while he was alive, but his afterlife has been more well spent than any of his powdered counterparts. He led the charge against Hitler in the great revolt of 1997, when the Nazis tried to overthrow the government of heaven. He used God’s angels to send him back to hell. The best part? He controlled the armies with a Gameboy Advance.
Adams is the kind of guy who brings coffee to every event regardless of the time. It’s 6:00 p.m.
“Well hey there old friends, I’ve brought you some Starbucks peppermint mochas, my favorite holiday drink.”
Washington chomps his wooden teeth and says, “Ah, are they in the dreadful holiday cups with no mention of Christmas?”
Washington replies, “Then I don’t want it.”
“I’ll take his, I love peppermint,” coos Franklin.
They dispense with the pleasantries as a few other notable guests show up: Thomas Paine, who has since become a raging communist; Alexander Hamilton who keeps singing those show tunes regardless of his tone-deaf vocals; and of course Betsy Ross who has joined the no-body-shaming movement and wears a T-shirt over her dusty, old corseted dress that says, “My body, my choice.”
They do this every four years. This year they considered taking Election Day off.
“Lots of people are doing it. Not voting at all is better than voting for Gary Johnson,” says Adams.
“I like Jill Stein, except for the fact that she’s one of those anti-vaxers, total deal-breaker,” says Ross.
Ross leaves and fetches their annual election grog: lemonade spiked with absinthe. Don’t ask why it’s their drink, it just is.
They all gather around a big, oak table with etchings of each president who has won since the process began. There’s a hard-nosed Lincoln, a shiny Kennedy and even a bitter, stone-faced, blood-sucking Nixon.
The wood shines like linoleum due to the fact that Paine is a neat freak and buffs every scratch out of the table prior to the event each year. He focuses on the other founding fathers’ fingerprints. He says Adams’ are the grubbiest.
“Okay, enough of this ‘setting the scene’ stuff. We have to talk about the election,” Washington says, grinding his teeth. “This could be the end of democracy as we know it, and as the man who helped to start it all, and did right by the American people, I have a few words to say.”
“Here we go with the whole ‘first thing,’” says Hamilton, still clearly angry about that whole duel thing with Aaron Burr.
Washington tends to ignore everyone. He’s one of those people that doesn’t watch the coverage. He sees his opinions as fact.
“For one, I am ashamed of the two candidates this country has chosen,” Washington firmly states. “We have got to do better. And a woman? What is that about?”
Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson all scoff while Ross stands up from the table,”Listen. Women gave you all life. I sewed your flag for Christ sake. Do you remember how many thousands of women have died to preserve our democracy, in armies, in hospitals, in rallies?
“Hillary Clinton survived a cheating scandal, Benghazi, and she helped take down Osama Bin Laden. She is the most qualified candidate for president in 100 years. Yeah, I’m looking at you Washington. You were qualified, but she is another level of qualified.”
“Well, okay, Miss.Social Justice Warrior of America, go back to Tumblr. It still doesn’t change the fact that she’s a woman. We didn’t write you people into the constitution for a reason,” Franklin says, sucking down Absinthe in record time.
“I see why you’d say that, you’re a Trump supporter,” replies Ross.
Franklin is a Trump supporter, and he doesn’t care who knows it. He has the buttons, the T-shirts: he swiped them with a ghostly breeze from street corners at rallies and laughed at the violence, the rats in the American cage finally understanding what real democracy feels like: choosing a candidate you wouldn’t leave alone with your daughter.
He is amused by the chaos. The craziest thing that happened before the Revolutionary War was the Boston Massacre, and at the time it was terrifying. Now, the Trump rallies, the chanting, the leaked tapes, the creepy advances toward underage women, the orange skin, the small hands — the joke turned a serious threat to democracy.
Trump’s voice is music to Franklin’s ears. He was waiting for something to shake up the normal. There’s a bit of Anarchy in Trump, a wild spirit that people gravitate toward. Historically, everything that Trump is had been prohibited in the world of politics, either that or it had been hidden. Now, it’s all out in the open and you have to look it in the face; the terror, the bigotry, the seedy underbelly of white supremacy that still runs rampant in the smallest towns in America.
“Yeah, I like the guy. He says what he means and he means what he says. I think I wrote that in an almanac somewhere. Yeah, he’s a bit off-color, but what can you do. He has exposed something. Anyone that can connect with that many people deserves a legitimate shot at the Presidency.”
“And look at Hillary,” says Hamilton. “She has skeletons. The corrupt nature of her dealings has shocked the nation during this election. I liked Bernie Sanders best.”
Ross screams, “Bernie or Bust!”
“You are a moron. We all liked Bernie, but seriously today’s the election. He’s not going to win,” says Washington.
Washington’s theory is that third-party protest voters have no place in this election. Whatever your choice, you must choose. To cop-out and choose someone that cannot win, by design, is to decline your invitation to democracy. You might as well not vote at all.
“So do we like anything about these two? Do we have any sort of hope, because I’m done with all the negativity. I just want this to be over,” says Ross, grabbing her things and readying herself for oblivion.
“Well, I like that Hillary is strong, she’s made of iron,” says Hamilton.
“Great,” replies Ross, clearly unamused by the tough bitch argument.”
“I like that Trump doesn’t let people control him,” says Franklin as he sips down his third cocktail.
“We know, Franklin. He’s an agent of chaos, a martyr for the white man. He’s everything that politicians are afraid of and more. He’s your own personal savior sent here to eradicate the world of Muslims and black people, huh? He’s the man with the plan. He’s Yuuuuugge. He’s the real deal,” says Ross.
The others just sit there looking around the cavernous chamber of the Washington monument.
“I’m leaving. This election isn’t worth it this year. I just…I’d rather be in cold oblivion than sit here and watch this. It’s like watching someone burn the flag, except everyone’s burning the flag and posting it on little hand computers. I can’t take it anymore.”
Ross gets up and leaves the table, evaporating into thin air, leaving a thick cloud of blue smoke. Back from whence she came.
“Well, she stayed longer than last year. She was offended that the president was black. Now, she’s all about justice for all,” Hamilton says.
“Well, we can’t all be as popular as you Alexander. We heard your story won some Tonys, although we all know you can’t rap,” laughs Franklin.
“So, now it’s time to sum it up. We’re all dignitaries and we’re all legends and we all appear in history books that college kids use to roll their legal weed on, so what was your best and worst moment from this election, and who do you think will win the people’s vote and respect?”
Washington knows when to move things along.
“Well, I’ll start, because a sleeping fox catches no poultry,” says Franklin to a chorus of eye rolls. “I am an inventor, and I appreciate someone who forges their own path. My favorite moment of this election was the third debate, when Trump decided to start out very demure and politician-like and then erupted into his signature self. It showed that he can play the game. I believe he will win, because enough is enough.”
“Thank you Ben, surprisingly you speak for a lot of Americans. 40 percent as of the final NBC poll,” Washington replies.
“I haven’t said much throughout this meeting, and that’s because I am considering rescinding my support for our nation and moving, possibly to the ghost world above Canada. Trudeau is delightful and I hear the falls are beautiful this time of year. I have no favorite things. I have no least favorite things. I’m ashamed that my constitution is being championed by a rolling ball of piss, money, vinegar and racism. I will not be by if the people choose him. For the first time ever, I am abstaining from this process. I believe Hillary Clinton will win, but that is no victory for anyone,” says Jefferson, who wishes at this very moment he had set his entire home on fire that fateful night in 1776.
“I believe in Hilldawg. I’m ready for the first female president,” says Adams, simple and to the point for once.
Hamilton is the second last to speak. “I think my favorite part of the election was the role social media has played. All the leaks and opinions and engagements have helped to give people hope for real change. Bernie Sanders listened to all, and Clinton held her position, while Trump marched onward despite all the obstacles. In a way, though the scariest and arguably most violent election of all time, I think it was the greatest. I hope Hillary wins.”
Thomas Paine hasn’t said a word this whole time. He’s skulked in the corner, not once pulling up to the table, not once engaging. He’s got too much common sense to argue these issues. He has taken on the spirit of all the people who abandoned the process long ago when Nixon, the Voldemort of American history, left his dark mark on the country.
While alive, Paine urged people to think with their brains, and not their impulses. He wanted something more for America, and no matter how hard he wrote, or what he tried, people didn’t listen. Sure they read his work then, but if he were to try and put something out now, he’d be crucified.
You see, Paine knows he wouldn’t have lasted in today’s internet culture. When everyone is fighting so hard to be heard, on their social media accounts, in their blogs, on Twitter and beyond, they don’t listen.
Scholars and specialists have no merit in this new frontier. People cast their greedy judgements on you regardless if they know you or the truth, they will tear you down.
Paine thinks that if Common Sense were released today, he would be trolled so hard that he’d have to delete all of his accounts, find a steady, real job and hide away for months. He’d read the comments saying he was a fraud and a liar, eventually would quit writing altogether.
When everyone is professionally offended, and everyone is worried about what people will think and how they will react, you spend more time apologizing than writing. Paine wanted no part in that. Every year, when the meeting takes place, he shows up…but has no opinions.
He has reserved his silence since he died.
But today, on this election day, he decides to speak.
“Well I guess we’re done here. See you all next —“
“Wait,” says Paine emerging from the dark corner of the obelisk.
Everyone gasps, and suddenly Betsy Ross appears, mouth agape, back in her seat at the table.
“I have been silent for hundreds of years, and that is for good reason. Anytime you say anything in this era you run the risk of losing it all. Whether you are joking, trying to get by, hanging out with friends or making a public declaration, everything is on the line. This election has proven that in the eyes of some, one individual is immune from the scrutiny.
“A young woman who writes honestly about the election, works hard and does her job can be destroyed by judgmental bigots on Twitter. Forced into the darkness, she lets go of all of the things that make her valuable, and then she has no idea who she is.
“Most jobs require a social media presence, but if it’s not up to their standards, you can be fired.
“Everyone has an opinion and nobody is safe. This existence of constant information streaming in and out of phones and computers and televisions has anesthetized the American people.
“I believe this election is a product of its environment: social media. Everyone is talking all the time. There is no silence,” Paine continues. “That golden period of reflection has been traded in for a constant stream of thoughts and words, so much that I had to stop speaking to try and keep up with everything.
“When we roamed the colonies, encouraging and supporting our efforts with words.we were the light and the way. Sure, others participated and wrote, and we encouraged it because people held fear. We paved the way for more revolutionaries, each stronger than the last. Now, everyone believes they are in that position. Because of this social media revolution those who are unqualified to thrust their opinions on others are now running for president.
“This election is a product of the over sharing, over sexed, over indulgent America we’ve become, says Paine. “And this year, America will get what it deserves. Either way. Clinton is the choice most should make, but there are no guarantees. I wouldn’t be surprised if Britain made an offer to take us back into their ranks, and maybe that would be a good thing. If I were alive today these words would appear buried on some WordPress blog, never to see the light of day, but I would be satisfied knowing that I possess the knowledge to make change and that I did what I could before returning to the social media-less corners of life where books and music and visiting landmarks without taking pictures on a tiny computer would make me happy.
“This election was massively difficult because every single moment played out in front of everyone.: Every election has its secrets, scandals and lies. This one just had proof. Proof in video of Trump’s sexual deviance. Proof on servers of Clinton’s misuse of government property. The American people have to judge a wealth of information they’ve never had access to before: Twitter accounts, emails, video footage, rallies live streaming 24/7. Every word, movement and action is analyzed in HD, and the weight of it can kill.
“As you all get up to leave, I’d like to say one more thing: abandon the fake. Abandon insecurities. Take to the streets, continue to protest and live authentically. Don’t take pictures of your food before you eat it. Forget the filters. Remember that your online life is not as important as your mortal one. Create something that you can hold in your hands. Talk to one another, spark debate and conversation and please be careful about what you reveal to others. Be true to yourself and your opinions, but know when to speak and when to listen. Know that scholars and experts exist for a reason. Do not judge, but find the good in people,” concludes Paine.
The obelisk’s chamber felt colder as each of the legends rose and evaporated into the afterlife. Paine smiles faintly as each one says their goodbyes. Betsy Ross clears the absinthe glasses and takes off her politically charged T-shirt, revealing the dress she died in. She smiles and thanks Paine for his words.
Franklin shakes everyone’s hand with a ghostly grin and stands by his opinions.
Washington gives a long-winded speech about how Thomas Paine is one of the greatest writers to ever live. Jefferson agrees before departing, understanding that if he had burned it all down he would have never been able to live with himself.
As the lights start to come up on election day, and the cool November breeze rolls in with the clouds in Washington, Paine looks out of a tiny hole in the granite upon the land he helped make possible. He wants to cry because of the election and the violence and the sadness and the people living it in 2016. But he doesn’t. He has faith. Though cynical and wrought with anxiety, there is an idealism in him…a voice of kind and positive energy, an unshakable guilty conscience that always makes him search for more.
He backs away from his lookout and vanishes.
“They’ll be fine. This was hard, but America is always fine.”