"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke (attributed)
January—Three Years Ago
The knock at the door was a discrete tapping followed in a moment by the face of one of his now permanently acquired security handlers. Mike Chatnik entered and stood by the door, hands folded in front of and below his waist.
“They are about ready, sir. You okay?’’
“Yes, yes, I’m fine, thank you, Mike. Hold the hounds at bay for a bit, and send the others on ahead. I need a few moments…I want to gather my thoughts. It’s a big day.”
“Yes sir, of course.”
The handler disappeared and the door clicked shut with a solid finality.
The man stood before a full length mirror and practiced his smile...once, twice and then again. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and for a moment let his mind wander without restraint. Unexpectedly, he was transported back to a vividly searing childhood memory. It was a defining event, a visual and emotional terror forever carved into his subconscious memory.
As well as he could remember he was six or perhaps
seven years old. He was then living in
The criminal, a Muslim who had converted to Christianity and was to be beheading for the sin of sacrilege, a most serious offence against the Qu’ran and Allah himself. The crowd, smelling of the heat, the refuse of the streets, the bloodlust of the event and the excitement of the day, was too dense to permit a full view of the ritual so he had hunkered down to slid and maneuver between legs even slipping onto his belly when necessary on a dusty, garbage strewn street. He crawled between the rough, calloused and often unshod feed of the adults to the forward edge of the mob where, face down on a curb, his view was unobstructed.
The Christian about to be executed was bony, wiry in build and appeared slight in height. His short stubbled beard was unkempt and he had a feral look about himself. When the boy first saw him, he had already been bent over and was kneeling, held in place by two uniformed guards, who held his extended arms in vise like grips, one hand on the victim’s wrists and the other locking his elbows in place. The guards’ faces were cruelly impassive. Their earlier effort to extract a confession was witnessed by a large purple contusion encircling his left cheek and a thick red bruise on his forehead above his right eye.
The prisoner groveled on his knees in the center of an elevated, refuse strewn pavilion on a main crossroads at the edge of the city. His head was bent, fully exposing his sun browned, and sweating neck. He looked out to the crowd, searching for someone, anyone to rescue him. Despair and terror were written across his face and, while he did not cry out, his breathing was forced and labored. A large, heavily muscled bald man with a mustache stood over the victim. He wore a sleeveless black vest, and a scarlet sash above light blue pantaloons. A huge scimitar was gripped in his thick hands, its point resting in the dirt a few inches from the man’s head. An imam stood off to the side and motioned the crowd to silence as he proclaimed the pronouncement of punishment for this defiler of Allah’s law. The silence was a scream of attention as the imam stepped back and the executioner raised the scimitar above his head and prepared the downward stroke. In slow motion the blade cut though the still hot air of the summer day with an audible moaning sigh to caress its victim’s neck, severing it midline above the torso without much of a sound. Torrents of pulsing bright red blood immediately spewed forth in a forceful stream from the spasming body trunk. The cranium bounced once against the dusty earth and slowly rolled to a spot mere inches from the boy’s reclined face. Stringy ringlets of disheveled, black hair, slick with perspiration, surrounded the man’s skull as it separated from the torso and silently fell to the earth. The eyes of the victim’s face seemed wide in astonishment. They shone with the fading vestige of life, staring inexorably, questioningly into the boys own orbs. Then they blinked, not once but twice. A trickle of perspiration escaped from the prey’s hairline and carved a slow canal toward his eyebrow between acne scars on his dusty forehead. His top lip curled ever so slightly at one side in a lopsided awareness…almost a coy smile or maybe the beginnings of a disapproving frown from partially exposed, beetle nut stained broken tooth. Still locked to his own, the victim’s eyes dimmed, became more opaque and took on the transfixed lifeless, fixed stare of death. The child, only inches away was mesmerized, totally focused and entranced by skull, only vaguely aware of the growing cacophony of noise and sound from the blood frenzied mob. It was a defining, never to be forgotten moment and with a timeless certainty the boy knew he would never defy Allah, that he would live fully the kismet which his God had ordained for him.
The figure of the man in the mirror violently snapped him back to the present, to the now reality. The boyhood image vanished as quickly as it had appeared, leaving him momentarily shaken. He attempted to shrug off the vision but it reluctantly lingered. He deliberately refocused on his image in the mirror. He thought himself handsome, but he had recently become acutely aware of his larger ears, the target of the press cartoonists who had lampooned him during the long course of the campaign. He stood, still unshod, dressed in a crisp long sleeved white shirt with French cuffs, dark blue pin stripped suit trousers, and a contrasting blue tie. The jacket to his suit was draped over the back of a nearby chair. He repositioned himself to present a three quarter view—body erect, shoulders back, head up, chin out, solemn faced, fingers curled in a fist on his left hip. He thought of it as his “confidence” pose, his Mussolini look. It captured – his detractors said -- an aura of egotistical arrogant disdain and aloofness.
Satisfied, he turned from the mirror,
crossed the room and locked the door. He moved to the large window, the one
with the view of the
This will be the last time I will have time for a quiet chat with you father, the kneeling man said silently. Still I know your spirit is always with me.
The thought and the words saddened him even though he knew in his heart he would often continue to communicate with his single fondest memory.
“Keep all things about yourself private. Knowledge is power and your enemies will use their knowledge of you against you,” his father’s ghost. The utterance was so real that he could actually hear of the timber and cadence of his father’s voice in the ethereal words.
“Yes father,” he replied aloud. “I understand.” The kneeling man knew his every action, gesture, and word would henceforth be parsed by an ever present hoard of critics and enemies.
His enemies already knew too much – about him, his youth, his Islamic roots, his college years, his socialist radical and racist friends and mentors, and his deceased father’s active Marxist efforts. To hide his truths had grown expensive, already over a million dollars in lawyers fees. The price would only grow as his enemies searched for vulnerability and grew more creditable in their knowledge of his past. Still, his backers had successfully eluded a deep vetting of his persona during the campaign. “Political correctness” and indignant effrontery had served him well.
The nature of his early politic–founded on with bread and circus, with impossible promises for the working proletariat – would have to be more carefully managed. But then too, he now would have more resources to confront, delay and disabuse the proletariat’s awakening dissatisfactions.
So far he had been lucky. His foes and
rivals hadn’t quite focused on him during the primary campaigns dismissing him
very early as an interesting but not very serious contender. They made a
tactical and strategic error by preferring to dwell on the rivalries of his
opponents rather than substances of the process and his appeal of his grass
roots political machine. The handicapping and “hype” of the contest
overshadowed, at first, had overshadowed the substance of his words. But as his
popularity grew, the liberal media sought him out, proclaiming him a dark
horse. They never looked further behind the promises of a better
He smiled at the memory. His father would have been pleased.
He knew it would be harder now. The charisma, the words, the smile, the spin… they would all be diminishing resources. In silent meditation the man reflected on his father’s mental image, an icon which he feared now only be accessed in less frequent moments.
“You will have to be more careful, my son,” his father said to the figure kneeling by the bedside.
“Yes, father,” the man said aloud.
we got troubles, we got troubles right here in
…and I’m the only hope of fixing them. The voters, the cattle of democracy, the clueless. He smiled again.
“Remember my son, it is not important who votes in secret ballots, but who counts the votes. That is the key to your successes. The proletariat masses will forget in time and move on…just as they always have in the past,” his father advised.
“I will remember, father,” the man said.
He scrubbed his eyes with his fingers and rose from beside the bed.
Absently, from habit of ritual in moments such as these, he placed his right hand over his left dropping his arms below his navel, eyes closed, standing unbent beside the bed, in postured position of the Maya. He felt more comfortable with the customs of Islam than the rites of Christianity, not that he was unfamiliar with the latter. Buddhist, Christian, Islamic…it really didn’t matter what the statement of belief was called. They all were only traditionally rituals anyway. Chameleon-like, he could – as occasion or politics demanded—be it either Christian or Muslim, or both. Whatever played best to the audience.
In his own heart of hearts, he silently acknowledged he was neither a truly devout Muslim, but certainly not a true Christian. He considered himself a pragmatist who subscribed to an “eye for an eye,” and “do unto others” as better and more practical dogmas than those more obtuse and complicated isms of the Qu’ran or the Bible. He borrowed from both worlds to fit his own philosophy, needs, and justifications. In the end, it wasn’t the ceremony or sect ritual as much as it was the inner belief.
He smiled again.
Chicago style, he thought. Pragmatic and direct… no need for deep conviction or subtlety.
The President’s chosen profession, politics, is one of the two oldest professions in the world but of course, prostitution is not nearly as sordid. Politics were viewed as a pragmatic means to an end, a necessary means, a means to be mastered, but still only a means. The President had been crassly ignorant until George Preston and Lyle Slatto had educated him. He was a quick study, well schooled, and tutored until, at last, he understood and silently embraced the philosophy of Carl Marx as well as his socialist and communist college professors.
He learned from George Preston that what is done in politics is far different and more significant than what is said. It is the deed -- the deeds – that what in the end ultimately define. But deeds come slowly and until the day of deeds, words must convey promises, words must identify the desired scapegoats and targets, words must be the distraction and the source of confusion. Words…lies…are needed to show someone or something else to blame, to tamp down or misdirect discontent, at least until the foundations of permanent change are immutably in place. Words are the business of politics. Hope and illusions are key. Words create illusions to portray the promised land to the gullible or those dumb enough to believe the talking heads. Words are the lure, the subtle magician’s distraction, the political revenue suckers bet on. The lure is in the magic of the words which, recited and repeated enough—become truth…what people want to hear. Tell the masses the good news and hide the bitter realities in the sugar of hope and change. Never admit to failure but blame it on an enemy, a scapegoat.
The lanky President-elect crossed the room and removed his suit jacket from its perch, and slipped it on. He shot the cuffs of the crisp white shirt to display the new presidential cuff links and smiled thoughtfully.
He had been coached to start with his predecessor, to demonize him and his policies.
I’ll start with him, but there are other scores to settle as well, he reflected.
Without conscious thought the man softly began the mesmerizing, almost poetic rhythm of the Fard, the ritual five times a day obligatory prayer of all Muslims.
“God is Great…. Glory to you O Allah and yours is the praise….” Remembering how his father had instructed him those many years ago.
Islam, he silently if not unconsciously and reluctantly admitted, was more than just a lingering influence from the days of his youth. Old habits died hard. He mutely ascribed to the tenets of Islam and the radical political beliefs of his father, and both were certain and present rocks of his philosophical foundation. They both fueled his ambitions and his seething but controlled anger of those who had destroyed his father, and his father’s dreams. But now…
From rote memory he began to recite the ancient words of the Fatiha. “In the name of God, the infinitely compassionate and Merciful… Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds. He had been taught the prayer by his father, who never, even in death, grew feet of clay. He was the martyred hero of the son’s childhood whose memories, exaggerated in their purity, were cherished in their survival.
There is no God but God, he whispered aloud, “Do not abandon me in the midst of my enemies. Send your angels, the spirits of pure light who penetrate all realms of existence, to me, Allah, to confuse our enemies and to protect me in your service as I fulfill your wishes and my own kismet. It is only you who knows my true heart. Do not let me stray from the passion of my father’s counsel who died because of capitalist and colonial greed. Protect me your servant on this path upon which you have set my foot.
to her arrogance, to her……
An adamant tapping came at the door amid quarreling voices from the outer hallway.
“Not now,” the man in the room shouted at the door.
The knocking only became more insistent.
“Sir, you are behind schedule. We must go. The President and the Chief Justice are waiting.” A voice from behind the door announced.
The man was offended and frustrated by the interruption, a scowl formed on his face. He took a deep breath, moved to a chair for balance and slipped his feet into the highly polished dress shoes and donned the pin striped suit jacket. The mask of affability slipped back into place.
“All right. I’m coming.”
It is all in the words, he thought silently...in the creation of the illusion, in their naïve need to believe.
He was smarter than all of them. The chickens might come home to roost some day, but by then he would be gone and only the legacy and legend would remain. He was their hero. For here and now, he was safe.
He unlocked the door, and swiftly exited the room not even taking the time to look back.
“Let’s get this show in the road,” he charged, as he walked at a rapid pace between four body guards.
“Yes sir,” the assigned Secret Service body man to his
left responded. “You don’t want to be late for your own inauguration, Mr.
President-Elect. If you don’t mind me saying, sir, the country is looking
forward to the changes you represent. Its gonna
be a great day for
“Yes,” the President–Elect replied. “It certainly will
be…a totally different
He was, after all, about to become the world’s real Music Man.