THE DISCORD IN OUR SOUL
by Don Tassone
Someone rapped at the door. It swung open.
“Mr. President, I’m sorry to interrupt.”
“What is it, Bill?”
President Garcia — spare, angular and balding — glanced up at the tall, bespectacled man who was stepping into the room. The look on his chief of staff’s face said he was the bearer of bad news.
“We have an emergency which requires your presence immediately in the Situation Room.”
President Garcia’s eyes narrowed. It was his second day on the job. So much for a honeymoon, he thought.
“I’m sorry,” the President said, turning to his guests. “We’ll reschedule this meeting.”
He stood up and began shaking hands.
“Mr. President,” said the man at the door. “We need to go now.”
In the hallway, out of earshot of his guests, the President asked, “Bill, what’s going on?”
“Iran and North Korea have just launched missiles, and they’re heading our way.”
A staffer was holding the elevator doors open. The two men stepped inside.
“Yes,” said Bill, clearing his throat. “Nuclear missiles.”
It had been the first contested national convention in more than 60 years. That it was contested was not surprising. How it happened was.
The presumptive GOP nominee was a polarizing and divisive figure. But his base of support was strong. Political pundits said most of his supporters were angry white men. No doubt, they were angry. But they were a surprisingly diverse lot, people who, without a candidate to rally around, would never have crossed paths.
Over the course of a year, these disparate groups had become a seemingly unified mob. But until the convention, they had not been together in person.
Now, at last, they met. But as soon as they did, they began arguing and fighting with each other. As it turned out, they didn’t have so much in common after all. It was the one thing their candidate didn’t bargain on: that his supporters would turn on each other —— and then on him.
One state delegation announced it was defecting and would be supporting another candidate. Another group threw its support behind a third candidate. Signs for several candidates began to pop up throughout the convention hall. It was as if the primary season had started all over again.
Such was the fickle and divisive mood of the country. Everyone was angry. Everyone was upset about something, from immigration to transgender bathrooms. Everyone was yelling, attacking one another.
Everybody knew the national conventions would be a circus that summer. Had he not been a delegate to the GOP convention, Carlos Garcia, the popular Governor of New Mexico, wouldn’t have attended.
In politics, Garcia was an anomaly. He was a soft-spoken, gentle man, the son of Mexican immigrants, a former seminarian and an avowed pacifist. People called him a Boy Scout because he refused to engage in behavior he considered disrespectful. But in his own quiet way, he managed to bring people together and get things done.
Garcia wanted to skip the convention because he knew it would be wild. But he went because he was pledged to go.
On the first day, the presumed nominee’s support began to splinter. On the second, delegates began to occupy different spots in the convention hall, rallying around their respective candidates. As they began to shout and even hurl objects at one another, the floor took on the look of a battlefield.
On the third day, riots broke out in the streets. It looked like 1968. Party leaders considered calling the whole thing off and reconvening later. But they concluded doing so would only make matters worse. So they pressed on.
On the fourth day, at last, names began to be placed in nomination. But there was no consensus. Only more bitter disagreement.
On the fifth day, the presumed nominee stormed out, declaring the whole thing a sham and announcing he might run as an independent.
On the morning of the sixth day, the New Mexico delegation approached Garcia and told him they wanted to place his name in nomination.
“You must be kidding,” he said.
“Carlos,” said Jose Rivas, his long-time friend. “Look around you. You might be our only hope.”
“This is a bad idea, Jose.”
“We need you, Carlos. The country needs you.”
“Okay,” he said reluctantly.
That afternoon, on the ninth ballot, Garcia’s name was placed in nomination.
On the seventh day and the twelfth ballot, a majority of delegates voted for Garcia, and he became the party’s nominee. His supporters literally pushed him up to the stage, the party chairman himself escorting him to the podium. “I humbly accept your nomination” was all he could say.
Nominating Garcia was a desperation move. Party leaders and delegates alike knew that, in all the chaos that year, no one else of any stature could be nominated. At least with Garcia, they had chosen someone with a cool head. After the election, they figured, they could pick up the pieces and rebuild the party.
A week later, the Democrats nominated their frontrunner, but only after their own melee. Heated arguments over the party platform boiled over into fistfights. Chairs flew. Outside, police used pepper spray to control the crowd. More than 100 people were injured, some seriously, before the convention was brought to an early end.
After the conventions, things only got worse. Every day, a demonstration. Every night, a riot. Twenty-thousand Americans moved to Toronto.
But Garcia kept his cool, treating his opponent with respect, despite her daily attacks on him. Few predicted he had a chance. But that November, in a year when conventional wisdom was turned upside down and more than half of registered voters stayed home, Garcia won 54/46.
But if the majority of voters wanted Garcia as their President, he himself had misgivings. He had not sought the Presidency or ever imagined himself as President. He felt unqualified. Could he handle the job? He told a friend: “I was a draft dodger. How could I ever lead us into war?”
After the election, many Americans began having second thoughts too. Some said Garcia was unfit to be Commander in Chief. Some called him a Mexican sympathizer and questioned his loyalty. Some claimed his birth certificate was a fake.
By the holidays, America was tearing itself apart. Fights broke out over nativity scenes. Mosques were set on fire. A man was shot simply for wishing someone “happy holidays.”
On Christmas Eve, as usual, Carlos Garcia attended midnight Mass with his family. This time, he prayed that God would deliver the nation out of chaos.
When the President and his chief of staff got to the Situation Room, every seat around the conference table was filled, except for the one at the head. The President bid everyone hello and sat down.
His Secretary of Defense, Tom Adams, jumped right in.
“Mr. President, about 15 minutes ago, North Korea launched nine nuclear missiles, and Iran launched four nuclear missiles. Our satellite tracking systems tell us that all 13 missiles are heading our way.”
“We think they could be testing us, Mr. President,” said his Secretary of State, Gloria Alvarez.
“You mean testing me?”
“Tom, how long before the missiles hit?”
“Less than an hour.”
“What are our options?”
“There is only one option, Mr. President. To shoot them down.”
“How will we do that?”
“It will be a challenge at this point. But we should be able to get them all.”
“Should? You mean there’s a chance that we won’t get them all?”
“Yes. And the chance is growing as they get closer.”
The President gave Adams a look of disbelief. In his heart, he had never trusted the military.
“You mean that, with all our firepower, we can’t shoot down 13 missiles?”
“With respect, Mr. President, it’s not a matter of firepower. It’s a matter of time and those missiles spreading out, like buckshot.”
“What can we do to increase our odds of hitting them?”
“Ask other countries to help us.”
“OK, Tom. I’ll get us some help. In the meantime, I am ordering you to use any conventional weapons you need to destroy those missiles.”
Five minutes later, the President was on a conference call with the leaders of the United States’ 10 closest allies and its two biggest adversaries, China and Russia. He explained the situation and asked for their help.
“We sometimes see the world very differently. But surely we can all stand united against an unprovoked and potentially devastating attack like the one we now face. I would like to believe that if any one of your countries were in our situation, we would be there for you.”
No country hesitated or held back. Within minutes, there were hundreds of missiles in the air, all trained on the nukes.
At 3:00 that afternoon, the President was back in the Oval Office, addressing the nation.
“My fellow Americans, this morning, North Korea and Iran launched 13 nuclear missiles at us. Their attack failed. We are safe.
“We and 12 other nations fired hundreds of conventional weapons at the nuclear missiles. We were successful. All of the missiles were destroyed over the oceans, before they could reach our shores. Our scientists believe that any damage to the environment from the fallout will be minimal.
“We are deeply grateful to all 12 of the nations who came to our defense. That group includes both longtime allies and longtime adversaries. Today, though, in this brave group, we have no adversaries. They are all our friends.
“We don’t know why North Korea and Iran tried to attack us. Maybe they thought other countries would join them. Maybe they thought we were weak. Maybe they thought they could catch us by surprise.
“Our intelligence experts believe neither country has any nuclear weapons left. But we’re not taking any chances. Four hours ago, I ordered our military to destroy every military base and nuclear facility in both countries, as well as the capitol buildings in Pyongyang and Tehran. It now appears that order has been carried out. Sadly, we estimate that tens of thousands of North Koreans and Iranians, including many innocents, have been killed. Thankfully, to our knowledge, there have been no American casualties.
“I am a man of peace. It goes against my principles to hurt, let alone kill, anyone. But yesterday, I took an oath to protect and defend this country. Today, I believe I’ve upheld my oath.”
Garcia closed his eyes and drew a breath, then opened his eyes and continued.
“Over the past few hours, I’ve been asking myself: How did it come to this? How could it be that we were at the brink of destruction?
“And then I began reflecting on what we’ve all been experiencing lately. We’ve been at each other’s throats. We’ve been hurling insults, fists, chairs, rocks and even bullets at one another for a long time now.”
“What’s happened to us? When did we begin to believe our right to disagree meant it was okay to hurt one another?”
Garcia looked down and again drew a breath, then raised his eyes and continued.
“As a nation, we have always stood for peace. But there can be no peace, here or anywhere in the world, as long as we have discord in our soul.
“Our first President said the success of our country depends ultimately on two things: the grace of God and the goodwill of the people. The first we were shown today. The second is up to us.
“Today I am rededicating my Presidency to helping us find a better path forward, to helping rekindle our original, generous spirit, to bringing us together again, as one nation, under God.
“In this, I ask his blessing and your goodwill. Thank you.”
Don Tassone lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches public relations at Xavier University in Cincinnati. His stories have appeared in a range of literary magazines. They’re posted at http://dontassone.com.
*This is Tassone’s second work published with Sick Lit Magazine; photography also provided by Don Tassone*