The evening had shifted to small talk sometime around the third glass of wine, after the school children sang their rendition of “My Heart Will Go On,” but before the auctioning of a signed and framed picture of Darius Rucker, which would eventually sell to a wealthy executive’s wife for $150, primarily out of pity.
A token cancer survivor had just wheeled up to the mic and thanked everyone for their generosity last year. She had some expensive treatments, and the donations ensured she could meet her medical schedule and start the road to recovery. She wouldn’t have guessed that some of the men in this room, in their black ties and dapper tuxedos, owned the hospitals that charged her $2,000 for each expert visit. Others in the room owned controlling stakes in the insurance company with which her mother fought tooth and nail to keep her daughter’s rates from skyrocketing, back when there was such a thing as a “pre-existing condition.” All clapped heartily as the cancer survivor finished her story, and at least one person per table commented to his or her neighbors how remarkable she really was.
A victim of gun violence from the “intercity” would take the stage next, to discuss how this year’s donations would be of incredible benefit for his life. He would have the opportunity to learn how to read. And maybe, one day, he would find a job, and be one of these people, wealthy and Rolexed. If he were, the casual observer would note that he would be one of three people of color to eat the meal, rather than serve it. The other two, an attractive couple who laughed often, worked for a defense contractor vying to have the FDA approve its military-grade robotic limbs, paving the way for our intercity victim to walk again, for the low, low price of $15,000 per leg.
But in this lull period between survivor and victim, the tables turned to inconsequential blather, with all the members engaging in enthusiastic business card swaps and explaining where exactly they worked, what exactly they worked on. “I know this is for the children,” someone said, “But the true value is in the networking.” And, even if this went unexpressed, it was generally considered the truth. The organizers knew it: Get one important person, and they’ll all show up. In this moment, a man with long, ponytailed hair and no tie found himself in a debate with a stone-faced septuagenarian. The topic was the same that mental masturbators since time immemorial turned to when bored or feeling leisurely: Politics.
“Let me use an analogy, do you know what an analogy is son?” the grey man with a square jaw asked the impassive 36-year-old exec at some company that practically printed its own money, who didn’t respond. The conversation had already passed from civil to snarky, which can happen in the blink of an eye. “We own a house, see, in this neighborhood full of axe murderers and thieves.”
“Sounds like we should move,” the exec said dryly.
“Well, you can’t. The house is our country you see. And you can’t just pick up a whole country and plop it down in another neighborhood. And you can’t just get a rocket and fly out of this neighborhood, despite what Elon Musk might believe.”
“Good guy. I know him.”
Now, it was the grey man’s turn to gloss over a statement, “And, anyway, we’ve got some really big troublemakers who want to blow up our house. They’re over there hooting and a hollering and they’ve even attacked our place before. Well what would you do?”
“Is this a rhetorical question?”
“Well, I sure know what I’d do, I’d buy me the biggest, ugliest, meanest dog I could possibly get.”
“And so this is why you’re voting for Donald Trump?”
“Well, hell yes. He may be an asshole who wants to torture people, but, by God, he’ll sure as shit scare that house from ever coming over to our place again.”
The exec frowned, he glanced down at the table, letting his blond hair fall slightly around his face. The conversation had consumed the table, now it was as much theatrics as actual rhetoric. Some peered on generally interested; others held quiet, for fear the ire and incivility would turn on them; and others simply had drunk too much, or possibly had too many designer drugs in the bathroom or the way over. One young woman who came with an exceedingly old man seemed to be especially loopy. She must have had something to wash away the thought of climbing onto his wrinkled body later that night to thank him for the good time and get her allowance.
“While I believe history tells us that getting a big dog leads to more dogs, which leads to a whole world erupting into dogfights,” the blond exec said. “Let’s take your analogy and look inside the houses a bit more. First, some are huge with dozens, if not hundreds, of rooms. These hold a wide array of people, young and old, who come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life. In the American house, we have many rooms that keep getting more people, and these rooms tend to be the best growing in the United States — such as Silicon Valley.
“The true secret to their success is their immigrant population, which is creating wealth at a phenomenal rate. And they’re better educated and taking jobs that Americans don’t want to do. Far beyond fieldwork, these jobs are in engineering, technology, science and math.
“This is how it’s always been: Look at Einstein, an immigrant, or Steve Jobs, whose father was Syrian. The best and the brightest come to America, and they build things we can’t or don’t imagine. Just as they always have.”
The gray man scoffed.
The blond cleared his throat and continued, “Your big dog and his wall will destroy a fundamental tenant to American life: Our immigrant story.”
“He’ll keep the terrorists out.”
“There aren’t terrorists coming in,” the voices began to increase.
“You’re naive. Look at Orlando.”
“You’re an idiot, he was born in New York.”
“To Afghani parents.”
“You’re a racist, that’s what this amounts to,” a smug look crossed the blond's face. Rustling behind him, someone was moving toward the stage, trays of dessert were on there way out.
For the first time, the gray man appeared genuinely hurt. “You son, think you’re quick. You think you’re clever.” A slice of cake landed in front of him. “But you have no respect for the men and women who came before you. I hired the first black employees in my county, back when segregation still existed. I had bricks thrown through my window. I did it not because of some sanctimonious need to help black people, I did it because they were hard workers and did the job that I needed done. That’s why this country was great — no hand outs, just an honest day’s work.”
“Your America no longer exists.”
A moment of silence passed over the table, as though mourning. The coked-out mistress seized the opportunity to prove her congeniality, “Have you all seen the newest ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians?’” she asked.
A slice of cake appeared before the blond, who ignored the uncertain presence of Khloe, Kortney and Kim in his brain. “And, for every one of you there were three who wanted mob rule, who wanted to put black people back in chains. Like it or not, Trump represents that group.”
“He’ll keep us safe.”
“He’ll make the world fall into anarchy.”
A loud tapping noise came over the speakers. At the head of the room a white man in a pressed tuxedo was about to introduce the black man in a wheelchair next to him. A low hum came through with the victim’s pained respiration, reminiscent of Darth Vader. The defense salesman with robotic limbs salivated. The coked out mistress dozed off. The lovely couple fixed their smiles. The general ambiance, strained and unrelated, made pliable by the copious amount of alcohol, readied itself for its own silence, which comes so easily in America.