aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 31: The Foundation Of Empire

Together, we can build a better America, colonize it, and use the old one for raw materials and target practice.
Steven Kaas

January 30, 1981
Camp David, Maryland

I.

The song goes:

Who can retell
The things that befell
Us so long ago?
But in every age
A hero or sage
Came to our aid

As the 1970s drew to a close, America was at a low point. The armies of Thamiel had been defeated by twin miracles in the East and West. But technology and infrastructure were still shattered, the state governments could barely maintain order, and outside the Eastern Seaboard the country was still divided into the regional powers that had taken over after Nixon’s fall.

We needed a hero or sage to come to our aid.

When he came, it was out of California. A popular governor had been presumed dead in the chaos; now he reappeared, restoring order to the fledgling California Republic. When he talked, people listened. Matthew 7:28 – “For he spoke as one having authority, and not as the scribes and Pharisees”. He traveled the land, talking about the American Dream, and where he went the impossible seemed possible. People dropped their quarrels and swore loyalty. John 7:46 – “Never man spake like this man.”

There had been no midterm election in 1978. The war was too desperate, lines of communication too frayed. Nobody had expected an election in 1980 either. But now the impossible seemed possible. The remnants of the federal government in Washington came together to make it happen. By train or ship or ox-cart, the votes rolled in, steering carefully around the smoking ruins of the Midwest. The ballots were counted. The results had never been in doubt. It was the biggest landslide in American history.

And so on January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Capitol Building and declared that it was morning in America.

II.

In 1 Samuel, King Saul of Israel has grown paranoid and is trying to kill his former general David. David has only 600 men; Saul has 3000; open battle would be suicide. So David waits for cover of night, and along with his friend Abishai he sneaks into Saul’s camp. They steal a spear and water jug from the sleeping Saul. The next morning, they show off their treasures. Saul realizes that David could have killed him in his sleep; that he chose to spare the king’s life proved that he must still be loyal. There in his camp Saul embraced young David and begged his forgiveness for his former suspicion. David, for his part, kneels before Saul and swears a renewed oath of loyalty.

That makes the kabbalistic meaning of “Camp David” “a place where the anointed of God swears loyalty to the earthly king who has been set over him for the time being”, so Jala West was trying to treat President Reagan with as much respect as possible. It was proving difficult.

“The young man who saved Colorado,” Reagan kept calling him. Emphasis on the word “young”. He slapped Jala on the back jovially. “Why, you can’t be a year over fifteen!”

“Five,” said Jalaketu. “I grow quickly. I have to.”

A disconcerting blankness flitted across Reagan’s features, then dissolved into laughter. “I feel that way too sometimes! All the work, never-ending, and Congress breathing down your back. I feel like a kid back in grade school!” There was something paternal about him now. No, grandfatherly. “But whatever your age, you’ve done great work, son. America is proud of you. We’ll be giving you the Medal of Honor soon, I’m sure. But I wanted to tell you personally first. It’s lads like you who make this country great.”

Jalaketu shifted uneasily in his seat. “We were going to talk about Colorado’s re-admission to the Union.”

The President looked disappointed to have his small talk brushed aside, but he nodded. “Of course. You’ve done great work, Jala. Mind if I call you Jala? And we can’t thank you enough. But Colorado’s part of the Union. The plan is to get all the old territories – California, Washington, Texas, even what’s left of the Midwest – and join them back together. The legalities are complicated, but the boys in Interior have promised to send you some lawyers to help you…your advisors sort it out.”

“Mr. President,” said Jalaketu, “Colorado is open to discuss various forms of free association with the United States. But we are not interested in outright annexation at this moment.”

The robes Jalaketu was wearing should have looked ridiculous on him, all interwoven black and silver patterns studded with little gemstones. They didn’t. They looked correct.

“Mr. Jala,” said the President. He reached out, put an arm on the boy’s shoulder. “I know it seems exciting now, leading a whole state. I hear you’ve even got them calling you king! Well, good for you! But you’re going to learn that leading a government is hard work. Too much for one person to manage. You’ve got economics, defense, laws…that’s why, all those years ago, our forefathers decided on a United States, so that all of us would work together on the hard job of running a state. I know you want to go it alone – ” he gave a big understanding smile ” – but it’s just too much for one boy. Too much for anybody. Certainly too much for me! That’s why I’ve got my Cabinet and whole buildings full of people trained at Yale and Harvard.”

“I know I’m young,” said Jalaketu, “but if you could just talk to me the way you would talk to, say, the President of France, then this would go a lot quicker.”

Another disconcerting blankness. Then back to the folksy smile. Jovial laughter. “All right, Jala. You’re a straight-shooter. I respect that in a guy. So let’s talk shop. Colorado’s right in the middle of the United States. Long as we’re apart, neither one of us is defensible. That’s why your parents and grandparents brought Colorado into the Union, and it’s why my parents and grandparents accepted it. in order to have a country that stretches from sea to shining sea…”

“This isn’t working,” said Jalaketu. “Let me make my proposal. Instead of a full reunification of the US, a continental partial union based on the European Economic Community established by the Treaty of Rome back in 1958 but integrated with some of the military provisions of NATO. Given what’s happening with the Communion and the League over in Europe, NATO’s dead in the water otherwise, but we could rebuild it as a pan-American organization. We include the United States, Colorado, California, Texas, Salish, and the free areas of Canada, maybe Quebec and Ontario as individual member nations. Continental free trade and open borders modeled after the Anglo-Irish common travel area. President as head of state of the union in much the same way as the British monarch and pre-collapse Canada.”

Reagan laughed. “I like you, kid. You’re ambitious, just like I am! But there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know. Treaties are delicate things; the Treaty of Rome alone probably has a hundred articles – ”

“Two hundred forty eight.”

“What I’m saying is this is difficult stuff for a fifteen year old.”

“And yet I seem to be the only one here who’s read it.”

Reagan laughed heartily. “I like your spirit, son,” he said. “But this isn’t about us. It’s about America.”

“Stop it and listen to…” Jala paused. This wasn’t working. It wasn’t even not working in a logical way. There was a blankness to the other man. It was strange. He felt himself wanting to like him, even though he had done nothing likeable. A magnetic pull. Something strange.

Reagan slapped him on the back again. “America is a great country. It’s morning in America!”

That did it. Something was off. Reagan couldn’t turn off the folksiness. It wasn’t even a ruse. There was nothing underneath it. It was charisma and avuncular humor all the way down. All the way down to what? Jala didn’t know.

He spoke a Name.

Reagan jerked, more than a movement but not quite a seizure. “Ha ha ha!” said Reagan. “I like you, son!”

Jalaketu spoke another, longer Name.

Another jerking motion, like a puppet on strings. “There you go again. Let’s make this country great!”

A third Name, stronger than the others.

“Do it for the Gipper!…for the Gipper!…for the Gipper!”

“Huh,” said Jalaketu. Wheels turned in his head. The Gipper. Not even a real word. Not English, anyway. Hebrew then? Yes. He made a connection; pieces snapped into place. The mighty one. Interesting. It had been a very long time since anybody last thought much about haGibborim. But how were they connected to a random California politician? He spoke another Name.

Reagan’s pupils veered up into his head, so that only the whites of his eyes were showing. “Morning in America! Tear down that wall!”

“No,” said Jalaketu. “That won’t do.” He started speaking another Name, then stopped, and in a clear, quiet voice he said “I would like to speak to your manager.”

Reagan briefly went limp, like he had just had a stroke, then sprung back upright and spoke with a totally different voice. Clear. Lilting. Feminine. Speaking in an overdone aristocratic British accent that sounded like it was out of a period romance.

“You must be Jalaketu. Don’t you realize it’s rude to disturb a woman this early in the morning?” The President’s eyes and facial muscles moved not at all as the lips opened and closed.

“I know your True Name,” said Jalaketu. “You are Gadiriel, called the Lady. You are the angel of celebrity and popularity and pretense.”

“Yes.”

“You’re…this is your golem, isn’t it?”

“Golems are ugly things. Mud and dust. This is my costume.”

“This is an abomination. You’ve taken over America.”

“I have saved America,” corrected the Lady.

“Not yours to save!” said Jalaketu. He drew the sword Sigh from…he drew the sword Sigh. “This is America! Government by the people, of the people, for the people. What’s good is their decision, not yours. You should have left it alone!”

“Like you did, Jalaketu ben Raziel?”

“That’s different! I’m American. I was born here.”

“Dear, you’re what? Five years old? I’ve been in America longer than there’s been an America. I am America. I watched it through the curtain of Uriel’s machinery, and when I could I sent my love through the cracks. Who do you think it was who made George Washington so dashing on his stallion? Who put the flourish in John Hancock’s signature? Who do you think it was who wrote Abe Lincoln telling him to grow a beard? I stood beside all those foolish beautiful people talking about cities on hills or nations of gentlemen-farmers or the new Athens and gave their words my fire. Who do you think whispered the Battle Hymn into Julia Ward Howard’s ears as she slept? Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on.”

“He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,” said Jalaketu. “He is wisdom to the mighty, He is succor to the brave. The world will be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave.”

“You’re a fan?” asked the Lady.

Jalaketu knelt, like David had knelt before Saul three thousand years earlier. “I wronged you, my lady”, he told Reagan. “What I said was hurtful. Please forgive me.”

The door cracked open, and a woman came in bearing a tray. “Coffee and snacks, Mr. President, Mr. West?” President Reagan regained his facial musculature and laughed in his own voice. “Aw, Sally, you always know exactly what we need,” he said, and flashed her a huge smile. She blushed and set down the tray. “Anything else? Anything for you, Mr. West?” The boy shook his head. “That’ll be plenty,” said the President, “You go get some lunch yourself.” She smiled and left. Reagan’s pupils veered back up into his skull, and the angelic voice returned.

“I accept your apology, Jalaketu ben Kokab,” said the Lady, “but the golem’s opinions are mine as well. I will not let you tear my country apart. I didn’t feed Lincoln all those battle plans through Nettie Maynard just to let people break the Union when things got tough. America’s story isn’t done yet. It’s too beautiful a story, and it’s not yet done.”

“Your intentions are good,” said Jalaketu, “but you’re running on hope and empty promises, and you know it. Without the Midwest, everything’s scattered geographically; with air travel and roads what they are DC can barely connect to Sacramento, let alone rule it. Even if you can get the others in by sheer force of will, it’ll be your powers as the Lady that do it and not the geopolitical realities. As soon as you try to leave the stage, the whole thing will collapse, and you might not get another chance.”

“I will keep it together,” said the Lady. “I’ll stay as long as it takes.”

“For what? Is that how you want America’s story to end? An angel tricks them into giving her supreme power, and uses supernatural charisma and giant smiles to force the nation to cling to life despite itself? You want to possess President after President till kingdom come? My idea offers something legitimate and self-sustaining. Give the states some independence, bow to reality, but keep the country together.”

“And what about you? Are you going to give up power in Colorado? Put down that ridiculous crown of yours?”

“No,” admitted Jalaketu. “I have a mission. I don’t have enough time to do it the right way, so I’m going to do it the fast way. But if I ever finished, then…yes. Yes, I would set Colorado free.”

“I also have a mission,” said the Lady. “I protect dreams and stories. I also don’t always have enough time to do it right.”

“I’m not ending the story,” said Jalaketu. “Just proposing a new chapter.” He placed his briefcase on the table, took out a document, handed it to Reagan. “A constitutional amendment. Well, a set of constitutional amendments. More of a Constitution 2.0.”

“Typo in the title,” said the Lady.

“No,” said Jalaketu. “There isn’t.”

Reagan thought for a second, then laughed. “I like you, Jalaketu ben Kokab. But not enough to give up.”

“It’s not giving up! You know and I know this has to be done. We can do it now, the right way, peacefully. Or it can happen later, badly, without our input.”

Reagan scanned the document again. Her eyes narrowed.

“Look,” said Jala. “Jefferson. Declaration of Independence. Was that you?”

“What do you think?”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

“Don’t you twist my words at me. I know what I meant!”

Jalaketu answered: “It is not in Heaven.”

Reagan started laughing. Then kept laughing. Then laughed some more. “You are really something, Jalaketu ben Kokab. You really think you can do this thing?”

“Somebody has to and no one else will.”

“You know,” said Gadiriel, “the thing about America is that everyone comes here, everyone becomes a part of it, everyone contributes. The African-Americans all stand up for each other and add their mark. So do the Mexican-Americans. I think it’s time we Celestial-Americans present a united front, don’t you agree?”

“Is that a yes?”

“It’s a maybe. We’ll negotiate. We’ll talk. But in the end I think you will have your Untied States.”

A presidential staffer came in. “Mr. President, lunch is ready. Reporters from the Times are there, they’ve been waiting to meet Mr. Jalaketu for a long time.”

“I’m sure it will be delicious!” said President Reagan, laughing. “And I’m sure our guest here is starving as well. We’ll be in in a moment. In the meantime, let the press know that I’ll be calling a conference tonight. We’re going to have to renegotiate parts of the reunification plans, and I want Mr. Jalaketu there to help me sell this to the public.”

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