At 9:00 PM on a September evening in the year 2024 George Washington came forward to challenge the man he had come to refer to as “The Tyrant.” The first debate was to be a town hall meeting in Boca Raton, Florida.
As had been established back in ‘22, The Network had provided the list of questions to the Tyrant in advance and they had been pre-vetted by his campaign manager, Paul Manafort. The Network’s Host glanced at his note cards, embossed with the White House crest and per Manafort’s direction scanned the studio audience for “the middle-aged white man with blue eyes and a red checked shirt who will ask the question about Washington being out of touch.” The host quickly found his target.
“Tom Crenshaw of Winter Park has our first question. Go ahead Tom.”
“Yeah, first of all I wanna say that it’s a great honor to be able to be here with these two great leaders, with General Washington and also, especially the President. But I wanted to ask a question first to the General. I’m just wondering—you were President, what, 200 years ago? Isn’t that kind of a long time ago? How does that factor in?
For this Washington was well prepared.
“There is but one factor in leadership, irrespective of era,” Washington replied, “That is character. The evidence of which is contained within your histories.”
A full 10 seconds elapsed. Washington stood placidly, his faraway gaze drifting regally over the heads of the audience.
“And?” the Host queried. “You’ve got 40 seconds left for your response.”
“I do not require them.”
“What he’s saying,” The Tyrant broke in, “is that he thinks he’s above all this.”
“You believe yourself not to be?” Washington interjected. An oooh rippled through the crowd.
The exchanges continued in similar fashion for the next ten minutes. Each of Washington’s responses were oddly evasive but increasingly effective. Distant history, the one thing that evaded the Tyrant’s grasp, was an easy crutch for the General.
At the debate’s midpoint Paul Manafort broke in over the IFB and told the host to “look stage right toward the African-American man in green.”
“Gentlemen,” the Host broke in on an exchange concerning emoluments, “my apologies but we’ve got to move on and I wanted turn to an important issue we’ve been avoiding. I think that a Mr. James Wright of Pahokee wants to weigh in on something. Go ahead James.”
“Yeah,” the selected audience member said as he took up the microphone. “So, with all due respect, I wanted the General to say a word or two about slavery. As far as I understand it he owned three hundred or so of my people and he didn’t free any of them. How come? I mean, from what I heard, plenty of our folks stood by his side in the Revolution. You’d have thought the General would have done right by them.”
“James, that’s a superb point,” the Tyrant broke in. “I mean, slavery, wow. I don’t think one human should have the right to own another human being. Period. Next question.”
“If I might. . .” Washington tried to interject but the Host indicated a woman three rows back from Wright had precedence. “Go ahead Monique.”
“Following up on what Mr. Wright was saying,” she began, “What I heard is that the General couldn’t free his slaves because he was too far gone in debt. He needed our people as collateral.”
“You must remember that in the custom of the time . . .” Washington began.
“You know what I always say,” The Tyrant cut him off rising on his toes, “if a man can’t manage his own business, he shouldn’t have a say in another’s.” A murmur of approval let his statement hang in the air for longer than was its due.
Next the Network moved on to foreign policy. A question arose whether Washington would seek to involve the United States in overseas adventures. Washington cited his position of neutrality with respect to France in ’98 as evidence that he would buffer against overseas meddling in American affairs.
The Tyrant grew heated at the word “meddling” but kept silent until the back doors of the auditorium swung open admitting the Tyrant’s three adult children, each carrying a grandchild. They took up their seats within easy range of the cameras. Applause and then a standing ovation thundered until The Host gently quieted them and turned to a grandmother from Key Largo.
“Yes, a question for the General. You’re often called the Father of Our Country, and, really, that’s so nice. Really (applause). But since family is such a big part of the American experience, why is that you yourself never had any children of your own?”
Washington reddened here but held his ground.
“The Creator during those years had not seen fit to grant me such gifts.”
“But you did want children, didn’t you?”
“My wants and The Creator’s designs are independent of one another.”
“Listen,” the Tyrant broke in. “What goes on down there—nobody’s business. Guy shoots blanks, he shoots blanks.”
Now with his opponent at last mortally wounded, The Tyrant had a final opportunity to put Washington in his proper box. In the weeks preceding the debate The Tyrant had floated theories on Twitter about the General’s leadership during the American Revolution. Always qualifying that the General was of course “an incredible hero. One of the best.” He’d then go on to point out that “a few people had said things.” This had all been background muttering. He’d never voiced this opinion directly and in person. Here at last was his chance.
“I just want to come back one more time to this whole Revolution thing,” The Tyrant said, “I mean people make a big deal about 1776. ’76 this ’76 that. But I was talking to one historian, very intelligent man, and he was telling me that in 1776 the General—he just couldn’t take it. Up and ran. He could have stayed in New York. Lots of people say New York was totally defendable. I mean, who gives up New York? If the General has just shown a little more courage this it all could have been wrapped up by what? ’77? ’78? Instead the thing drags on for like five years just cause the General here was a coward.”
The Tyrant’s speaking time had expired and Washington’s had begun. But there was only silence. The longest and most chilling one of the entire evening. Finally, when after all murmurs from the crowd had subsided there rang out across the venue the sound of leather slapping concrete.
Between the two podiums George Washington’s right glove lay on the floor awaiting an answering gesture from his rival. ❏
Paul Greenberg is the author of three books on fish and the forthcoming Goodbye Phone, Hello World.