Almost two centuries ago Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” and it is credited with making his English audience more aware of the disparities in the society of that time giving real support to a number of social services initiatives. It is in that spirit that “An American Carol” has been written in the hope that a similarly positive outcome is forthcoming.
Wilbert Thompson, a U.S. Congressman from rural North Carolina walked up to the Capitol Hill townhouse that he shared with three other Tea Party congressmen. He was pretty pleased with himself as earlier that day he proudly saw the federal government shut down by virtue of the Tea Party caucus to refuse to pass any budget that did not include the defunding, or at least the evisceration, of the Affordable Care Act.
Having already dined at one of Washington’s finest restaurants with some operatives from FreedomWorks, he was both satisfied and quietly at peace. In Congressman Thompson’s mind a great victory had been won. He slept soundly as soon as his head hit the pillow and was surprised to have been awakened by loud footsteps and the low murmur of voices.
He saw standing before him four people, two women and two men – black, white, Latino and Asian – seeming to be between twenty and seventy in age. “We are the Ghosts of America’s Present. We are the American people who are living in the United States right now. Whatever you do in Congress affects us. So tonight you will be visited by the Ghosts of America’s Past and the Ghosts of America’s Future.
Somewhat shaken he fell back to sleep and when he opened his eyes again he was even more surprised as he saw Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson standing in front of him. And then he heard them speak –
“Congressman Thompson, we are the Ghosts of America’s Past. We were ardent rivals during the formation of the United States, but we found enough to agree on so that there would be a Constitution and a government. We thought that the people of the United States deserved more than conflict without resolution”.
And then the Ghosts of America’s Past showed Congressman Thompson the results of bipartisan cooperation – the Constitution itself, the Louisiana Purchase, the Transcontinental Railroad, the attempted liberation of black Americans through the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and compulsory and free public education, Social Security, the G.I. Bill, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, NASA, Medicare, and Medicaid. As the ghosts of America’s Past began to dissipate Thompson heard them say “you will be visited by the Ghosts of America’s Future and America’s Present before morning”.
Being an ultraconservative possessed of a healthy streak of skepticism, Congressman Thompson dismissed the visitation as a bad dream occasioned by a bit too much lobster or chateaubriand. And then, just after he went back to sleep, unburdened by the consequences of the government shutdown that he had help to engineer he heard a scraping, scuffling sound that woke him once more.
Standing before him were two emaciated, unwashed children who were dressed in filthy shapeless overalls. “Congressman Thompson, we are the Ghosts of America’s Future. As it turns out, a few weeks after the federal government shutdown in 2013 America defaulted on its national debt and the world economy collapsed. Within a few years the international battle for resources turned into international wars for survival – and then civil wars broke out in what used to be the United States along with famine, epidemics and the total breakdown of the American way of life.
“The elders have told us that people from something called the ‘Tea Party’ caused so much disruption in what used to be called the United States that it is hard for us to believe that there was ever a time when this country was a place where people wanted to live”.
And then the Ghosts of America’s future took out some kind of device that flashed pictures on the wall – pictures of a devastated and wrecked American infrastructure, long lines of starving Americans all over the country begging for food. He saw great cities and suburban mansions devastated by civil wars and unchecked natural disasters. And he saw the hollow burned out shell of the Capitol building – empty and useless since the federal government no longer worked.
When the Ghosts of America’s Present reappeared, a now chastened Congressman Thompson asked, “What can I do? Please tell me!”
You can go back to Congress in the morning and work for the benefit of all the American people and not just the few people who you claim to represent, and not just for the few billionaires who finance your campaigns and keep you in office. You can get up tomorrow and be the patriot that you claim to be.”
“I will, I will!”, cried Congressman Thompson. And when he woke up in the morning he led a successful bipartisan group of congressmen in end the shutdown of the American government. And from that day on he tried to “be the patriot” that he claimed to be.
That’s a dream to be sure. But dreams have been known to come true.