Warner Bros, via Everette Collection
By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: October 5, 2013
A PLACE ONCE CALLED WASHINGTON
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
AN ape sits where Abe sat.
The year is 2084, in the capital of the land formerly called North America.
The peeling columns of the Lincoln Memorial, and Abe’s majestic head, elegant hands and big feet are partially submerged in sludge. Animals that escaped from the National Zoo after zookeepers were furloughed seven decades ago migrated to the memorials, hunting for food left by tourists.
The white marble monuments are now covered in ash, Greek tragedy ruins overrun with weeds. Tea Party zombies, thrilled with the dark destruction they have wreaked on the planet, continue to maraud around the Hill, eager to chomp on humanity some more.
Dead cherry blossom trees litter the bleak landscape. Trash blows through L’Enfant’s once beautiful boulevards, now strewn with the detritus of democracy, scraps of the original Constitution, corroded White House ID cards, stacks of worthless bills tumbling out of the Treasury Department.
The BlackBerrys that were pried from the hands of White House employees in 2013 are now piled up on the Potomac as a flood barrier against the ever-rising tide from melting ice caps. Their owners, unable to check their messages, went insane long ago.
Because there was no endgame, the capital’s hunger games ended in a gray void. Because there was no clean bill, now there is only a filthy stench. Because there was no wisdom, now there is only rot. The instigators, it turned out, didn’t even know what they were arguing for. Macho thrusts and feints, competing to win while the country lost.
Thomas Jefferson’s utopia devolved into Ted Cruz’s dystopia.
Law and order broke down as police, who were not getting paid, eventually decided to stay home. The fanatics barricaded in the Capitol dug in, determined to tear down what their idols, the founding fathers, had built. Darkness soon devoured the rest of the country.
Unlike Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games,” where the capital thrived as the nation withered, here, the capital withered first, as the federal city shriveled without federal funds. But, in other ways, it mirrors the fantasy dystopias depicted by Hollywood and Cormac McCarthy in his novel “The Road,” “bloodcults” consuming one another in “an ashen scabland,” a “cold illucid world.”
In 2084, there’s little sign of life in the godless and barren lost world. The insurance exchanges are open and the kinks are almost ironed out. But there is no one to sign up. Koch brother drones patrol the skies. A Mad Max motorcycle gang wielding hacksaws roars through the C.I.A., now a field of dead cornstalks, and the fetid hole that was once Michelle Obama’s organic vegetable garden. Will Smith and Brad Pitt are here, hunting aliens and monsters.
The Navy-Air Force game goes on, somehow, and there are annual CrossFit games on the Mall, led by flesh-eating Dark Seeker Paul Ryan, now 114 years old. CrossFit is still fighting the Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid, even though there’s no Department of Agriculture and no food.
A gaunt man and sickly boy, wrapped in blue tarps, trudge toward the blighted spot that was once the World War II monument, scene of the first shutdown skirmishes. They know they may not survive the winter.
“How did this happen, Papa?” the boy asks.
“Americans had been filled with existential dread since the 9/11 attacks, but they didn’t realize the real danger was coming from inside the government,” the man says. “It started very small with a petty fight over a six-week spending bill but quickly mushroomed out of control.”
“Whose fault was it, Papa?” the boy presses.
The man tries to explain: “The Grand Old Party, the proud haven of patriots who believed in a strong national security and fiscal responsibility, was infected with a mutant form of ideology. It was named the Sarahcuda Strain after the earliest carrier. Remember when you saw that old science fiction movie, ‘I Am Legend’? A scientist described the virus that burned through civilization as being like ‘a very fast car driven by a very bad man.’ That’s what happened: In the infected Tea Party politicians, brain function decreased and social de-evolution occurred. They began ignoring their basic survival instincts.
“It’s hard to believe now, but they were fixated on stopping an effort to get health care to those who couldn’t afford it. It eventually led them to destroy all the things they said they held most dear.”
The boy is confused. “They killed America because they didn’t care about keeping Americans alive?” he asks.
The man sits down. His voice grows faint. “Well, they didn’t seem to understand themselves or what they were doing,” he continues. “In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many of the feverish pols believed they were waging the right and moral fight even as G.O.P. party elders like Jeb Bush, John McCain, Karl Rove and James Baker warned them that they were dragging the country toward catastrophe. The Tea Party leaders liked to refer to themselves as the Children of Reagan. But as Baker told Peggy Noonan, Reagan always said, ‘I’d rather get 80 percent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying.’ ”
The boy frowns. “But Papa, didn’t the healthy Republicans realize the infected ones had lower brain functions?”
“Well, son, they knew there was something creepy about the ringleader, Ted Cruz,” the man replies. “His face looked pinched, like a puzzle that had not been put together quite right. He was always launching into orations with a weird cadence and self-consciously throwing folksy phrases into his speeches, like ‘Let me tell ya,’ to make himself seem Texan, when he was really a Canadian.”
The boy looks alarmed. “A Canadian destroyed the world, Papa?”
“Once the government shut down, a plague came, because they had closed the Center for Disease Control,” the man says. “Storms, floods and wildfires raged after FEMA was closed down and the National Guard got decimated.
“Once we went into default, the globe got sucked into the economic vortex. With a lot of the Defense Department, F.B.I., and intelligence community on forced leave, the country became vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Without the C.I.A. to train the moderate Syrian rebels, Syria fell to Al Qaeda.
“After the final American president, Barack Obama, canceled his trip to Asia, that part of the world decided we were weak. China moved quickly to fill the vacuum. Obama grew so disgusted, he spent his final years in office isolated in the White House residence. When he stopped returning the calls of Hassan Rouhani and Bibi Netanyahu, it was only a matter of time before the Middle East went up in flames.
“What is left of the world is being run by Julian Assange from what is left of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and by some right-wing nut in a cabin in Idaho.”
The boy begins to cry. “Papa, stop. You’re making me sad. Are all the good guys gone?”
Looking through the gray skies toward the ashen Lincoln Memorial, where an ape sits in Abe’s chair, the man replies sadly, “Yes, son.”