Editor’s Note: This week we begin something new. LR Net is happy to present several excerpts from a new satirical novel, Freedom City, by Philip Becnel. By turns funny and furious, the book takes a delightfully savage look at a near future America in which Trump has gone, but his toxic legacy remains. Fortunately, a band of merry pranksters appears to take on Fascism with a mixture of humor and monkey wrenching.
What follows this week is the Prologue. We’ll be posting four more chapters over the next four weeks. But, if you’re eager to get the whole book right now, you can buy it from a variety of online retailers—click here for the list and links.
And if you want to know more about Mr. Becnel (and he’s an interesting dude to say the least), here’s his bio.
So now, without further ado, we submit for your approval, the Prologue of Freedom City.
Prologue: The Aftermath
By Philip Becnel
Despite the odium and widespread condemnation of Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America, he passed with all the fanfare of a fart in a mesh sack. Medical examiners said it was a thrombotic stroke, likely exacerbated by obesity and high blood pressure. Some said cocaine and opioids had been found in his system, but these reports were never confirmed. Trump was dead, and now it was time to start glossing over his dismal legacy and perpetuating his vision, posthumously, for Making America Great Again.
On the one-year anniversary of his death, Trump’s remains were entombed at the National Donald J. Trump Memorial a (mostly) solid gold mausoleum at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, in horse-country New Jersey. The Grand Old Party planned an ostentatious ceremony to unveil the impressive tomb, replete with a performance by half the Rockettes and a menagerie of other quasi-famous people who were either unconcerned about their reputations or had no choice but to attend. Besides the expected Republican bigwigs—House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, many others—the event drew thousands of run-of-the-mill fanatics from around the country.
Special shuttles ran non-stop between Newark and Bedminster all morning. By ten o’clock a sea of red hats—the ubiquitous Nazi armbands of post-Trump America—filled the entire fairway of the first hole. A few Confederate flags were unfurled. Countless signs were displayed. Among them were several varieties espousing the two prevalent conspiracy theories of the lunatic fringe: “Trump Lives!” and “Killary did it! Locker up!”
An intelligent observer, if there was one, might have commented that the event was as much a funeral for English grammar and American exceptionalism as it was for the dead, would-be dictator.
The mausoleum itself, far larger than most of the average spectators’ mobile homes, was positioned near the tee box, draped with three football-field’s worth of red velvet and gold trim. The jib of a giant crane hung overhead with ropes ready to lift the veil. A stage had been erected beside the tomb. The green was fenced off for the more prestigious attendees, who sat in neat rows of plastic lawn chairs, surrounded by reporters and photographers. Here were the politicos, the CEOs of companies that had profited from the regime, and hundreds of sycophants who had one way or another weaseled their way into a VIP invitation.
Seated among the sycophants, in the very last row, barrel chest concealed by a cheap suit, bald head glistening in the sun, was one Stanley Congdon, the czar of the Alt-Left Terrorism Task Force, or “ALT Task Force,” a conglomeration of volunteers and law enforcement officers drawn from different agencies with the goal of stamping out leftwing “terrorist” groups. Sitting beside Stanley—technically among the sycophants, but rationally removed from them—was Nick Reddy, one of the Indian architects who had designed the mausoleum. The two men, worlds apart, made polite small talk as the sea of red hats out on the fairway bobbed in unison to a hard rock eulogy performed by Ted Nugent.
When the camouflage-clad rocker finally left the stage, everyone kneeled in self-effacement during thirty minutes of prayers led by President Mike Pence. Tears were shed. A few of the more evangelically inclined lunatics out on the fairway began to speak in tongues.
Miracles duly performed, souls saved (for the moment) from the demonic scourge of liberalism, Ivanka Trump took the stage to kick off the big unveiling. Her speech proclaimed—without a hint of irony—that her father was the greatest President in American history. The crowd on the greenway chanted, “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A…” Everyone on the green, politicians and sycophants alike, Stanley Congdon included, took up the mantra—for to remain silent was to be unpatriotic.
Even Nick Reddy moved his lips, although he didn’t say the syllables, for he was not a Christian or an American. Still the jingoism was intoxicating, like Bhakti in Hinduism, only shallower. For just a moment, it made him wish he were an American, although that moment passed quickly. In the designer’s estimation, there were certainly great things about America, the breathtaking architecture of Louis Sullivan, for example. But it was difficult for him to imagine anything truly creative happening in the United States anymore. His niece Geeta had married and had a son by an American man, but they had moved back to India. Conformist throngs tend to sully things of beauty.
As the voices grew hoarse and the chanting began to wane, Ivanka directed the engineers to lift the veil. Her husband, real estate scion and White House advisor Jared Kushner, joined her on the stage, and with their arms around one another they pivoted to the red velvet drapery.
The bills of the red caps on the fairway turned too. The crowd held its breath. The ropes connected to the crane’s main block tightened. The corners of the veil began to creep upward. The red bills lowered, as the crowd hoped to see the first glint of revealed gold. When the sunlight finally hit the shimmering metal base of the mausoleum, the crowd gasped. It was an impressive display of wealth, a tomb fit for a king or an emperor.
Although Nick was seated in the last row on the green, his view was better than those on the fairway, and nobody knew the mausoleum better than he did. The structure was roughly the same size as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, but the base and the columns were made from a steel framework encased in gold that mimicked the grand pillars of a neoclassical design. It was not the mausoleum he had wanted to build, but it was what the Trump family wanted: shiny and imposing.
It was Nick who first realized something was wrong.
Whereas his design of the base had been intended to resemble simple blocks made of gold, as the veil was pealed back he could see that there were now elaborate engravings etched on the “blocks.” What was this? He could make out flames, faces, torsos—all incredibly intricate—but he was too far back to see what they were. Without thinking, he shoved his way through the throng of sycophants, straining to make sense of the etchings. He could see squiggly lines, wings, more faces, a turtle, words, a briefcase—a swastika?
Up on the stage, Ivanka’s hand went to her mouth. Jared continued to smile, oblivious. Some members of the crowd lifted their caps and began to scratch their heads. The boom swung behind the mausoleum, taking the red velvet covering out of sight. There was some clapping far back on the fairway, but everybody close enough to see the tomb was momentarily stunned into silence.
On the green, the politicos in the front row gawked at the tomb in horror. They were the closest, and they could see plainly their own faces etched into the gold. The workmanship was flawless, breathtaking. The photographers scrambled for the best shot, clicking picture after picture, zooming in on the details of the amazing collage.
In the chaos that ensued, Nick found that he was standing in the front row directly beside President Mike Pence, who stared, lipless-ly, soullessly, at his own likeness. On the base of the mausoleum, directly in the center, Pence’s effigy chewed on a severed dick while standing atop a mountain of many more severed dicks. It was both grotesque and brilliant.
Stanley Congdon had followed Nick to the front and now stood on the other side of President Pence. “Holy shit…” he said, drawing a glare from the President.
To Nick, a student of art, the etchings resembled the great Renaissance painting, “The Fall of the Rebel Angels,” by Flemish master Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It clearly depicted a clash of two great forces, with angels on the four columns fighting back an army of “demons” gathered at the base. He noticed the exact likeness of Ivanka Trump, a halo atop her head, smiling into a mirror in which she was reflected as a hideous ghoul with bleeding boils on her face. Senator McConnell, depicted as a turtle, had eaten most of his own body and was now only a head and a bloody shell. Each image that caught Nick’s eye was more striking than the last one.
There were six angels, one on each column, all diverse and heroic. Each resembled a playing card: an ace, a king, a queen, and a jack on the inside columns, flanked by two jokers on the outside columns. The queen, with a beret à la Patty Hearst, appeared to be scaling her column as a monster clutched her boot; only the creature’s hand was beginning to crumble where it touched her. Another angel, the jack, wearing a cowboy hat, had cracked a swastika in two and was using it to bludgeon the beasts below him. The ace, with pointy hair like a joker’s hat, appeared to be carving bombs into the pillar. The bombs rolled downward as he carved, exploding into the monsters’ bodies. The king was bearded and wore a modern suit. Above his image was a halo, and he was surrounded by an aura that seemed to singe the demons below. The two jokers were women, one wearing a Native American headdress and the other a real Indian, draped in a saree and with a Bindi on her forehead. The Indian woman looked familiar—but it couldn’t be. Nick shook his head.
“How could this happen?” the President asked Stanley Congdon through clenched teeth.
Mesmerized by the vandal’s incredible workmanship, Nick responded to the question without thinking: “The artist used aqua regia. It’s an acid used to etch gold. Incredible…”
“The artist?” Pence scowled and turned his back on the designer, again addressing the czar of the ALT Task Force. “How close are you to catching these terrorists?”
“We’re close, Mr. President,” Stanley said. “We know who they are, and we think we know what they’re planning next.”
“If you know who they are, why haven’t you arrested them already?”
“I didn’t say I knew where they are—yet.”
Pence nodded and glanced around to make sure there were no reporters within earshot. “Well, what they are planning next?”
Stanley stared across the President’s shoulder at Nick for a moment, decided the designer was probably harmless, and said: “They’re planning an attack on the White House.”
“The White House?” Pence laughed. “What makes them think they can get their little ragtag gang into the White House?”
“I don’t know, Mr. President, but that’s what we think they’re going to do next.”
Pence pointed to the desecrated mausoleum. “Find the people who did this, Mr. Congdon. That’s an order. They’ll fry for this.”
President Pence then turned and stormed off the green, flanked by Secret Service agents, swarmed by reporters. Stanley Congdon went looking for the Secret Service director so he could insert himself as the head of the investigation.
Nick turned back to the mausoleum and admired the intricate workmanship. Whoever did the etchings was a phenomenal artist. Nick had never seen anything like it before. It was every bit as impressive as Michelangelo’s masterpiece at the Sistine Chapel, but it had been done with acid. It actually looked like the etchings were meant to be there, like they were part of his design. Moreover, the artist must have done all this work in less than two days, which was when the tomb was veiled.
Secret Service officers began cordoning off the area and pushing reporters off the green. Nick flashed his credentials, but he was told to leave anyway.
“This is a crime scene now,” an officer said.
Nick nodded and then stole one last look at the collage etched on Trump’s tomb. It was a thing of beauty—there was no other way to describe it—probably the most masterful work of political sabotage the world had ever seen.
“Maybe my niece’s husband was right,” the designer said to himself. “Perhaps there is some hope left in America, as long as there is someone still here willing to fight for it.”