Attention, Subjects

What we need now is a dictator, and I humbly accept the position.

Attention Subjects, Indianapolis Monthly, January 2012Every now and then, I think how better off America would be if we had a dictator instead of a president. I realize the nations of the world are shedding their dictators right and left, but a first-class dictator can work wonders for a country, cutting through the red tape, deporting annoying people, and eliminating the mess and expense of regular elections.

When a nation has practiced the same form of government for 236 years, it’s difficult to imagine things running any other way. But if there were a general uprising and the mobs clamored for me to take charge, I would be willing to help our country through the transition from democracy to despotism. It could return to democracy just as soon as I died a peaceful death and the nation had time to mourn my passing, which it surely would.

Dictators have gotten a bad rap, so I would do my best to give totalitarianism a good name by abolishing Congress first thing. I’d toss out the Republicans and the Democrats. There is one Socialist in the Senate, Bernie Sanders, from Vermont. I would keep him in office to have someone to blame if things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.

“I wanted to balance the budget,” I’d say. “But Bernie over there in the Senate is spending money hand over fist.”

I’d give out Bernie’s phone number and urge people to call if they had complaints.

Being the dictator, I could live anywhere I wanted. I most certainly wouldn’t live in the White House. I’ve lived in old houses all my life and am tired of having to fix things. I’d stay in a motor home instead, and drive around the country visiting my subjects. I wouldn’t need any protection because everyone would love me. I’d take my wife and dog with me. My sons are teenagers and complain a lot when we travel. People lose confidence in a dictator who can’t control his own teenagers, so I’d probably leave them at home.

Once a week, I’d pull my motor home to the side of the road and let people tell me their problems, which I would fix by giving them money or firing someone. Once a year, I’d have to sentence someone to death, an inefficient bureaucrat for instance, just to show I meant business. But at the last minute, I’d grant a stay of execution and everyone would admire my humanitarian spirit.

The second thing I’d do if I were America’s dictator, after abolishing Congress, is confiscate all of Donald Trump’s money and put it in the public coffers. This would send a clear message to the rich people that my favor couldn’t be bought. Additionally, it would be personally satisfying since Donald Trump annoys me. I’d put him to work parking cars at one of his hotels.

For the past several years, I’ve had to clean the gutters at my parent’s house. It’s a dirty job and one I don’t enjoy. If I were a dictator, the third thing I’d do is order someone else to clean them, probably the neighbor whose trees shed the leaves. The best thing about being dictator would be holding the people accountable who were responsible for the mess in the first place. Oil companies would be in big trouble under my regime.

When I wasn’t living in my motor home, I’d be at my house in Danville and make people come to me with their questions. I’d have them do a little yard work before granting them an audience. Nothing too arduous; just hard enough to winnow out the malcontents and loafers. My wife wouldn’t want all those petitioners tromping through our house, so I’d finally get to build the little workshop I’ve always wanted, out back by the woodpile underneath the oak tree.

I would make it against the law to ask me questions while I was reading the morning paper. A good dictator needs to stay abreast of world events so I can’t be interrupted just because someone wants something. They’d have to be wait until I was done with the crossword puzzle, around 10 a.m. or so.

“People lose confidence in a dictator who can’t control his own teenagers, so I’d probably leave them at home.”

When I wasn’t seeing people in my motor home or workshop, I would be holding parades in my honor, celebrating significant moments in my life. People would throng the sidewalks of the parade route, throw flowers at me and weep, transported with joy by my wisdom and leadership. I would allow one group of protesters to gather on a corner and yell at me to show I was confident of my authority and unafraid of dissent.

If I were dictator, I’d outlaw my personal annoyances. It would be against the law to yell at your children in Walmart. In fact, I might outlaw Walmart so small businesses would return to town squares, displacing the lawyers and their offices, a double blessing if ever there were one. I would also prohibit smoking and alcohol. As a nod to the vices, I would permit chewing gum, so long as chewers disposed of their gum properly in trashcans, not spitting it out on the sidewalk for others to step on. Rampant stupidity is another problem, so I would abolish television and double the funding for libraries.

I’m a big believer in freedom of speech, so I’d let people say and write anything they wanted, as long as it wasn’t stupid. They could also be any religion they wanted, so long as they didn’t annoy anyone else with it or try to make the rest of us believe what they believed. Since I’m a Quaker, I would probably give the Quakers some government money. Everyone I know admires the Quakers, so I’m sure that wouldn’t be a problem.

If a business went belly up, I would make the owners tear down their vacant building and plant trees. There is nothing as desolate as a block of ruined and empty storefronts.  I would employ the jobless to paint houses, starting with mine. Nothing boosts a community’s spirits like a freshly painted house.

But the smartest thing I’d do is require people to pass a test before they could have children. They would have to be at least 25 years old, financially stable, married, and mentally and emotionally sound. I would encourage gay people to marry one another, but wouldn’t let them adopt children unless they could meet the above criteria. The conservatives would love me for requiring parents to be married and the liberals would love me for allowing gays to marry. It’s a win-win for this dictator.

Once a month, I’d invite Senator Bernie Sanders to my house where we would sit in my workshop, complain about how difficult it was to be in charge, and blame all our problems on the capitalists.

Illustration by Ryan Snook.

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.