The following is from the February 2035 issue of World News
Written by John Harris Rakoff.
President Yvette McDaniel’s background was hard for desperate journalists to mine anything from. Her family was working class - at times deeply below the poverty line - but she came from a two parent household that fought to keep her in good schools. Nice but not particularly remarkable by any stretch. There was no inheritance to help her along the way, no grandfather in real estate or into peanut farming. None of her relatives had ever been elected into office even, though in hindsight we see that we should have taken note of the female relatives including her mother who had been active grassroots organizers. It was one of her professors who first convinced her to run someday, but since it was by making a disparaging comment about how the next black president would give away reparations, it wasn’t the kind of heartwarming story the evening news could hang onto.
President McDaniel simply ran a couple of quiet campaigns in a recently blue state, and somehow managed to make no major waves while doing so. She voted and governed in the way her constitutes had hoped for. She handled critics with a charming and carefully crafted positivity reminiscent of our 44th president. Her only quirk was her insistence on holding frequent community meetings and engagement programs. It became something of a game to watch how long she would sit and listen to each and every concern citizens would bring her way. “She never looked bored, she never made me wrap someone up and she always took notes,” former aide Tasha Green remarked in a 2021 interview. “She wanted to hear from everyone. Literally everyone if possible.” Her opponents assumed this was a tactic to endear the poor and the marginalized on her side, but when asked directly she only said “Shouldn’t I want to hear from the people?”
The 2032 election was a marvel all of its own. Gone were the days of overbearing optimism or a faux-modest grab at being the leader of the free world. Debating who would be the fifth person to lead us in as many elections was just exhausting. The campaigning felt transparent, far more than usual. Our country was going through the motions and had finally gotten to the point where the picking a leader was as routine as doing laundry. And no one enjoys doing laundry really. The only way to get it done is to decide to do it, with no frills or whining. McDaniel, who served no other masters other than poor and oppressed in her old neighborhood, had no need for frills or a reason to whine. No multi-billionaire motivations to present to the working class, no lobbyists in her ear and hovering over her back, no prominent preachers looking to maintain a traditional way of life. What she didn’t have in money due to those missing pieces, she had in the gratitude of a public made bored by playing the same old game.
McDaniel wasn’t a hard choice for the people to make. Her speeches and middle of the road campaign promises assured everyone she wouldn’t burn the country down or start a new war and that’s all the people could hope for at that point. The worst that could be said (outside of the inevitable racist and sexist remarks) was that she was elected because she had no bite and even conservative pundits couldn’t fault her too much for that.
Which is why the Inauguration Day Shooting was so shocking to most Americans. It hit us in an old familiar wound we thought had healed. Even the assailant, Michael Richard Glover was the sort of strung-out, bit criminal with a low blonde buzz cut we all expected to see. The fact that Glover was shot and killed immediately by secret service gave us a relief we didn’t know we needed. People in the crowd uploaded the moment to social media with a sick glee harking back to the days of public executions. Combine that with the fact that McDaniel still managed to get sworn in on the Air Force One on her way to the hospital and we have a bonding moment across the nation. There had been chaos, a shared trauma, but then it was all okay before had a chance to really worry. It was almost as if she made sure of that.
When she went live on social media (against just about everyone’s orders) to tell the American public she was ok just a couple of hours after her shooting, her approval rating hit the roof. Nokia, the phone she was holding when she was shot and then later made the post from, saw a 32% increase in sales in the following quarter as memes about its fabled indestructibility were passed around. The CEO had to apologize for an off-the-cuff remark about how the assassination attempt was the best thing to happen to company.
What really sent her approval rating sky high though was when she publicly forgave the attacker and used his death to push through a bill that struck down mandatory sentencing and provided more funding to recidivism prevention programs. Glover had been in and out of the judicial system since he fought off his abusive step-father at 14. Those petty crimes for survival turned into crimes of violence and terror as he got indoctrinated by white nationalist groups. Conservatives saw the bill as a nonpartisan dream, so they were happy to sign it and distance themselves from who Glover became. What went unnoticed by just about everyone was how broadly the bill was written. Recidivism prevention could be defined in a number of ways and only had to meet few simple requirements. Soon after-school programs, treatment centers and free clinics were all lining up to catch the funding flowing from Washington.
Looking back, we can see that all her bills, programs and initiatives fell right along these same lines - pouring money into tiny cracks in the system no one wanted to pay attention to. In the two short years of her governance, incarceration rates dropped by 18%, home ownership grew by 3% after dropping steadily for 6 years, and minimum wage was constitutionally locked in to match the current economic needs, which places it today at $17.23 an hour. If given more time, perhaps wide-scale pop culture distractions to hide behind, I’m sure she would have figure out a way to slash student loans and increase the availability of childcare vouchers. President McDaniel must have known this was borrowed time.
There was never any concern over this leaking faucet until the rest of the country noticed what Black Twitter was celebrating and why. Despite not being the exact textbook definition, reparations by any other name is apparently still as sweet. It’s also far less apparent to the mainstream media until the clues are easily digestible through memes and gifs. But by then it was too late. The GOP had long since ignored the executive branch to focus on local races across the country, returning the long game they played in the early 00’s. Once they realized what was happening, the only play they had was to push for impeachment.
All of this is give us the context for yesterday’s simple yet layered statement:
“My name is Yvette McDaniel. My pronouns are they/them and she/her for your convenience. I am the 49th president of the United States of America. And I am here to testify in this Senate hearing regarding my impeachment.”
You could hear a pin drop on the carpet. Gone was the warm tone in her voice, the wide kind eyes. Instead it was all replaced with a stare and just the hint of a knowing smile. For as progressive as the democratically controlled Senate thought they were, everyone was still taken aback by the announcement of President Mcdaniel’s pronouns. Even the presidential title was spoken as an afterthought to her personal identity. Right wing pundits are currently in a whirlwind. As I type this, Alex Jones sits at a desk on Fox News 2 claiming that the American people were bamboozled by the president’s multiple hidden agendas (Black, radical, LGBTQ et al).
But were we? Or were we just found unprepared for our nation’s reckoning? Were we so busy looking for the marginalized to eat the rich, for an American made apocalypse lead by mystical horsemen that we missed the maternalistic double agent we were happy to give the keys to?
It’s hard to tell how this will all end. The public seems to be made up of either people who still cling the American bootstrap laced dream and the rest who seem just relieved to have some real disposable income. My televised peers are positive it will be chaos and permanent disgrace. Since I don’t have to sell as much ad space as they do, I can come at all of this from a far more measured approach. As I watch President McDaniel take her -their - oath, I can’t help but be stunned by the resolve I see on their face.
The truth is we were tired. We had a new president every year since 2016. We were exhausted by all the fear and the bravado and even the weight of overbearing hope. We wanted someone who let us lay on their arm as they reassured us that everything would be okay. We just wanted our mommy. President McDaniel did what every president before them did, tell us what we wanted to hear and then proceed with their own plans once we elected them. But instead of the president's efforts going towards lobbyists and billionaires, it went towards the poverty stricken and people impacted by an emboldened judicial system, and it just so happened that both of those groups tend to be overwhelming POC. Specifically black.
“‘We’, ‘us’, ‘the American people’.” President McDaniel’s coolly rattled off as the Speaker of the House grew red during his line of questioning. “You keep speaking in such sweeping terms about people you’ve never had to look in the eye. No, I’m not here to save you or your old ideas. You’ve got that much right.”
Specifically black, not us.