The President awoke with a start. His head swam for a moment as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and tried to remember where he was. He was in his bedroom in the White House, of course, but what had awakened him? As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw a dim figure standing beside his bed.
Not recognizing the man, he tensed. “Who are you? Who let you in here?” he demanded. Where was the Secret Service when you needed them?
He could see more clearly now. The man was an elderly white man dressed in an old suit, bow tie and fedora. Tufts of white hair could be seen under his hat. At the sight of his kind and friendly face, the President relaxed somewhat.
The man began to speak in quiet tones. “Well, good morning, Mr. President. Don’t worry. I’m not here to hurt you. But don’t worry about calling for help. You are the only one who can see or hear me.”
“Who are you?” demanded the President again.
“Why, I’m an angel. Name’s Clarence. Don’t you recognize me?” the man replied.
“Is this some kind of joke?” the President barked. The man did look like the angel from that old movie. But that would be crazy.
“No joke, Mr. President. You are being given a gift. My Boss saw your interview last night. The one where you said that America is exceptional in the same way that the British believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. You told the interviewer that the US is arrogant. My Boss thinks you see your country as international bully.”
The President thought before he spoke. “Well, that is somewhat true. This country is just a country. I love this country, but it is no better or special than any other country. In fact, we’ve done a lot worse than many countries. We’re imperialists and our corporations spread greed and misery around the globe. We almost annihilated the Native Americans. And, what’s more, if I lived a hundred and fifty years ago, I might well be a slave. Why the world would probably be a better place if America never existed. There would be more peace and stability in the world.”
Clarence smiled, “Well, that’s the gift that I brought you. You and I are going to see what the world would be like if the United States of America had never existed. Are you ready to fly?”
“Fly? I didn’t think you had wings,” the President replied. “Besides, I think I’d better stay here. I don’t want to upset the Secret Service.
“Oh yes,” Clarence answered. “I got my wings years ago. I’m an excellent flyer now. And don’t worry! We’ll be back before anybody knows you’re gone.”
Clarence snapped his fingers and suddenly he and the President are flying through the night. The President realized that somehow he is now dressed in his suit and tie. Both men were wearing overcoats against the cold night wind.
After a short flight, they arrived in a bleak war-torn city. It looked to the President like the fighting has passed long ago, but its effects were never fully erased. Soldiers patrolled the streets while civilians carefully avoided them as much as possible. The President saw soldiers taking handcuffed civilians from an apartment building to waiting trucks.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“This is one of many cities in this shape in Europe,” Clarence answered. “It doesn’t matter which one. These countries have been fought over repeatedly in twentieth century. Do you realize that the United States has saved the free world no less than three times in the past hundred years?”
The President answered, “You’re talking about World War I and II. I know history. But there was no third world war.”
“Wasn’t there?” Clarence asked. “You’re right that the United States arrived just in time to break the deadlock of WWI. Then, in WWII, it entered late again before riding to the rescue. Before entering WWII formally, the US still provided aid to England and Russia through the Lend-Lease Act that enabled them to survive until the US entered the war.
“But don’t discount the Cold War. Stalin would have taken Europe – and as much of the rest of the world as he could – just as Hitler tried to do. It was the United States that kept the communists in check, mostly through peaceful means, but occasionally through military action. Even with America countering them, the communists killed far more people than the Nazis. Imagine the horror if America had not existed.
Clarence went on, “Without the United States, not only was there no force to tip the scales against the armies of darkness, there would also have been no aid to rebuild Europe. The American military prevented ruthless dictatorships from sending their armies and secret police to crack down on the people who lived here. The American Marshall Plan provided money to help rebuild the wreckage of Europe. Without America, there is no freedom here. There is only poverty and fear.”
“Okay,” said the President. “I admit that our help was valuable against the Germans and the Russians, but we’ve lost our way today. We are engaged in imperialist wars and globalism that we created is causing problems around the world. Remember Abu Graibh?”
“That’s not quite true, Mr. President,” Clarence answered gently. “Both the wars that we are fighting now are really part of one war. It is a struggle against Muslim extremists. These people are like the Nazis and communists in that they have no respect for human life and are bent on control of the world. Resisting them is protecting the world just as surely as fighting Hitler was.
“Abu Graibh was a terrible tragedy,” he went on, “but torture was not part of US policy. Even waterboarding was only used on very few prisoners and then only when time was of the essence in order to prevent attacks and save lives. Now, let’s go fly again.”
From the bleak police state, Clarence and the President traveled to a small jungle village. The men are no longer wearing their coats. In the jungle heat, their shirt sleeves are rolled up, though they still wear ties.
The President noted the flimsy huts. The villagers wear threadbare, tattered clothing and most have no shoes. Their gaunt frames show that food is in short supply. The President hears wailing and turns to see villagers bearing the body of a small child, ready for burial.
“What is this place?” the President asked, shaken at the sight of the dead child.
“This is one of thousands of villages around the world,” Clarence answered. “That child could have been saved if America existed.
“American farmers help to feed the world,” said Clarence. “If the United States existed here, these people might not be starving. The US is one of the largest agricultural producers in the world. It is a top producer of most major food crops. When there is a disaster, much of this food goes to those in need. Remember the famines in Ethiopia and Somalia, the Southeast Asian tsunami, and the Haitian earthquake? American food and aid was there.
“America didn’t just bring food and medicine, though,” Clarence continued. “American ingenuity has led to countless inventions to raise the standard of living around the world. These American ideas make life easier as well as save lives around in villages like this. When the miners were trapped in Chile, it was American companies that made the mining equipment that helped to rescue them.
“Without America, many medicines are never invented. Twelve of the top twenty pharmaceutical companies in the world are American. Admittedly, these medicines cost money. Without earning money for its products, the drug companies couldn’t research new medicines. But to balance that out, Americans are the most generous people on Earth. America gives more to charity than any other country. The second-place nation gives less than half of America’s contributions.
“On top of that, Americans volunteer at a rate higher than almost any other country. Many of these volunteers are part of religious groups that raise their own support to come to small villages in every corner of the world to teach children, build bridges, show more efficient agriculture techniques, or help the natives reduce disease through modern sanitation,” Clarence said.
“But what about the greedy multinational corporations?” the President blurted.
“Globalization has been good for the world’s poor,” Clarence answered. Much of the world is still poor, but the countries that take part in the world economy have better standards of living, better schooling, and longer life spans than those who don’t. American multinational corporations could be providing jobs for these villagers. The best welfare is a good job. What seems like a low wage to westerners can be a huge boon to family in a third world country.
“What you see as greed is in most Americans a drive to better themselves. They want to work hard to make a better life for their families. American ingenuity is comprised of a competitive streak to find a better, cheaper way to do business. When businesses are successful, they provide jobs for others to support themselves and their families. The money made and paid by businesses also fuels more charity.”
“But you never answered my original points,” the President objected. “This is still a racist country that enslaved Africans and killed Native Americans. We are imperialists who have attacked peaceful nations for oil.”
Clarence shook his head sadly. “No, America is not racist, though there are racists who live there. Slavery was a fact of life around the world for centuries. In fact, it was Americans who banded together to form the first anti-slavery society in the world. Long before slavery was banned in the America, the US Navy was trying to stop the slave trade.
“The Indian wars were tragic also, but again were not a uniquely American evil,” Clarence said. “All around the world, ‘civilized’ nations collided with natives and the natives always lost. At least in America, there were always people who tried to assimilate the Indians, rather than kill them. And don’t forget that the Indians were fighting among themselves long before the white settlers arrived.
“As far as imperialism, the United States has never been much of an imperial power,” Clarence said. “Oh, there have been a few presidents who thought otherwise, but generally American soldiers leave a conquered country better than they found it. They go where they are sent, and they aren’t sent to peaceful nations. When the fighting is over, they rebuild what was destroyed, train a new army and government, set the country on the course to democracy, then leave, keeping only enough territory to bury their dead.”
As he finished speaking, Clarence again snapped his fingers and the President was suddenly back in his White House bedroom. He looked down and realized that he was back in his pajamas. As he looked around the dark room, he saw the sleeping form of the First Lady. The White House was quiet. There were no alarms, no frantic activity. Clarence had been right. He had not been missed.
Clarence still stood before the President. He looked at the President with serious eyes. “I hope that you have seen a different side to your country. It has been a special nation in history and in the eyes of my Boss.”
“Yes,” the President nodded. “I see it with different eyes now.”
“Good,” Clarence nodded approvingly, “because I have another gift for you. The Boss gave me a special message for you. He wants you to know that He has special plans for America. I don’t know what they are -I’m not privy to that- but He is keeping a close eye on you. You will be facing some big decisions in the next few years. Don’t forget that you can talk to the Boss anytime. Good luck.”
With that, Clarence gave the President a cheery wave and disappeared like smoke being dispersed by the wind. The President stood for a moment, staring at the empty space that Clarence had occupied a few seconds before.
Gradually, he stirred himself to movement and walked across the room to an intercom. He pressed the button and said “hello” into the box.
A voice at the other end answered, “Yes, Mr. President? You’re up late this evening.”
“I couldn’t sleep,” the President replied. “Please send in some coffee. I think I’m going to be up for a while rewriting that Veteran’s Day speech for tomorrow. Those guys don’t get nearly enough credit.”
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people is coincidental.