The Impossibility of Dignity

by Daniel P. Coghlan

JEB BUSH closed the refrigerator door empty-handed. He had grown spare on series after series of Netflix originals. "Only now am I able to admit that the present is a caricature of itself," he said one day to his mother. "Only now am I able to see that the mind of the public flickers and dies every 30 minutes according to regular programing schedule."

"Do you want to go shooting with your dad and George?" asked Barbara carefully.

Jeb could see the two men in the yard out the bay window. "It'd get you out of the house and into the world." Jeb walked back to the television silently. He would not face his father and brother.

_


"We are fundamentally incapable of attaining that which we desire most," said Jeb Bush to the lime as he brought it under the knife. "We worship dialectic and a diversity of opinions not for any valuable product or intrinsic value therein contained but for the expanded opportunity to demonstrate moral dominance -- to be truly right, and for our opponents to be truly wrong."

He squeezed violently and lime juice ran down his hands into the guac bowl. "You long to speak those words that make your position unassailable -- so you seek out everything that contradicts it. Why, if you do not desire to silence your opponent?" Silence reigned for a glorious second before Jeb remembered Trump and plunged his spoon into the bowl again with a tortured noodly squish. "Are you even listening to me?" He said to no one in particular. Seven percent, in South Carolina. Not even seven, seven percent of Republicans. "I know how little proof I have for what I am saying. Why don't you question me? Why are you silent?" He sobbed over the bowl, tear droplets quiet against the sound of the spoon. Columba and the children were very complimentary of his new, saltier guacamole.

_

 

"And to my opponents," sneered Trump, bumptious and proud. "America has two words for you:" "You're Fired!™" the room shook and roared and the CNN moderators swiveled around the room, bewildered. Betrayed.

"This is nonsense." Jeb stood up from the sofa, drunk and swaying. "Professional wrestling is more authentic." He took another swig of his sixth Blue Moon and muted the TV. "We weren't always like this," he slurred. "We used to at least pretend to be serious, pretend that the leader of the free world isn't elected by popularity contest. Who wants it, anyway. What did you get in South Carolina, George?"

"Uh, think I got 50%, bud," answered his brother along with an awkward pat on the arm. "I think he got 34% there. And he's just got 46% in Nevada," said Jeb with a sick smile. "Who even wants to be in a contest that the Donald can win? Do you think he even knows the capital? The senators? The primary industries? I had such plans for South Carolina. And America." His eyes brimmed. The children looked at him strangely. "Because I love this country so much." Seven percent, in South Carolina.

"I'm so ashamed," wailed Jeb to Columba, suddenly self-aware. She took him in her arms. "I think it's beautiful that a man cries," said Columba tenderly, and stroked Jeb's forehead. "I think it's beautiful that you care so very much." Barbara took the next hot wing out of George's hand with a gentle firmness. He choked too easily on finger food..

_

 

Thick and glossy, it was undeniably a "power" suit. Jeb Bush pinched the coat near the button, let it fall. The suit shimmered back into place.

"Fully canvassed," he said quietly to Columba. "You see how no part is stiff? It's beautiful. No glue to prop it up. No added structure to fool you about how it fits. It hangs naturally."

He spun out of the dressing room a few minutes later, GQ and proud. "Lose the glasses tonight?" Jeb snatched them off his face and winked at Columba rakishly. Columba glowed and went to find the attendant. "We'll take it," she said. "It's perfect for tonight."

"--and people can go around calling me tone deaf for taking my brother's side, and say defending my family goes against consensus, and whatever else they want to say. Well, I don't give a . . . ," Jeb paused. Authenticity. "I don't give a hoot. I'm not reversing myself. And you can forget about me endorsing anyone on that stage, let alone Donald Trump." The crowd groaned on the television screen. Jeb shot his cuffs and kept his focus on the camera lens, nervous but determined.

"I'm not going to be the prop that stands these fakers up. That's half the problem, in my opinion. People go looking for consensus and what's 'right' according to everybody else and they forget that they have brains of their own! That's not natural, and to borrow a phrase from my children, 'It's not a good look.'" Jeb smiled, but it weakened as the crowd remained silent on-screen. "It doesn't matter. My opinions are mine and I'm not changing them. I'm not going to agree to something just so that I agreed with it."

Trump pursed his lips up on the stage, frowned. Then his tanned face broadened and smiled.

"He's back - The new Jeb - beautiful, beautiful suit. And no glasses! Contact lenses. Jeb, it was never the glasses." Trump's eyebrows leapt and the crowd whooped. "It was never the suit. New Jeb, same as the old Jeb. What a mess. Low-energy. A mess. He wants to look cool, but it's far too late. 1% in Nevada!" The crowd roared. "The presidency was never a good fit, Jeb. What kind of voters – what kind of voters were you going to bring me or Ted or little Marco? 1% in Nevada!"

The debate resumed as if he'd never been there. The feed cut and the lights went out on set. Jeb felt humiliation creep cold up his lower back and he shrugged angrily out of his beautiful, ridiculous suit jacket
.

_

 

"Anything to say to the American public, Jeb?"

Jeb Bush smiled over the heat of the grill into the camera. "I'd like to thank you all for the enormous honor you bestowed upon me by electing me President of these United States." He wiped sweaty hands onto the apron his brother George had given him as congratulations; it read "Commander-in-Beef."

"I'll admit, I was a little worried there -- you know, Donald Trump. Ted Cruz. I was thinking, 'Why, America?' I didn't understand. But -- like I told my sons George P. and Jeb Junior back then and I'm telling you now -- I always knew that there was a sweetness and a light in the heart of America. I knew that in this country of hopefulness and optimism that reckless hate in the style of these Trumps and Cruzes could not flourish.” Jeb smiled and reached up to wipe sweat out of his eyes. He cleared his throat.

"And I knew all along that America would recognize the power in this servant's heart--"

His alarm blared and Jeb snapped into the hangover of not-so-super Wednesday. Columba was gone, already at work. The answering machine blinked a red 99. He kicked off the flowery duvet covering him and held his head. He slapped the play button without looking.

"Je-eb," crooned Donald Trump. "Je-eb, you didn't call to congratulate me again. And your wife wouldn't take my calls last night. That's not very sportsmanlike, and do you know who isn't sportsmanlike, Jeb? Losers. Losers, Jeb. I don't want you to be a loser, Jeb, so do me a favor, okay? Clap for me, Jeb. Please clap." The digital display on the answering machine slipped down to 98.

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