[The following piece is based off the work of Hans Christian Andersen]
In the year 2016 there was a Senator so exceedingly fond of gaining power that he spent all of his money on running for president. He cared nothing about women, people of color, or the LGBT community, except to show off his new wealth. He had new wealth for every hour of the day, and instead of saying, as one might, about any other ruler, “The Senate’s in council,” here they always said, “The Senator’s looking at his bank statement.”
In the small state of Vermont where he lived, life was always simple. Every day many tourists came to town, and among them one day came two swindlers. They let it be known that they were political advisors, and they said they could create the most magnificent campaign imaginable. Not only were they cunning and deceptive, but they made promises that they could mask the background of anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.
“Those would be just the advisors for me,” thought the Senator. If I hire them I would be able to discover which members of the voting public in our empire are easily manipulated. And I could tell wise men from the fools. Yes, I must certainly run for President right away.” He paid the two swindlers a large sum of money to start work at once.
They set up a campaign office and pretended to mount a serious campaign, though there was nothing serious about it. All the finest talking points and the purest lies, which they borrowed from Republicans, went into their plan, while they worked the talking points far into the night.
“I’d like to know how these advisors are getting on with the campaign,” the Senator thought, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfamiliar with the advisors would not be able to see their empty plan. It couldn’t’ have been that he doubted himself, yet the thought he’d rather send someone else to see how things were going. The whole state knew about the advisors’ empty campaign, and all were impatient to find out how stupid their neighbors were.
“I’ll send my has-been actress to the advisors,” the Senator decided. “She’ll be the best one to tell me how the campaign looks, for she’s a sensible woman and no one does her duty better.”
So the dishonest Senator’s has-been actress went to the room where the advisors sat working away at their empty plan.
“Heaven help me,” she thought as her eyes flew wide open, “I can’t see anything at all.” But she did not say so.
Both the advisors begged her to be so kind as to come near to approve the excellent plan, the beautiful rhetoric. They pointed to the empty promises, and the poor old has-been actress stared as hard as she dared. She couldn’t see anything, because there was nothing to see. “Heaven have mercy, she thought.” Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the Senator’s chief surrogate? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the plan.”
“Don’t hesitate to tell us what you think of it,” said the one named Weaver.
“Oh, it’s beautiful –it’s enchanting.” The old has-been actress peered through her spectacles. “Such a pattern of deceit, what bold lies! I’ll be sure to tell the Senator who delighted I am with it.”
“We’re pleased to hear that,” the advisors said. They proceeded to name all the talking points and explain the intricate plan. The old has-been actress paid the closest attention, so that she could tell it all to the Senator. And so she did.
The advisors at once asked for more money, more lies and misinformation, to get on with the campaign. But it all went into their pockets. Not a single cent went into supporting others running for office, so they worked at their own campaign as hard as ever.
The Senator presently sent another trustworthy surrogate named Doctor West to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to him that happened to his has-been actress. He looked and he looked, but as there was nothing to see in the plan, he couldn’t see anything.
“Isn’t it a beautiful plan?” the advisors asked him, as they displayed and described their imaginary plan.
“I know I’m not stupid,” the Doctor thought, “so it must be that I’m unworthy of my good office. That’s strange. I mustn’t let anyone find it out, though.” So he praised the plan he did not see. He declared that he was delighted with the beautiful rhetoric and the exquisite talking points. To the Senator, he said, “It held me spellbound.”
All the state was talking of the splendid plan, and the Senator wanted to see it for himself while it was still in the early stages. Attended by a band of chosen surrogates, among whom were his two old trusted surrogates-the ones who had already been to the advisors, he set out to see them in action. He found them talking with might and main, but without a single idea written down.
“Magnificent,” said the two surrogates already duped. “Just look, Senator, what bold initiatives! What a groundbreaking campaign!” they pointed to the empty notebooks, each supposing that others could see the words.
“What’s this?” thought the Senator. “I can’t see anything. This is terrible!”
Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be President? What a thing to happen to me of all people! –Oh! “It’s very thorough,” he said. “It has my highest approval.” And he nodded approbation at the empty notebook. Nothing could make him say he couldn’t see anything.
His whole crew of surrogates stared and stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the Senator in exclaiming, “Oh! It’s very thorough,” and they advised him to share this plan especially for the great campaign kickoff he was soon to lead. “Magnificent! Excellent! Unsurpassed!" Were bandied from mouth to mouth and everyone did his best to seem well pleased. The Senator gave each of the advisors a cross to wear in his buttonhole and the title of “Most Excellent Advisor.”
Before the campaign kickoff, the advisors sat up and burned more than six candles, to show how busy they were finishing the Senator’s new plan. They pretended to take notes on the notebook. They crumpled up papers to throw them on the floor to display frustration. And at last they said, “Now the Senator’s new plan is ready for him.”
Then the Senator himself came with his finest surrogates, and the advisors each raised an arm as if they were holding something. They said, “These are the books that outline your plan. Each of them is as light as a spider web. One would almost think he was holding nothing at all, but that’s what makes them so thorough.”
“Exactly,” all the surrogates agreed, though they could see nothing, for there was nothing to see.
“If the Senator will condescend to hold out his hands,” said the advisors, “we will help you on with you new books here in front of the long mirror.”
The Senator held out his arms, and the advisors pretended to put books under his arms, one after another. They took him around the arms and seemed to be fastening something – as the Senator turned round and round before the looking glass.
“How well the Senator’s plan looks. Isn’t it becoming!” He heard on all sides, “Those words, so perfect! That message, so on point! It is a magnificent plan.”
Then the Senator’s aide announced: “The Senator’s audience is waiting outside.”
“Well, I’m supposed to be ready,” the Senator said, and turned again for one last look in the mirror. “It is a remarkable plan, isn’t it?” He seemed to regard his books with the greatest interest.
The surrogates who were to follow the Senator stooped low and reached for the Senator’s arms as if they were fixing his books. Then they pretended to align them in his arms. They didn’t dare admit they had nothing to hold.
So off went the Senator to give his campaign announcement. Everyone in the streets and windows of Burlington said, “Oh how fine is the Senator’s plan! Doesn’t it fit him to perfection? And see his detailed plans!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position or a fool. No plan the Senator had adopted before was ever such a complete success.”
“But he hasn’t explained a single thing,” a little child said.
“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t explained a thing. A child said he hasn’t explained a thing.”
“But he hasn’t explained a thing!” the whole city cried out at last.
The Senator shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This campaign has got to go on." So he spoke more proudly than ever, as his surrogates held high the plan that wasn’t there at all.