The following is a fictionalized interview with a fictional former President of the United States.
I’m sitting in a nondescript conference room nervously awaiting his arrival. Realizing how lucky I am to score a one-on-one interview with this man, a slight smile creeps across my face.
Without warning the door opens and in strides a Secret Service agent complete with earpiece and three-piece suit that looks crisp, clean and brand new. He stops three feet inside the door to scan the entire room with the cold, determined eyes of an eagle preparing to take flight. The eyes finish their scan directly on mine and do not move.
Seconds later he makes his appearance through the door, strutting in with the gait of someone who clearly knows how to make an entrance. Looking at me with eyes that are welcoming but at the same time determined, he extends his long arm as he approaches, barely giving me a chance to stand before arriving to shake my hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he says with genuine warmth and a voice that reflects years of public speaking.
“The…uh…pleasure is definitely mine, Sir,” I manage to stammer, trying unsuccessfully to hide my nervousness.
He puts a hand on my shoulder. “Relax. We’re all friends here,” he says, turning briefly to wink at the agent who has no reaction. The agent has already moved back three feet to stand beside the now-closed door. Eagle eyes are still on me. Somehow I get the feeling I’m not his friend.
“Have a seat,” he gestures, ushering me into my leather chair in a clear attempt to put me at ease before taking his own seat at my side. He adjusts his suit coat slightly, leaning back in the chair with his unchanging smile. “Now, where would you like to begin?”
I turn on the tape recorder, placing it directly between us. Closing my eyes briefly, I take a silent deep breath.
JIR: How’s the life of a private citizen these days?
FPOTUS: Not as private as I would like. I think I gave up that right. But I get to do things that I couldn’t do in office. It’s nice that I don’t need a travelling zoo to accompany me everywhere I go. Cameras still click away and people stare whenever I go somewhere, but not like they used to. I’m good with it.
JIR: How are you keeping yourself busy?
FPOTUS: I’ve long since published my memoirs. So that’s out. I find myself involved in a lot of volunteer activities. Now mind you I don’t go to the big events. That would be a circus. Most of my work is done behind the scenes – working the phones, networking. And I go to church every Sunday.
JIR: I’m not surprised. You’ve always been very religious.
FPOTUS: Yes. I’ve not kept that secret. Church service centers me. Regardless of how your week has been, going to church weekly puts things into perspective. I come out every time ready to go forward with my next week. It’s like a pep talk for your soul.
JIR: I’m sure the congregation oohs and aahs over your presence.
FPOTUS: Not as much as you think. I’ve been going there for years now. I’m pretty much just one of the congregation now. Now the first Sunday I went it was different. I was doing the normal mingling after the service. It had pretty much become a line to shake my hand. But one wonderful man put things into perspective very quickly on that day. He came up to me and said, “I didn’t vote for you. But welcome to our church family.” (We both laugh.) That brought me down to earth very quickly if I were anywhere else.
JIR: Wow, really? That took guts.
FPOTUS: I told him so, yes. Now I can actually call him a friend. We’ve talked a number of times. But he still wouldn’t vote for me. (laughs)
JIR: What about speaking engagements?
FPOTUS: Not really my cup of tea. Sure, I’ve done a few when asked by someone promoting a cause that I truly care about. But I had my time at the podium. That’s someone else’s game now.
JIR: Let’s look back on your time in office…
FPOTUS: Must we? (laughs) I’m sorry. Go ahead.
JIR: You were president when things seemed to be a lot different in this country. Neither the internet nor the alternative news outlets were around. It was just the big three networks. What was it like to be in office during that time?
FPOTUS: Well, without having the foresight of what was to come it’s hard for me to put that into context. We didn’t know anything other than the way things were at the time. It was harrowing at times, exhilarating at times, stressful all the time. And the news reporters who were around dogged you just as fiercely as they do today. There were simply fewer of them. (laughs) I’m sure every other president before and since would say the same. Now WITH the foresight of what was to come, thinking back about it now I would have to call it (pauses) liberating.
JIR: Liberating, really?
FPOTUS: Absolutely. I wouldn’t take the job today if my life depended on it. The pressure was always intense. But today’s environment is far worse. Today there are entire news outlets and websites dedicated to either lifting you up or tearing you down depending on your political party. Things that are said in specific circumstances are twisted to make you look like a saint or a clown. There’s a lot of guilt by association as well. You once shook hands with so and so. That means you fully endorse his ideas and beliefs. It’s really sad because the public at large buys into it to a certain extent. They shouldn’t. It’s all about the almighty dollar for these people.
JIR: That’s a very cynical way to look at it isn’t it?
FPOTUS: Sadly, yes. But I find it to be pretty accurate. I’m not saying there aren’t honest journalists out there. In fact I’d bet that if given a lie detector test, most of them would pass if asked the question of whether they are truly trying to serve the public to the best of their ability. However, today we have the internet and 24-hour cable news networks in addition to the traditional media. They’re all competing for an audience. So it’s never been more important than now to have sexy sound bites, headlines and promotions that catch your eyes and ears. In the end, every single one of them has the goal to make money. Well, except C-SPAN of course. (We both laugh.)
JIR: Thank God for C-SPAN, huh?
FPOTUS: I know, right? (We both laugh.) But I’m surprised we’re talking about this. I thought you would have some other questions.
JIR: Well I did. But I think this topic is very pertinent. And I can tell that it is to you as well.
FPOTUS: I’m in full agreement. In fact, I would venture so far as to say this is one of the most pressing topics facing our modern American society.
FPOTUS: Oh yes! I mean look what’s going on right now during this administration. You have a full on bipartisan investigation into the Russian ties, or possibly, lack thereof to this administration. And it seems there are at least two completely different realities depending on which news reports you listen to. If you turn on MSNBC or CNN, it’s a foregone conclusion that something is going on. If you turn on Fox, this entire thing is a witch hunt and the administration is being treated unfairly. And large segments of America have completely bought into one of the two realities before the investigation is even completed. And even worse, many espousing one side of the argument are doing everything they can to damage the other side. It’s a viciousness that is completely uncalled for.
JIR: As a journalist I’m in complete agreement. In all my years of experience things have never been as polarized as they are now. Why do you think that is?
FPOTUS: Well sadly I think a lot of it has to do with the amount of news sources there are today. It goes back to what I said before, the almighty dollar. If you want to draw attention you need to stand out. So the temptation is to bend or even break the truth. At the same time there are news sources created by people who have a specific ideology to push, people who have never had the resources to push their beliefs like they do right now. I could start a blog tomorrow pushing the idea that…uh…we will soon be invaded by aliens who live on Mercury (laughs.) I had to be careful there to pick an ideology that doesn’t already exist. And if it does, I apologize. Anyway…with a little money in my pocket, some skillful words and a knack for spreading the word about my blog, I’m sure I could have a decent amount of followers in a short amount of time. They would then begin pushing those beliefs on their Facebook pages and so on. I’d start drawing advertisers to increase my resources and continue from there. You see how that works?
JIR: That’s very well said, Sir. And it’s frightening to think about.
FPOTUS: I agree. And what’s even more frightening is that I might not even believe what I’m writing about in the first place. It could be just a big money-making scam.
JIR: Wow. You’re giving me chills. (pause) That leads me to the question of fake news. There’s a lot of talk about that these days. What’s your take?
FPOTUS: Well (pauses) it exists. And there are as many types of sources as there are fake stories: money-making scammers, political ideologues, entire governments and even internet trolls – you know the ones who just like to create chaos on the internet for their own amusement. And what’s sad about that is that no matter how fake it sounds to most people, there are some people who believe it, especially if it puts a bad spotlight on something or someone they already hate. If a (makes air quotes) “story” reinforces something they already believe, many people will just accept it as fact without even questioning the source. The fake news makers know this. So why should they stop?
JIR: Agreed. And it also makes it very easy for someone to call out a real story as fake simply because they don’t like what is being said.
FPOTUS: Exactly! It’s a double-edged sword. Today we have legitimate news reporters, people who’ve been around for years and have always gone by the book long before this was even a thing, being called fake. It’s very depressing.
JIR: It is. I’ve been called that myself. As a journalist I have always turned the other cheek. You realize that there’s no way to report the truth without angering someone. Actually if you DON’T anger someone you probably haven’t done a thorough enough job. But this is different. It’s hard to not let it get to you a little bit. What do you think is the answer to all of this?
FPOTUS: Well (long pause) I don’t know if there is an easy way out of this, especially when you’ve got some news sources outright telling their audience to distrust anyone who says different. (pause) But I think a way to move forward would be for all Americans to take a good look at themselves in the mirror. Do you honestly believe that your point of view is the only valid one and that it is completely right all the time? I was wrong many times during my presidency. I always want to learn more, to better myself as a human being. I’ve learned plenty during my years in office and even more after leaving the office. I’m a different person today. Some beliefs that I had while I was in office are no longer my beliefs today. And I thank all the people I’ve encountered in that time who have helped me see new and different things. I feel there’s no shame in being wrong. There’s REAL shame in refusing to be open to new ideas and to refuse to admit that you might be wrong. I also think Americans should turn off the news shows, turn off the computer and get outside and out of their comfort zones of people who think like they do. Go find someone with a different skin color, a different religion, a different political belief, someone from a different country. Engage them. I will bet you money that if you open your mind to them you’ll find you have a lot more in common than you thought.