They wouldn’t send real Americans away to be stored.  Radical Muslims, sure.  Illegal immigrants, yeah.  Maybe welfare queens.  But not just…regular Americans.

That’s what Judy had nervously told herself for that entire six weeks, between the day she was first called in for questioning and the day when she was, in fact, sent to one of the country’s resident storage facilities.

She was young and stupid when she took those pictures.  Since then, she had turned her life around.  She was born again and regretted the things she had done when she was lost.  She was no longer that woman.

But in President Pence’s America, that didn’t matter.  Pictures “of an inappropriate nature” like hers meant she was a defective citizen.  A friend found the pictures somewhere and submitted a complaint…because of course they did.  Everybody did that.  If the situation were reversed, she would have done the same.

Defective Americans went to storage centers, where they could be stored away from society–and, most importantly, where they could be used for free labor.  Because hard labor was the one sacred thing which made America better than any other country in the world.

The customer service representative whose job it was to interrogate her grinned when he saw the printouts of her photos.  “You should’ve known better,” he admonished her, the grin still in his voice.  “Don’t worry, ma’am.  The place I’m sending you is a great deal, and you’ll only have to stay for four years…”

***

She remembered how she wanted to scream at her neighbors:  “I’m not a bad person!  I’m just like you!  I voted for Trump and Pence too!”  But she was suddenly on the other side of the fence, and they didn’t really want to talk to her or look her in the eye.

How she had wished back then that they would see her side of the story.  Now it was four and a half years later, and she didn’t care anymore.  She was tired.  This was her old neighborhood, but it didn’t feel like home.  She limped slowly up the sidewalk to her house.  There was a child she didn’t know playing in the driveway.  His mother stood nearby, watching.

The house had been confiscated and sold while Judy was locked up.  The walls had been newly painted a bright pink, and a magnolia tree had been planted by the front steps.  There was another, smaller house being constructed in what once was the backyard.

The mother finally noticed Judy and started walking towards her.  “Can I help you?”  Her question was made softer by her accent.

“I used to live in this house,” Judy said.

The woman’s face hardened.  “We don’t want any problems.  We bought this house all legal.”

“Right.  I know.  I was in a center.”

The woman shrugged.  “So was my brother.”  She picked up her child and went inside, locking the door behind her.

***

A couple days before, Judy had gone to see Mr. Rodriguez, an attorney who was working with storage center survivors.  Just a few years ago, she would have viewed him with suspicion–was he in the country legally?  Now she only wondered if he could help her.

Mr. Rodriguez shook his head sympathetically.  “It’s going to be very difficult to get any compensation for you.  It’s pretty obvious from your online record that you were an avid supporter of the Pence regime in its early years.”

She fidgeted with her paperwork.  “Well, I believed him when he said he would bring back the jobs and all that.”

The lawyer sighed.  “I don’t want to get your hopes up.  The new government has focused on specific groups of Americans which were harshly targeted by the Pence administration.  It will be hard to make a case for you.  I will file an application…but I doubt you will get any results.”

She did not argue, as something in her sensed he was already being kinder to her than he needed to be.  She picked up her papers and stood up to go.

But she felt a twinge of desperation and bent down to him again.

“You had friends in…the resistance?  Yes?”  she whispered.

“If I did, what makes you think I would tell you who they are?”

***

Her nephew, Nick, lived at his mother’s place, in a suburb on what used to be Judy’s side of town.  Their last conversation before they fell out of touch was on Facebook, and it had ended with Judy mocking him for being a “snowflake.”  He had been whining about his gender identity or some such nonsense.

She thought about all of that again on the long bus ride to see him.  She hadn’t called or texted him about her visit.  What if he didn’t want to talk to her at all?

But Nick gave her his usual quiet, easy going nod when he opened the door.  “Hi.  Mom isn’t here right now.”

“That’s okay.  How are you doing?”

He let her in.  He was still very pale and very skinny.  Maybe a little skinnier.

“I’m fine.”  He perched on the side of the sofa.  “I should be asking you how you are.  Mom said you got locked up.”

“Yes.  They let me out not too long ago.”

“That’s rough.  I was arrested a few times.  I never went to a center, though.  I guess I didn’t have much they wanted to take.”  He chuckled.  “Was it bad?”

“It was…”  She found that even after all this time she didn’t want to talk about or think about what it was like.  The house–that was what she wanted to think about.  Her house.

Nick’s dark eyes squinted a bit.  “Do you still believe the people in the centers brought it on themselves?”

“No, no.  I was wrong, and I understand that.”  She was lying.  It had all been a mistake with her.  She only took a couple of pictures.  She wasn’t like those types who protested every week–she never blocked traffic or burned anything.  And she wasn’t a terrorist.

“We should put it all behind us, anyway.  I’ve forgiven you for what you said about me,”  Nick announced.  So full of himself, she thought.  “You’ve always been my favorite aunt.”

She hesitantly accepted a hug from him.

“If you need any help…Mom sometimes gets extra stuff from the church pantry.”

She tried not to sound too eager.  “Thanks.  So, there’s that group of anarchists…they’re liberating homes, is what they call it…”

“No worries.  I don’t hang out with them anymore.”

“I actually wanted to meet with them.”

“Wow.”  Nick raised an eyebrow.  “Not a good idea.  They would hate you.”

Her face flushed with anger.  “Why?  Is this because of how I voted again?  Most of America voted that way–deal with it.”

“But you realize you hurt yourself with your vote, right?”

“Not true.  President Pence wanted to help the country.  The bureaucrats are the ones who came up with the centers and they made it all spin out of control.  It wasn’t his fault.”  She realized her voice had become shrill.

“I sense some unresolved guilt there in your response…”

God, how she hated it when the millennials went into their psychobabble.  Next, he’d want to talk to her about her self-esteem.

“I’m not guilty of anything,” she snapped.  “I’m one of God’s children, and He has washed my sins away.”  She turned and left before he could say anything else to her.

***

It was on the way back, the ride to her tiny rented room, that it hit her hard.  She would never get her house back.  It was so unfair.  All because of one mistake she made.  One little mistake!

And, for the life of her, she would never figure out what that one mistake was.

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So, it’s been a month, and progressives and Democrats have been hearing a constant refrain–that we need to reach out to Trump supporters, to try to understand the forgotten working-class base in the heartland of America which voted for him.

That is a very good point.  We do need to do that if we want to win the next election.  There is only one problem for me:  I don’t really want to know or understand the Trump voters.

This is not the wisest attitude to have, and I guess it marks me as an elitist of some sort. But I don’t care.  I don’t want to know why people continue to support Trump and overlook all the things he’s already said and done when it comes to women, immigrants and Muslims. When I recently visited a website where the deplorables gather to chat, I saw plenty of caricatures of yarmulkas and hooked noses, and references to Reichsfuhrer Trump. Blaming the Jews for your own economic woes is an age-old tradition.  The Trumpsters clearly feel the need to scapegoat someone for their own miserable situation.  What can I possibly say to them about that?  How would I change their mind?  I could suggest changes to the political and economic system which would make their life better, but these are the same people who thought Obama was a Marxist and the ACA was a government assault on their liberty–and frequently voted against their own health insurance coverage.  What does one do when faced with such ignorance?

Not to mention that in order to reach out to the Trump voters, I would have to find them where they live.  Thing is, I love my urban bubble.  I have little interest in going too far beyond its protective shield.  I’ve lived in the rural world before and I’m grateful to have escaped it.  I have no desire to move to a place where my neighbors give me the side-eye just because I don’t attend the same church they do and behave in ways they don’t consider “normal.”

Again, this does not bode well as a political strategy.  Democrats did get the popular vote in 2016, but the Democratic electorate is clustered in a few major metropolitan areas, mainly on the two coasts, and that’s not the way the American electoral system works. Hence the idea that progressives should transplant themselves to swing states.  If only I could convince myself to be enthusiastic about a midwestern or southern swing state….

The progressive movement certainly needs ambassadors right now to take its message across the country.  Unfortunately, I’m not that person.  And I wonder how many of my fellow liberal bubble-dwellers are willing to do the difficult work of outreach.  And if that work doesn’t get done, what will 2020 look like?

So, what is the deal with this cray-cray Trump candidacy?  Is it just the reality show from Hell?  Is it a dumber incarnation of Mussolini?  I’m staring at it in horror, but what is it?

One simple answer is that it’s a reaction to Obama’s presidency.  The racists of this country have had a rough seven years trying to deal with the reality of a black President.  Now, here comes Trump to the rescue, this man who still hasn’t sorted out his feelings about the KKK.  The yokels who cheer for him might not agree with his stances on health care or abortion or almost anything else, but that doesn’t matter–the essence of his campaign is all about bashing brown-skinned people.

Despite the fact that his administration is responsible for a record number of deportations, the screaming heads on talk radio have always accused President Obama of purposely letting high numbers of undocumented Latino immigrants into the country in order to “change our culture” (code language for making the culture less white).  But, never fear!  Trump is here and he’s going to build a giant wall to protect us from all these foreign aliens.

Likewise, the right-wing conspiracy theorists believe that Obama is sympathetic to radical Islamist terror groups, perhaps even that he’s a radical Muslim himself.  This although he has expanded George W’s drone strike program.  Once again, Trump bravely steps up to the plate.  He will keep all the Muslims out.  Radical or non-radical, it doesn’t matter.  That should solve the problem.

In an ironic twist, as the President is disrespected because of his skin color, he is simultaneously blamed for being the one to cause racial division in the nation.  Apparently, he is too soft on the (scary to conservatives) Black Lives Matter movement.  In the world of anti-Obama hysteria, tiny molehills are turned into mountains.  As with everything else in his presidency, Obama has treaded very carefully when it comes to incidents of police brutality, not speaking out as forcefully as many would like him to.  He got in enough trouble just for saying that Trayvon Martin could have been his kid.  And still, according to the crazy rightie blogosphere, he has been coddling rioters and looters.  Trump, on the other hand–he doesn’t mess around with those pesky BLM protesters.  He will have his own audiences kick and shove them out of his rallies.  He’s a big man, that Donald.

So the question is–will we allow the racist backlash against our country’s first African-American President to result in a destructive, reactionary Trump presidency?  I sincerely hope not.

Living on an alien planet can be difficult sometimes. It requires work and effort. Every afternoon, I turn on the news and try to figure out what is going on around here.

The news anchor swivels his eyestalks as he lectures his audience. “On our planet, we believe in having as much freedom as possible,” he explains. “That’s why the clerk in Kentucky is keeping same sex couples from getting married…she’s doing it in the name of freedom.”

Okay, so that makes no sense. But hey, different lifeforms and all that, right? And what kind of strange name is Kentucky, anyway?

I keep watching, but it doesn’t get any better. An interviewer shifts herself and her low-cut dress towards the camera, so that we can more clearly see the cleavage of her five breasts. “Ooooh, is that really your answer?” she chirps. “You wouldn’t terminate your female partner’s pregnancy even if it meant ending her life? You would watch her die?”

“Oh, certainly! I will always stand in defense of life.”

“Well, blirpity blorpity, Senator!” she giggles.

This is becoming hopeless. Now, snippets from a press conference. A truly strange creature with a bizarre growth on its head leans into the microphones.

“The Latinos love me!” it yells. “The Mexicans, they love me! Just last week, I gave one of them a $10 tip, and he said to me…”

Is there no intelligence to be found out here?

It’s almost a relief to see the televangelist lifeform flail its tentacles up to the sky. “He’s coming back!” it screeches. “He’s coming back and when He does, everyone who didn’t listen to my warning will get TOSSED into the lake of fire!”

The lake of fire sounds preferable to this insanity…I hope I get tossed in there soon. To borrow a phrase from this crazy tribe, amen.

So what is the Republican party going to do to discredit Donald Trump?

They’re going to have to do something–they can’t allow him to be the nominee. In fact, that’s what I keep hearing: “Reince Priebus is going to do something.” But what? I’m racking my brains and, for the life of me, can’t come up with what that will be. So far, Trump has been saying offensive thing after offensive thing, and still going up in the polls. He attacks Latino immigrants–up in the polls. He attacks a Fox News host–up, up, up.

Since a lot of Trump’s appeal stems from his outsider cred, it might be possible for his opponents to undermine him if they can somehow portray him as an insider–a moderate or on the side of the Democrats. But right now, that doesn’t seem to be working either. He came right out and said he likes single payer health care at the debates. He’s fine with Planned Parenthood. His fans don’t care.

So what will the Republicans do? As we speculated, my mother came up with an elegant solution. “If it gets too close to the convention and he’s still the frontrunner, they’ll just shoot him.” I wonder if they could get away with that? They could always claim they mistook his hair for a lion….

On the other side, the Democrats are stuck with a similar dilemma. I’m sure they’ll want to get rid of Bernie Sanders. Perhaps they can do so by making the argument that he would be unelectable in the national contest. But that argument is getting harder to make as Bernie rises in the polls and Hillary continues to sink into her e-mail scandal. What happens if Hillary is too wounded to go on and Bernie sticks around?

I’ve got enough cynical faith in our country’s political machine to believe that we will, in the end, get the designated mainstream nominees we were meant to have in the first place. But the plotline of how we arrive there could be very interesting indeed to follow…stay tuned!

Some immigrants are luckier than others. We were embraced by complete strangers when we came to the States. “Welcome to America!” “God bless you!”

Then there is the Iraqi man in Texas who went outside to look at his first snowfall and was shot dead in front of his home. His welcome wagon was, shall we say, a little less festive.

What makes one person a target and not another? Was it simply that the color of his skin was darker than ours? Or were we lucky to be dealing with people slightly less crazy than the ones in Texas?

When we lived in Idaho, our neighbors pointed their many guns at everything else that moved–the squirrels, the birds–but not at us, at least as far as I can remember. Not that there was any love lost between us. They didn’t like us because we had an accent and spoke to each other in our native language. Actually, they were drug dealers, so they were paranoid and didn’t like anybody very much.

I was told when I came to America that I should fear the big cities with their muggings, but the scariest time I’ve experienced here has been the five years we spent in Boise. Still, we didn’t get shot. Since America is portrayed around the world as the country where people get shot, this was a big deal for us.

I guess this rambling post is to reflect on the randomness of fate. What decides which human beings live and die? Whether or not you look like the type of person who gets killed. And if you do, whether or not you are doing something “suspicious”. Whether or not you live somewhere where weapons get waved around in public, or a more civilized area like the one I currently inhabit, where the residents keep their weapons hidden in their homes. Whether or not the nutjob down the street finally reaches his tipping point. So many things can go wrong.

Some of us just happen to be lucky.

I was in the back of the car, perched on a pile of bedding and blankets. My parents were sitting in front, glancing about anxiously. We were crossing the border.

We had left Poland a couple days before. Our visa to Holland was good for a vacation visit of a few weeks, but my parents–although I didn’t know it yet at the time–were planning to overstay it. They actively opposed the Communist government in Poland, and this was causing us more and more problems. So off we went, with a little bit of money in our pocket, our black cocker spaniel at my mother’s feet on the passenger side, and our green VW bug packed to the brim with our possessions. Funny thing is, at the time our Volkswagen seemed like a giant car compared to the little Fiats many Poles were driving.

And here we were, crossing from East Germany into the West, and it was scary. Our car was so overloaded that it crawled along, and we feared that it would overheat and die at the border crossing, which would have gotten us in serious trouble. It didn’t help that there were guard towers at the side of the road with armed soldiers inside of them. Our baggage was thoroughly searched, and then–with a huge sigh of relief–we were through.

Europe has come such a long way since then. I still remember how excited we were when Poland became a member nation of the European Union. Now it really felt like we would be a part of Europe, and hopefully wouldn’t go back to being one of Russia’s satellites. It was also a moment of pride for us when Donald Tusk, an ex-Prime Minister of Poland, was chosen to be President of the European Council.

The internal borders of Europe are now a different place. There is free movement between countries. The younger generation of Poland can live in Spain or Scotland if they so choose (and if they can find a job there). My uncle now lives and works in London. I would not want to go back to the severe restrictions of the past.

Yet the tragic events in Paris this week have sparked a conversation about precisely that. Some countries are discussing the possibility of changing the rules of the Schengen Treaty–which established freedom of movement in the European Union–and bringing back border checkpoints. I’ve also heard American journalists express surprise over the lack of border searches between, say, France and Belgium. I’m not sure those reporters understand how the concept of the EU is supposed to work. Europe is trying to be a united community–although this process has come with many problems–so what they are suggesting would be a bit like having checkpoints between American states. Sure, it might make things safer if we were searched when entering California from Oregon, but I suspect it would also change the way the people in different states view each other.

So will the terrorist attacks in France lead to a tightening of controls in Europe, much like the 9/11 attacks did in America? I would be sad to see this happen, especially if the European continent regressed to being a more divided place. Let’s hope we can find less drastic solutions to the terrorism question.