The Last 25 Years—What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been In Some Weird Parallel Universe

[It has dawned on me recently that I don’t much like anything that has happened in the last 25 years. America, as you know, is a very stupid country. It often means well, but like many a lucky, spoiled, entitled  trust fund kid, it makes bad decisions and doesn’t give a shit. But elementary chaos theory tells us two things about history: it is highly contingent and it things could have turned out even dumber, by orders of magnitude. So here is an alternate history of the United States of America, completely made up from whole cloth by me. But with an infinite number of universes in parallel existence, this one must exist somewhere. The story begins with a 1992 election roughly as ridiculous as the one that just happed in our “real” timeline in 2016. That was my jumping-off point. So, Geronimo.]

The America of 1992 was a very different place than it had been 20 or even ten years earlier. The Cold War may have been over, but with the U.S. Government putting up record deficits year after year, trade deficits getting steadily worse, most Americans were fed up with business as usual in Washington, D.C. and wanted to send a new president to the capitol who would shake things up.

There was a strong feeling that the only way to make America great again was to completely revamp the approach to governing—perhaps if the government was run more like a basketball team, things could be turned around.

At first, Bobby Knight’s presidential campaign seemed like a joke, but his no-holds-barred style soon caught on and carried him to the Republican nomination. The selection of running mate Dick Cheney provided a salve for the wounded Republican old guard, but more importantly, provided Knight with a prospective partner for his frequent hunting trips. The two then proceeded to run a tight, organized campaign that focused almost exclusively on the economy, hammering home the same simple message over and over again.

“It’s the economy, you stupid fuck.”

Knight’s narrow victory over former first lady Rosalyn Carter confounded the prognosticators and talking heads of the media, but in retrospect, it should have been obvious that Carter had simply been in the public eye too long and carried too much baggage. The public just didn’t trust her; also, her choice of John Wayne Gacy as her running mate may have been ill-advised.

“No skeletons in his closet, no. None.”

But others besides politicians left their mark on the decade of the 1990’s. No one could ever forget that day in 1995 when former star football player O.J. Simpson jumped once again into the national consciousness and took over the television broadcasts for days. The sight of his white Bronco speeding down the highway, with police cars close behind, is one that will be long remembered.

O.J. became an instant national hero when it was learned the three kittens he had rescued from the burning building made it to the vet on time.

It was the best of times, but politics always rears its ugly head again; before we knew it, another election season was upon us.

For some reason, the Democrats nominated a Viagra salesman from Kansas for president in 1996, paving the way for an easy victory and second term for President Knight. This second term itself was not easy, however; in 1998 Knight was impeached by the House of Representatives after a video surfaced showing the president trying to strangle one of his cabinet members. The Senate, whose members were more familiar with auto-erotic asphyxiation, voted to acquit Knight and he finished out his term.

The new millennium arrived on January 1, 2000, and as expected no one thought it was a big deal. It wasn’t, other than the Y2K bug that fucked up every system everywhere in the world and forced that year long delay in the arrival of the big day. Fortunately, few noticed, and of course we didn’t tell the stupid people.

The 2000 election pitted Vice President Dick Cheney against the son of a former president and heir to a political family legacy and fortune: John F. Kennedy, Jr. The contest was the closest in history; the outcome in doubt for weeks. The final result remained in dispute until early election morning, when the Supreme Court finally stepped in and ordered everyone to stop voting. Though he lost the popular vote 17 to 9, J.F.K. Jr. was able to garner the necessary 270 electoral votes to win.

The new president brought a unique style to the White House; he liked to call himself “The Pilot” and promised to take the helm and fly the country on a safe course through the darkness despite his limited set of skills. But early in his administration, events were to put the nation on a crash course with destiny.

Those who lived through it will never forget the images they saw that day. Some events are such that everyone remembers, the rest of their lives, where they were when they heard the news. In many ways, so many years later, America is still coming to grips with the tragic events of 12/17.

Many Americans were already tuned in to the TV when the news reports first flashed. Many more heard from friends and co-workers and rushed to the nearest set. What they saw will always haunt them: two terrorists riding a stolen tandem bicycle into the Chrysler Building. The poor terrorists were horribly killed, and a nation poured out its heart in mourning for over an hour.

Eventually, life mostly got back to normal, and in February 2003 the Oakland Raiders were crushed 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That happens in every conceivable timeline, with mathematical certainty.

The year 2003 also saw the nation. go to war. Certain intelligence reports, since disputed, seemed to indicate a country long unfriendly to the U.S. was in violation of international law and developing weapons of mass destruction. In April of that year, the U.S. invaded France. There was surpisingly little international support for this move, and in fact Germany flatly refused to support or assist the invasion in any way. For this betrayal, everything German known to Americans was soon renamed “Liberty.”

We loved our Liberty Chocolate, but that outbreak of Liberty Measles was scary.

The war itself went well and lasted roughly ten minutes. No weapons were found. In fact, the whole thing was a misunderstanding, an audio surveillance agent who misheard the words “math instruction.” The Bourbaki, it turns out, is not a terrorist cell at all but a group of French mathematicians in the 19th century. There was a brief flurry of stories regarding mistreatment and even torture of French prisoners, but this faded when it turned out no one really had a problem with that sort of thing.

Kennedy was re-elected by a slightly larger margin the second time around when the Republican Party forgot to nominate anyone in 2004.

The year 2005 in America will be largely remembered as the year nature struck back with an act of God so powerful it reminded us all how helpless even the strongest nation can be when pitted against such forces. In August of that year, Hurricane Hillary devastated the entire Gulf Coast area in a matter of hours. Overnight, with winds gusting up to 7 miles an hour, Hillary simply obliterated neighborhoods. Those too poor or stupid to evacuate the area soon regretted their poverty and/or stupidity. A storm surge off the coast of Louisiana caused water to somehow find its way to areas  below sea level, and the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, was nearly drowned. Thousands of refugees found shelter at the Independence Bowl in nearby Shreveport, as the nation watched their desperate plight on TV. Fortunately, help was on the way. To its everlasting credit, FEMA required a mere six weeks to find a map with Shreveport on it, and soon there were enough body bags for all.

Heckuva job, Greenie, or whoever.

The year 2008 was a historic one in many ways. The string of memorable events began in February, when future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Joey Harrington led his Detroit Lions to an exciting win in the Super Bowl to complete the first undefeated 19-0 season in NFL history. Detroit won its fourth championship and wrapped up its perfect season with a signature play in the fourth quarter of this close contest. Lions receiver David Tyree put himself in the highlight reels for years to come with his game-saving play, catching a pass from Harrington with his eye socket.

Then, a few months later, things got scary again, with a meltdown in a key industry threatening to take the whole economy down. Government intervention was required, as some companies are simply “too big to fail,” and a financial bailout was needed when an industry-wide acceptance of ridiculously huge risks became commonplace and the risks went bad.

In retrospect, many felt it should have been obvious that the movie Avatar would be such a disaster that it would threaten the entire entertainment industry, and thus the economy as a whole, but that’s just hindsight. While the new 3D technology gave many of those who saw the film headaches, it did succeed in making others nauseous. No one, however, was prepared for the avalanche of lawsuits that followed, and the government simply had to step in, however distasteful it was. There simply weren’t enough lawyers, and something had to be done.

There were protests, of course; the Occupy Hollywood Boulevard movement seemed to be catching on for a time, but our wise and beneficent government came up with a surprisingly elegant solution: simply move the film and TV industry out of Hollywood. Many traditions fell by the wayside, but in the end the entertainment industry quickly became every bit as entrenched in its new home: exciting Coos Bay, Oregon.

Where the magic happens.

Of course 2008 will also be remembered for its historic election result, in which the United States chose its first African-American president. In a landslide, the voters overwhelmingly supported a man who, while new to the political scene, was able to convincingly assure us that we’d be in good hands: the guy from the All-State commercial.

Perhaps our greatest president, things went so well during his administration that absolutely nothing happened for the next eight years.  At least nothing that we remember. We’re pretty sure he must have been re-elected in 2012, because that’s how the thing works, but with the Electoral College the way it is nowadays, who really knows.

If not the best of times, it at least passed quietly. We think.

But you know how Americans get when things are going well: what the fuck. We get bored, or some damn thing; we need to shake things up again, to live, as they say, in interesting times. So, good luck in retirement, President Guy-From-The-All-State-Commercial; we are on a new track now. And while some of us may have had a few misgivings, mostly inconsequential policy details, about the candidates in 2016, at least none among us have any doubts about the experience, character and temperament brought to the White House by our new President:

Yeah, I don’t know who he is, either.

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