A Message in a Bottle from 2040

The path to the American dystopia is shorter than you think

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(Shutterstock license)

I write this to you from a future that is a heartbreaking result of the failure of so many things you once dreamed of and hoped for.

I won’t be long in this missive — we are checked daily for contraband and subversive materials. By “we” I mean all of us here in the Internment Zone in what was once part of North Dakota.

I can only estimate, but I’d guess there are now more than 100,000 of us just in this Zone alone. There are similar Zones throughout the Northwest and many harsher Zones in the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. Those are known as die-off Zones. I guess the name explains the purpose.

Let me digress for a brief review of the history between your 2020 and my 2040. How so much could happen in such a short period of time will seem unbelievable to you, but, trust me — your 20-year-older self — things went sideways and downhill extremely fast after Donald Trump’s reelection in 2020.

You will recall that presidential candidate Joe Biden was running against Trump in what we now call the coronavirus time — the protracted period when the Covid-19 pandemic exploded and took the lives of more than one hundred thousand Americans between February and June of 2020.

The Biden-Klobuchar campaign was hamstrung by the nationwide quarantine which was supported by Blue State governors and resented by Red State citizens. The Democrats were unable to successfully get out the vote against the sitting president who dominated the news cycles with an endless barrage of pandemic status briefings and mostly baseless promises of treatment breakthroughs and vaccine production.

Demonstrations in Blue State capitals became riots fomented by gun-wielding, swastika-wearing gangs who stirred the pot of frustrated home-bound and jobless citizens. It didn’t take long for fear and mistrust to infect the population at viral speed.

From his bully pulpit at the White House, Trump encouraged the violence by playing to the rioters’ hatred of the First Amendment and their unfathomable embrace of the Second Amendment.

To many of us in what was, in your 2020 time, a pivotal moment (perhaps, in retrospect, the last gasp) in investigative reporting, journalists were baffled by Trump’s successes in light of his demonstrated inabilities to process information, speak clearly, form coherent plans, and execute the duties of his office with any semblance of competence.

Our only fallback reasoning was that Trump was the classic “useful idiot,” a Manchurian Candidate set in place to undermine the foundations of representative government. Whether his usefulness was created by a foreign government or an inside cabal of executives longing for a kleptocracy or fully-formed oligarchy, the outcome could not have been more successful to those interests.

The Moscow-based disinformation network, RT America, played a strong hand in spreading coronavirus rumors and claims of a “deep state” that was pitting elites against the poor, ruthless government against vulnerable citizens. Social media, already a petri dish for culturing rumors and convincing distractions from truth, served its new masters all too well.

By mid-June 2020, Trump was lobbying hard for an end to workplace restrictions on major corporations and small businesses, and as the workforce began to return, Trump’s ratings climbed and the stock market rebounded.

Trump’s appearance at a Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza at the base of Mt. Rushmore resulted in a red meat campaign media blitz of images and soundbites the Biden-Klobuchar campaign could not match.

The coronavirus rebounded as well, weeks before the election, just as scientists and medical experts predicted. When Trump announced the availability “soon” of both a vaccine and a treatment for those who were already infected, his reelection was all but assured. Biden never stood a chance.

Trump not only won the Electoral College vote, he also carried the popular vote by a whopping 20 percent.

The biggest shock of all was the defeat of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. By overwhelming numbers, the Republicans took back the House and increased their majority in the Senate. Democrat-held state houses also collapsed under the weight of the Republican rebellion. The Democrats were routed across the country.

Analysis of the 2020 vote — at least as much of the analysis that was not suppressed or destroyed by Trump and succeeding administrations — indicates that millions of first-time voters, notably the 18–25-year-old voting block, simply walked away from the polls and did not keep to their 2018 promises to vote.

There are also anecdotes of elderly voters, and minorities and non-English speaking voters being misdirected to polling sites where the machines were rigged. If there ever was any evidence of these accounts, it was purged within days of Trump’s reelection.

There was talk of heavily-rigged voting throughout the South, the Rust Belt in the Midwest, and in the Western states. Within days of Trump’s election, he directed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to begin a major public media disinformation campaign supported by the Russians, and the national news media was virtually shut down.

Several of Trump’s closest aides openly allied themselves with Putin and, with Trump’s and Mitch McConnell’s approval, established a joint commission to oversee the creation of a US/Russia economic and arms pact intended to intimidate and ultimately discard NATO.

This placed enormous pressure on China to seek out and solidify other nations’ resources to bolster China’s Belt and Road initiative. By the spring of 2022, Brazil, Venezuela, all Central America, and Mexico had joined with China in the Transglobal Belt and Road Coalition.

In mid-2022, Chinese ground troops and naval and air forces were granted military basing leases in Mexico. Some of these bases were within a few miles of the Texas border.

By the summer of 2023, Trump had withdrawn all U.S. military forces from the Pacific Rim, including protection for South Korea (ROK), Taiwan, and Japan. The Chinese-Japan-ROK war that followed solidified China’s hold on the Far East, with Taiwan the last, but futile holdout. With their bases in the Spratly Islands secured, China had total control over the Pacific sea lanes.

Our one-time allies in Europe withdrew virtually all their U.S. defense agreements, pulled out of the G7, and established the Western Europe Partnership.

The coronavirus vaccine that Trump promised throughout the summer and fall of 2020 — a promise that helped him in November — was distributed to those who could afford its $10,000 price.

A deadly bombing of The Washington Post’s headquarters in downtown Washington was linked (never proven) to a story in the Post that the vaccine had been made available months in advance to Trump’s family, his inner circle of advisors, the executives of all his businesses, and his right-wing media supporters.

The Trump administration refused to offer any financial or logistical assistance to the states where most of the anti-Trump voting occurred, and only the federal government had the power to choose the manufacturers, the prices, and the populations who would receive the vaccine. Dissenting governors became targets of virulent smear campaigns.

Everyone was ordered back to work despite having no vaccine protection. Many of us refused to leave our homes, and the government responded with steep fines, tax liens, and threats of imprisonment for failure to obey the government’s edict. Of course, the re-spread of the virus devastated the poor and minorities. Inner cities were hollowed out, and mass graves filled with the indigent were common.

It did not help that Trump encouraged the spread of posses and other heavily-armed pro-Trump vigilante groups to intimidate those of us who feared for our lives and the fate of the country.

I wrote several critical articles about the rise of lawlessness, and shortly thereafter, my house was burned down.

Rumors spread that I was “one of them,” a reference to the fact that I was college educated and had read the Constitution and Federalist Papers — along with many other books without pictures. When agents found my copy of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, I knew my future as an outspoken journalist was limited.

On February 27, 2021, exactly 70 years after its ratification, President Trump proposed legislation to repeal the 22nd Amendment — the two-term limit for the presidency. With overwhelming support in the now majority-Republican Congress, and with an easy-to-meet requirement of ratification by three-fourths of the states, Trump’s ability to run for a third term in 2024 was secured.

It came as no surprise, however, that once re-elected in 2024, with his son-in-law Jared as vice-president (in the wake of the coronavirus death of Mike Pence who refused to wear a virus-protecting mask in the spring of 2020), Trump, citing his need to spend more time with his fourth wife, Lubyanka, resigned.

Jared Kushner, unimpressed with the Constitutionally-mandated presidential succession clauses, and bolstered by unwavering support in both the Senate and the House, chose his wife Ivanka to not only be his vice-president, but also appointed her Secretary of State as a way to coddle up to the Chinese who had threatened to nationalize all of Ivanka’s business holdings in China.

The right-wing media, beloved by citizens of the Red Republic — as Kushner supporters were now styling themselves and the country — was praised as the voice of the people against science and reason.

Things went downhill from there.

In 2030, Australia, heavily dependent on trade with China, was forced by economic pressures and lack of U.S. support to join the Transglobal Coalition and the Chinese government opened a new territorial capital in Canberra.

With China’s support, Vietnam and Thailand forced all U.S. military interests out of the region and nationalized any remaining U.S. corporate interests. With Kushner’s approval, all U.S. businesses seeking to remain in China and the region were forced to guarantee at least 51% of corporate board seats to Chinese executives, providing Ivanka held at least one seat on each board.

Here in what was once the United States, the Kushner-led Dissidents Separation Agency (DSA) began carving out holding areas or Internment Zones around the country in which people like me are indefinitely detained so as to not foment uprisings or propagate “unthinkable thoughts,” among the Red Republic’s population.

These Internment Zones are information deserts; we have no connection to the outside world; we are kept in the dark with respect to what the rest of the country is doing and how much it has probably devolved into the madness of the ignorant led by the arrogant.

You saw it coming but you did not act

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The Gathering Storm (illustration by Jim Moore)

If I recall correctly, you saw those signs in 2015 when a madman descended on a golden escalator to the acclaim of those who were seeking a reality show savior to lead them away from knowledge and science and truth.

You saw those signs when then-candidate Trump belittled a disabled reporter.

You saw those signs when Trump dismissed the heroism of John McCain.

You saw those signs when Gold Star parents were chided and ridiculed from a national stage.

You saw those signs when one by one every single Republican candidate opposing Trump fell by the wayside and refused to rise with rage against a man who was usurping every fundamental value upon which our nation was founded.

You saw — and heard — those signs when Trump bragged about his sexual conquests and methods.

You saw him for what he was when he stood next to Putin and took the Russian’s side against the very men and women who protect America around the clock with their devotion to intelligence gathering and fact-finding.

You saw him for what he was when he met with North Korea’s madman and professed his love of their letters.

And when crises came to the country, as crises are wont to do on their own schedule, you saw the signs that Trump was a poor leader, a liar, a purveyor of outrageous rumors and dangerous prescriptions.

You saw this all and much more.

The motto of the late Washington Post was, “Democracy dies in darkness.” And now, 20 years later, the darkness is upon us. And democracy is no more.

From my perspective here in 2040, I cannot help you. How ironic that my hindsight is 2020. What’s done is done and though you may have seen all those signs and acted to prevent Trump’s reelection as best you could, it was not enough.

America’s sad decline into the pit and its squandered value to the free world could have been arrested if only outraged citizens acted on their instincts and realized that a second term for Trump would be a death knell for democracy. Well, in the words of John Donne, “Send not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

I must finish this note quickly…they are coming for me.


Journalist, former Capitol Hill staff (House and Senate), former Cabinet speechwriter, editor, photojournalist and bird photographer. Top Writer Quora 2016–2017

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