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The 28th Amendment

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This is Rachel Maddow with MSNBC's election night coverage. It's 4 am here on the east coast. With all the polls closed and 1% reporting, we're finally ready to call California and the election for Senator John McCain. -Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, 2 November 2008

 

President Mike Huckabee swore the oath of office today at 3:17 pm at GWU Hospital in Washington, D.C, where President John McCain died of complication for small cell lung cancer earlier in the day. -Brian Williams, Nightly News with Brian Williams, 7 March 2009

 

This is Anderson Cooper live from New Orleans. I'm standing here outside the perimeter of the Port of New Orleans. Seventeen hours ago the oil tanker Prometheus pulled into dock. Thirty minutes later she exploded, raining down burning oil on the city. Officials are speculating that this was the work of eco-terrorist and gay rights activist Josiah Abbott. In the aftermath of Katrina, New Orleans was starting to get back up on its feet. As you can see, this explosion destroyed much of that progress. Three hundred people are confirmed dead and with thousands of injured, New Orleans hospitals are over flowing. -Anderson Cooper, Anderson Cooper 360, 7 July 2009

 

The economy took another nose dive in the wake of the New Orleans port bombing. Gas prices topped out at $7.39/gallon and the NASDAQ dropped a hundred and thirty four points. -Rick Sanchez, CNN Newsroom, 8 July 2009

 

Food prices are on a meteoric rise, being tugged upward by rising gas prices and fears of food shortages. Inclement weather in the Midwest has only worsened the situation: thousands of acres of crops have been destroyed in the last week. -Ali Velshi, CNN Newsroom, 18 July 2009

 

Gas prices rose again today, up to $8.29/gallon, spurring on rioting in LA. President Huckabee has deputized several groups such as the Air Land Emergency Resource Team or ALERT to make up for short falls in the disaster management contingent. Several left-wing groups have whined about these religious based groups being brought in to help. The rest of us say: Thank God! -Billy O'Reilly, Fox News, 24 July 2009

 

Good Evening and welcome to this special edition of Countdown. Tonight there will be a Special Comment. The 28th Amendment was ratified today. The amendment states that America is and always has been a Christian nation and her laws must therefore be in harmony with God's Laws. It specifically outlaws abortion and gay marriage. America, let me just say: I am disappointed in you.

The 28th Amendment is the least American proposition which anyone--be it Republican or Democrat--has devised. And all of you out there, gobbling it up in an effort to be more patriotic. More patriotic? Only in that twisted, exclusionary sense of car magnets and 'I am better than you.' What you mean is more nationalistic. As Sydney Harris once said, "Patriotism is proud of a country's virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country's virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, "the greatest," but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is."

The Statue of Liberty, sitting at the door to America through which so many of our ancestors entered, reads:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

It does not say: give me your pure, your righteous, your theologically correct. It does not say: give me your true, orthodox Christians. America may not be a melting pot or a salad, or whatever fancy metaphor the kids are using these days, but what it truly isn't is homogenous. It never has been. Not when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, not when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and not even in the 1950's of lore.

America, wake up! The 28th Amendment is neither American nor Christian; it is only the foot of theocracy in the door of democracy. I believe in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I will keep fighting to reclaim my country from the hands of tyrants and petty kings and I hope that you will too. To rest of you, shame on you for forgetting freedom is just as important as security. -Keith Olbermann, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 23 Nov 2009

***

It's not like he hadn't seen it coming. He'd been screaming out against it every chance he had, but in the end Huckabee had gotten his amendment. It had taken a major terrorist attack and small cell lung cancer, but he'd done it. America was again, really, for the first time, a Christian nation.

Judges were still scrambling to figure out how the twenty-eighth amendment affected American law, but twenty-three Senators and Congressmen had resigned in protest, and a handful more had fled the country. Jon had stayed. They were still on the air, albeit more censored then they'd ever been before. No blasphemy, no cursing, no stage-gay. Stephen actually suffered more under the new rules than Jon did. He didn't approve of the changes the country was undergoing and it was harder for him to broadcast his displeasure without breaking character.

It was a Thursday, two weeks after the twenty-eighth amendment had been ratified and Stephen was lying on his couch in the office while Jon paced.

"I can't do the show anymore," Stephen said, not looking at Jon.

If it had been any other year Jon would have been outraged, but today all he had was resignation, "Leaving before you're served?" he asked. What was left of Congress was going after Hollywood and its affiliates on charges of corrupting America.

"Leaving before I can't say anything at all. Either that, or before I break one of the new blasphemy laws and end up stoned," Stephen replied, not moving from his position on the couch. "This will be my last show. You should come with me."

Jon stopped, "If we leave, who will stay and fight?" He couldn't keep the defeated look off his face.

"Jon," Stephen said softly, after swinging himself up to sit on the edge of the couch, "we stayed. We fought. We lost. Have you seen Anderson's reports? Half of the population of San Francisco has left the country. For the first time ever, more Americans are illegally crossing into Mexico than the other way around."

"I've been watching," Jon joined him on the couch. Coverage of the twenty-eighth amendment and the legal fallout was the only thing on the news. He'd watched Keith scream into the camera over and over again. He'd watched Anderson wander the empty streets of the Castro district, had watched Billy O'Reilly interview the radical right in its triumph. He'd seen the unaired footage too. Thing no one could air anymore. Lynchings in Iowa, a stoning in Alabama, a satellite interview with the surviving leader of the HRC in exile.

"I've seen the news, too. We need to leave. If we don't, well, my lawyer thinks if we're lucky we'll get fifteen to thirty five years in prison and not together. If they arrest you, you'll end up in Terre Haute," Stephen laid a hand on his arm. Terre Haute was where they were sending the non-Christians who were convicted under the new laws. No one was really sure of more than that, as investigative reporting was severely crippled under the Huckabee regime.

"They're only giving out a year for contempt," said Jon. Three people had already been jailed for contempt of Congress, each receiving a year for refusing to answer the committee's questions.

"We'd get the year for contempt, but that's not the only thing we're going to be charged with. We both given money to the HRC, the ACLU, to stop AIDS in Africa, my lawyer thinks we'll be charged with aiding terrorism."

Jon looked at him as if he'd grown a second head, "Fuck, no," he exploded, "I thought I'd get a year, even a year in Terre Haute, and I'd go and stand up to these bullies. Thirty-five years might as well be a life sentence."

"With the rioting in Austin and L.A. it might be more," said Stephen, "If we're leaving, we need to leave tonight."

Jon turned and stared at Stephen, "Tonight?"

"Look, I know someone at the DA's office. They are working late tonight. Tomorrow subpoenas are going out, along with detention until trial orders."

"Fuck, fuck!" Jon stood abruptly, "Anyone else, or just us?"

"Keith, Anderson, Erica, Dan, Rachel, most of CNN and MSNBC over the next week. Rachel is already in Canada and Anderson is planning on filming his border crossing like the crazy man that he is. Keith and Erica know and they're passing it on to interested parties," Stephen explained.

"I take it you have a plan."

Stephen smiled for the first time in what seemed to Jon like eternity, "I do. Your stuff is already in my car, we're leaving after filming."

"Is the staff in danger?" Jon asked, resuming his pacing. He knew they'd been having higher turn over than before, but he needed to know for sure.

"Don't worry, I didn't forget about anybody. Most of the people who needed to leave left before the amendment passed, everyone left at risk is leaving tonight," said Stephen.

"You really have been planning this for a while haven't you?"

"Ever since we put our families on a plane to London with John Oliver. You had to know that if it kept getting worse, we'd have to leave too," Stephen stood and stepped into Jon's path.

"Why bother with one last show? If you want to get over the border tonight, we can't tell people we're going," Jon complained.

"I know," said Stephen, "It gives us seventy two hours in which no one is expecting to see us on television. No one will really think we're missing."

"If this is going to be our last show, we should make it spectacular," said Jon, trying not to let his sarcasm show to much and instead work up some enthusiasm.

"Does that mean you'll come with me?" Stephen asked.

"Yes."

"Well, then, I agree."

***

"And that's our show!" Jon yelled to the audience and then stood and took a bow with Stephen. They'd bumped their guests and Stephen had been Jon's, and Jon's Stephen. Maybe he was being clingy, but Jon wasn't letting Stephen out of his sight if he could help it. Neither show had been a full house, but those who had shown up, had braved being labeled sympathizers, had been treated to one of the finest hours of comedy that Jon and Stephen had ever performed.

When they finally made it back stage after shaking hands and soaking in what might be their last audience for a long time, it was too quiet. "Is everyone already gone?" Jon asked.

"I had everyone leave as soon as they could. Sam and Jason should already be in Canada by now. They rented a van and took three of my interns with them," said Stephen as he wiped the stage make up from his face.

"My interns?" Jon asked, concerned. They'd been here earlier and he wasn't sure any of them could afford to exile themselves, even if they needed to.

"Are safe."

"How did you plan all this with out me knowing? Why not ask me for help?"

Stephen laid a hand on Jon's shoulder, "You would have driven yourself crazy over the last two weeks. Anderson put me in touch with some people that were helping get people out who needed it. You know that's why he went to San Francisco, he's helping to smuggle people into Mexico."

"That's the last time I believe Anderson when he says he's not biased," Jon said with a smile.

"Yeah, well, he was going to have to smuggle himself out eventually and you know how he is about rescuing people," said Stephen as he changed into a battered red t-shirt.

"True, true," said Jon, "I figured he was leaving when I found out he'd sent Molly to France. Anderson wouldn't leave with out making sure his dog was safe."

Once they were both changed into street clothes, Jon grabbed his laptop bag and then they hurried to Stephen's car.

***

It was an all night trip to the border, even after they'd gotten out of the city. Canada and Mexico were both taking in American refugees, not just because it was the right thing to do but because America was hemorrhaging its best and brightest: scientists, professors, lawyers, doctors and entertainers.

Of course, before they could get to Canada, Jon had to spend a night in the car with Stephen and they both had to survive the experience. Stephen had thought ahead, there were snacks, drinks and even a blanket, but he was on edge and it was driving Jon crazy. "Can we switch to some music?" Jon asked. Normally, he was a fan of NPR, even what was left of NPR these days, but their reporting was making him even more paranoid than he already was. "I have the Bugle on my iPod," he offered when Stephen didn't look up from the road.

Stephen batted Jon's hand away from the radio, "I need to know if any of the border crossings get closed. Soterius Johnson is in on the whole thing and he's making sure closings get broadcast."

"Oh," said Jon, sitting back in his seat. He watched as the lights of the city faded into dark country night out his window. "I never really thought it would come to this," he said. "This is America, and for all the shots I've taken at the system, I though…" he trailed off and went back to staring out the window.

Silence hung uncomfortably over the car, neither Jon nor Stephen looking at the other. It went on long enough that Jon flinched when Stephen spoke.

"Only in my nightmares. It was comedy, it was, but if I had known what would happen, I'd never have let the man on my show," Stephen's voice was low and scratchy. "When I said I wanted to make a difference, I meant for good, not for this."

"I know," replied Jon, turning to look at Stephen, "I know. No one thought this could happen."

"Huckabee did," Stephen spit out, "He had a plan and he made it work, even if he had to destroy the America that I love. He used me to help him do it."

"I don't think he planned on McCain dying of lung cancer three months into his term. No one could've predicted that." Jon's own words reminded him of the last President and the morass he'd gotten them stuck in. It's what Condi had said about 9/11, except there had been no national security briefings about small cell lung cancer, no enemy to defeat outside the President's own body.

Stephen scowled but remained silent. Eventually, Jon put his earbuds in and they rode that way until they reached Buffalo.

The border crossing in Buffalo was usually crowded, even in the middle of the night. Stephen had been told it was the best way to get to Canada at the moment, the large amount of traffic making it less likely that anyone would care that they were going to Canada for good.

"Stephen," Jon tugged on his shoulders, "Look!" He pointed to where the border crossing was coming into view. Stephen was surprised to see tanks blocking in a line of cars.

"Looks like the guys over at NPR haven't heard of this yet," said Jon.

"Fuck! How in any sane world are there tanks guarding our Canadian border?" Stephen asked in a slightly hysterical tone. He pulled a quick right before they could be rounded up with the rest of the cars trying to cross the border.

Jon looked over his shoulder at the tanks as they drove away, "What now?"

This hadn't been in the plan, but Stephen could think on his feet. "We go north until we find a place without tanks."

"What if there's not a crossing with out tanks?"

"We could go west or try Mexico or rent a boat and try crossing one of the Lakes," said Stephen. "Let's drive up north and see if this is an isolated incident," Stephen said.

"I have a better idea, let's find some wi-fi and see if we can find any information on the net. CNN might not be reporting, but I'm betting there are angry bloggers out there with information," said Jon as he pulled his laptop out.

Stephen nodded and drove around until he saw a "Free Internet!" sign in an IHOP window. He parked the car around back and let Jon get to work.

It didn't take Jon very long at all, "None of the news sights have anything but my rss reader is going crazy." He found a blog of one of Sam's Canadian friends with government connections, and turned the laptop so they can both see. "President Huckabee," he read from the screen, "ordered America's border closed this evening at midnight and has stationed troops recalled from Iraq on the Mexican and Canadian borders. Huckabee claims this move is to shore up security against terrorists out side America and to help catch those who are currently trying to flee the country in fear of America's renewed security measures."

They look at the clock in unison: 12:23. Jon could see the guilt on Stephen's face: if they hadn't stayed to do the shows, they'd be free in Canada right now. "If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have left at all," Jon said, even knowing his words wouldn't fix it this time.

Jon and Stephen stared at each other for a moment before Jon scrolled down the blog. "Several people have been arrested at the border and many others turned away. The following list contains the names of people rumored to have been arrested, but there is no certain information at this point." Jon scanned the list for people they knew, "Keith Olbermann, Erica Hill, fuck, this list is huge!"

"And we were almost on it. We can't try and cross today," said Stephen quietly.

Jon fidgeted, "I think we should get out of the state and find somewhere to hole up and wait this out."

Stephen nodded, "New England or Pennsylvania?"

Jon thought for a moment before responding, "Pennsylvania." He pulled Stephen's road atlas out of the back seat and plotted them a course to Pittsburgh.

***

It was a long drive and they were both jumpy. Stephen insisted on paying with cash, but paying cash meant paying people, not machines and they could be recognized. Credit cards were even easier to track, though, so they stuck with cash, no matter how nervous it made Jon.

"Here," said Jon. Stephen took a sharp right into a slightly seedy Holiday Inn and abruptly parked the car.

"I'll go in and pay. You and your wonky ear will give us away," Jon said with a smile.

Before he could get out, Stephen leaned into the backseat and triumphantly produced a grey hoodie and a hundred dollars in twenties, "This way it'll just look like you're cheating on your wife."

Jon rolled his eyes, but put on the hoodie anyway. The guy at the front desk showed no signs of recognition and didn't even look interested that Jon paid in cash. He took the two keycards and returned to the car.

***

Jon yawned and ushered Stephen into their hotel room. It was almost morning and all he wanted to do was sleep, but they were fugitives now. How crazy was that? He threw bags from their side trip to Walgreen's on the bed, "I got three colors, any preference?"

Stephen dug the three boxes of hair dye out of the bag and looked each over critically. "Sandy brown," he decided, holding up the box. "And you'll be cinnamon espresso. We'll do you first."

Jon giggled and pulled his t-shirt off over his head, "Okay, I'm willing to be the guinea pig." He wandered over to the bathroom and fiddled with the bath tub's tap until the water was warm enough. He knelt down and stuck his head under the rushing water until it was completely wet.

He looked up to Stephen carefully mixing bottles of goop. "It can't be that hard," said Stephen, "Of course, my stylist usually does this, but…" He pulled on the plastic glove that came in the kit, and with his most evil look said, "Ready?"

"Yes."

Stephen squirted the gooey substance on Jon's head.

"Ack, that feels disgusting," said Jon, as he tired to keep his head over the tub while laughing.

"Stop that," said Stephen and with a hip check, pinned Jon between him and the tub. "If you keep wiggling, I'm going to end up dyeing your neck cinnamon espresso, and while that might sound tasty and delicious, it smells awful."

"I saw the segment where you ate Bobby. I am not food," said Jon, glad that the banter between them was back. He might be able to face the end of the world as he knew it, but not if Stephen wasn't there next to him, making him laugh.

"Sure, Jon, you are not food. And you're done, just don't drip on anything."

"You're sure this is going to be an effective disguise?" Jon asked, trying to remember not to touch his hair.

"Better than glasses," said Stephen.

"Point taken," replied Jon. "It's your turn now."

Stephen groaned, but gamely dunked his head under the tap. Soon Stephen's head was just as covered in gooey dye as Jon's.

***

Jon flicked on the television. He'd always found the background buzz of the television to be calming, but today it wasn't helping much. Between the marathon drive and hair dying escapade, it was morning before the dye was washed out and Stephen fell asleep. Jon was still wide awake. He had muted the TV and turned on the captions, but it was a photo of Keith Olbermann that made him stop flipping channels.

"Keith Olbermann and Erica Hill arrested last night trying to cross the border into Canada in an attempt to avoid testifying in front of the House committee," came the confirmation across the bottom of his screen. "Three hundred and twenty-eight others were also detained after trying to leave the United Stats last night and four thousands were turned back at various border crossings."

Jon lay on the bed and stared at the hotel ceiling. It was a long time before he passed into sleep.