Once upon a time there was a place known as The Greatest Country In The World. This place had forgotten its true name. Grandparents had told children had told grandchildren had told great-grandchildren for so long
now: “You live in The Greatest Country In The World (and incidentally that makes you The Greatest People In The World),” that the true name of the land had been lost.
Predictably, the Greatest Country In The World was led by The Greatest Government In The World in turn led by The Greatest Emperor In The World. The Emperor was selected every four years and was to be an individual uniquely suited to lead – a person of great integrity, practicality, courage, wisdom, intelligence, discernment, eloquence, generosity, compassion, honesty, humility, and even-handedness. By lucky coincidence, or perhaps as some insisted by Divine Intervention a certain Rich Young Ruler, son of a former Emperor, announced a desire to be the Anointed One. “I shall lead you by popular demand!” he vowed to The Greatest People In The World, and opened so many bags of gold that they very nearly demanded him. Not quite, but it didn’t matter in the end. The Rich Young Ruler finagled an unorthodox anointment, and head bowed in humility, ascended the throne with a retinue of grand viziers.
At The Greatest Expense In The World, The Greatest Country In The World maintained The Greatest Army In The World and The Greatest Armaments. This weaponry was capable of annihilating the world’s people a couple of dozen times over. A greater boon to Civilization could hardly have been imagined.
“It’s a lucky thing we control The Greatest Armaments In The World,” confided The Greatest Nation In The World to the less great nations. “Otherwise some Rogue Nation might get them and turn out to be a Threat To Freedom.” The less great nations had several options. They could nod their heads in vigorous agreement, pretend to nod their heads in vigorous agreement, immerse their heads in the sand, or indulge in the foolish option of defiantly sticking their necks out, thus risking Liberation.
Out of the blue one day and in spite of its Greatest Army and Greatest Armaments, The Greatest Country In The World was attacked. Many people were killed and the whole world was watching. “Who has done this thing?” cried the people, turning to their Emperor for guidance. “Why? What can we do?”
“It was one man,” answered The Rich Young Ruler with absolute certainty, and he told the people of an evil crackpot/ rogue billionaire living in a remote cave of the roguest nation of them all. “As for the why, that’s simple. He envied your freedom. We must declare War on Evil at once and bomb this threat away.” The grand viziers nodded wisely as The Rich Young Ruler explained to The Greatest People In The World (who were being quietly invited to cough up the gold for a War on Evil) that their freedom was beyond price. And many were persuaded. For the people had been assured for a very long time that in addition to being The Greatest they were The Freest People In The World. Often as not this meant they were free to grow as obese and indolent as they liked, free to live in fear and paranoia, free to make pornography a leading industry, free to buy goods they didn’t really need or want thanks to the cheap sweat of the less great world’s children, free to say anything they liked so long as it didn’t matter, free to run like rats in a maze or sell their own grandmothers in deference to the Greatest Economy In The World, free to build bigger prisons and occupy them, free to produce and sell and consume any snake oil under the sun so long as it made money. But Free they were, and many were persuaded.
Every day the rich young ruler conferred with his divinity (The Greatest Divinity In The World, not too surprisingly). Every day his trusty viziers wheeled in the sacred mirrors and kindled the holy smoke that together might allow the Anointed One a tête-à-tête with his divine confidante. One day the Greatest Leader In The World felt moved to declare: “God is my Favorite Philosopher!” And some of the people purred. “One Nation Under God!” clamored the more strident among them. “God Bless The Greatest Country In The World!”
After several consultations with his favorite philosopher, the Rich Young Ruler announced that capital punishment, prison, corporate irresponsibility, debt, war, and a more thoroughly gelded media were The Divinity’s Delight. His viziers smiled and purred, and so did some of the people. One day the Vizier of War wheeled in a massive mirror. It wobbled on its steel carriage, and waited. The Vizier of War struck a match and a plume of smoke rolled toward heaven. “O Favorite Philosopher,” the Rich Young Ruler addressed the mirror, careful not to look too closely into it. “What do I do next?”
“Declare pre-emptive war,” replied God without a moment’s hesitation. “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
“I hear and obey O Favorite Philosopher,” replied the Emperor, humbly lowering his head while a throng of select eunuchs converged with their cameras. Mirrors and viziers came and went. Flashbulbs shone, the smoke rolled. At the end of the day, when the Rich Young Ruler had jogged and dined and was debating whether to turn in early or take in some of the Monday Night Game, a strange thing happened. The fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the palace wall just as they had in the palace of King Belshazzar. But unlike Belshazzar’s, the Emperor’s color did not change, his thoughts did not alarm him, his limbs did not give way, his knees did not knock together.
“What the devil?” he cried in a tone more than halfway contemptuous. “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN?? Sounds greek to me.” And so the Greatest Leader In The World of The Greatest Country In The World went to bed without even trying to read the writing on the wall, merely making a note to himself that in the morning he would inform The Greatest People In The World that he had decided to take a month off.