Israela Margalit is a playwright, television writer, concert pianist, recording artist, and recently a published author of short fiction and nonfiction, with awards or honors in all categories.
Thank you for taking my question, General. General! I heard you were disciplined, but they didn’t take away your title. Once a general always a general. They let you keep your title no matter the offense. You’d think they’d remove the title, so history books wouldn’t be filled with crooks, but no: an impeached president, or a president who resigns in disgrace, is a president for life and posterity. They let you keep your title because title equals benefits, so regardless of how profoundly you betrayed your oath of office, and no matter how you abused the public trust, we—we the citizens—will be covering your generous health insurance, and providing you with a cushy pension for life. I wonder how does it feel to be addressed as “General” when you know full well you have no troops to command, nor will you ever have any—okay, never say never, and it’s entirely possible that your friends will make you a front man for a think tank, but an active general? Never again. There are no second acts in the army, so that’s where my question begins. You fascinate me General, and I don’t say that facetiously, I truly look up to you in so many ways—I mean, some make their careers with the help of a family name, or a wife’s family’s old money, but you really earned your title. You devoted your entire life to the army, you fought hard, commanded well, demonstrated leadership, climbed up the ranks, set a moral example, nearly reached the pinnacle of power—one step away from being a presidential candidate sure to become his party’s nominee, with an excellent chance of winning—don’t we just love to elect our John Waynes? So, this long introduction is finally leading to my question, which is, what kind of madness, uncontrolled lust, moral collapse, loss of judgment, or simple frivolity took over to compel you to throw away your entire career and everything you stood for in exchange for a series of orgasms and the adoring gaze of a woman? The way you’re looking at me, I see I caught you by surprise. I’m sorry, I thought you’d be prepared for this question, unless you’re in denial—are you? Or did you expect the world to be polite, to pretend that you’re devoid of blemish, unmarred by shadows, the ideal commander, the perfect man? Now I feel bad, you look uncomfortable, nonplussed, as if I misunderstood what happened to you—maybe it was not a horrible impulse that took hold of you, maybe you were then, as now, in full control of your faculties, fully aware of the risks, doing whatever the heck you felt like in a classic case of a nobody-can-touch-me I’m-above-the-law they-idolize-me they’ll-never-point-a-finger-at-me they-can’t-do-without-me kind of supremely misguided sense of superiority that eventually brought you to this sorry state where a little nobody like me can lecture you in a room full of people? Which brings me to another point—this is not personal, I assure you, I’m not trying to embarrass you, I’m not even judging you, I’m truly and deeply interested in the human condition. Granted, you probably can’t view your own tragedy through the prism of objective analysis—not that I lack compassion for self-imploding heroes—in fact, that’s the crux of the matter since the demise of the little person, as sad as it might be, is of small consequence in comparison to the effect of the treacherous psyche of a man who could make history like you, but maybe I’m on the wrong track? Maybe you had what they call Imposter Syndrome? Did you self-destruct because deep down you felt unworthy of the task, undeserving of the accolades, fearful of failing, terrified of your incompetence being exposed? We’ve seen this phenomenon again and again—beautiful men who seduce the country to trust that their outer façade matched their inner selves, only to practically beg us to assist them in ending the charade. And don’t many of us engage in self-loathing to the point of alienating people before they desert us? Examples abound but you—you General, your achievements were real, you had the right stuff, and yet—well, here is something else I’d like to explore if you will—since we know how badly you dealt with the onus of success, the question is, how have you dealt with failure? Was—is—failure easier to handle than success, and does the adrenaline flow more vigorously when you’re fighting your way back up from below rather than when you try to hold on to your place at the top for dear life? I mean …
Applause across the hall. The general has finished his lecture. The master of ceremonies approaches the podium.
“The General will take a few questions.”
He looks straight at her. Is her hand dangling in the air? She scratches her head with intensity, trying to conceal her misguided intent to draw his attention, but it’s too late. He points a finger at her.
“The young lady in the third row.”
She stands up. Her knees feel weak. She looks at the general. He has a strong chin.
“What is your question, Miss?” asks the master of ceremonies.
She swallows hard. “I … well … I meant to ask …“
The general looks at her kindly. “Somerset Maugham once said there are no bad questions. There are only bad answers.”
Everybody laughs. Her gaze sticks to him. He’s smiling charmingly. His eyes don’t change expression. Hard. A man like him can have nine lives. He can fall and rise again from the ashes. He can make people pay for judging him.
“My question, General, is about the refugee crisis—if you were our president today, how would you reconcile human rights with national security?”
“An excellent question,” he says. Then he talks brilliantly about the topic, but she’s too saddened by her lack of valor to listen.