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tabatha southey

America has now formalized the arrangement. The country is officially governed by its worst instincts.

The situation is widely accepted to be pretty grim, but I was lucky enough to score an interview with the country's new leader.

America's Worst Instincts consented to an on-the-record conversation, provided I agreed to meet with him at either a historic church in Europe, where I would listen to him talk really loudly, or at a dining establishment federally mandated to have a sneeze guard.

I chose the latter option, and America's Worst Instincts was already there when I arrived.

"Hey!" America's Worst Instincts shouted. "I already got us a table, it's right next to the kitchen door!"

"How lovely," I said. "Congratulations on the new job, replete with awesome responsibilities for which you – believing as you do that suffering is earned, is necessary for human progress and is a well-earned morale booster for the non-suffering – are uniquely temperamentally unqualified."

"Thanks!" America's Worst Instincts said, pouring a little water into his beer.

"Sometimes a Bud Light Lime is just a little hoppy for me," he explained. "To be honest, I wasn't even aware that abstract collections of negative societal traits were eligible to govern our nation, but I'm as proud as I am surprised!" he said.

Then, because when people begin a sentence with "To be honest," they are nearly always lying, he added, "Okay, I'm not really surprised; my monumental sense of exceptionalism makes actual surprise at my own success impossible!"

He began to tuck eagerly into a serving of sweet potatoes covered in melted miniature marshmallows before him.

"Wow, how big is that plate?" I said in – let's just call it awe – as I pulled my measuring-tape keyring out my purse.

"That's a handy measuring instrument you got there – oooh, it's metric!" America's Worst Instincts said, dropping his fork. "Just give me a moment and I'll go over all those tiny numbers in gold Sharpie for you and get them out of your way. I'm a big believer in America's use of a convoluted, internationally incompatible, hand-me-down system of measurement! It is my favourite barrier to international trade and co-operation!"

"You know," I said, hastily slipping my keyring away, "you don't seem like such a bad guy, America's Worst Instincts. Systems of measurement and … "

"Go gallon!" America's Worst Instincts interrupted.

"… Taste in beer aside," I continued, "how bad can this administration be? Maybe I won't add to the pile of 'this-is-awkward,' mildly chagrined How to Survive the Next Four Years columns that all the other straight, white, cisgender columnists are indulging in as we speak. In the interest of keeping it real, I was going to write mine in Ukrainian."

"Thanks, doll face, and by the way, I have nothing against women participating in the work force! I love having women work for me," he said.

"And that's kind of you to say. I really am my father's – Humanity's Worst Instincts – child. You may have heard of him. He governed parts of Europe at times. He was pretty big in Germany, Italy and Spain for a while, but recently people have been all 'Oooh, maybe we should be governed by Our Better Nature? Who is not even famous! I hear Our Better Nature has terrible Nielsen ratings! Sad!"

"Yeah, I was hoping to catch up with America's Better Nature; we have had some good times," I said. "Any idea where I can get in touch?"

"Oh, that opportunity, egalitarianism, entrepreneurialism character? I would check out that Women's March on Washington this weekend. Always had that weakness for huddled masses yearning to be free. Doesn't even like to build massive, prohibitively expensive border walls to keep our shores un-teeming. Cuck!"

"I'll do that. … Hey, America's Worst Instincts," I said, unable any longer to ignore the encroachment pushing gently on the boat-sized running shoes, worn without socks, digging into my thigh.

"Could you please take your feet off my chair? That's my chair and I have a right to exist in it."

"Manifest chair destiny says different!" America's Worst Instincts replied. "Besides, taking your chair would be the best thing I could do for you. You are too seat-dependent. It is my belief that if I knock that chair out from under you and everyone else in this restaurant, they will just start hovering and eventually learn to fly!"

"Have you studied that?" I asked, clutching my armrests and checking for my wallet.

"No, because studies, like people who are ethnically, religiously, culturally, sexually or otherwise different from me, are very frightening!" America's Worst Instincts cried.

"And thus I wish to build a wall between them and me!" he added, as he began to hastily arrange all the packets of Sweet'N Low in a line across the table.

"Nice pink wall," I said.

"No!" he said "It is pink! And anything but a cliché, one-could-say-cartoonish version of masculinity freaks me out as well, and now I must build a wall to protect myself from my other wall and, to be honest" – he winked at me, and not for the first time in our meeting – "I will make that first wall pay for it! Or maybe I must tear my creation down!"

"Why would you do that?" I asked. "What part of you is driven to tear down what Americans laboured to create?"

"I guess you're right," America's Worst Instincts sighed. "My self-destruction schedule is already pretty full. I've put a lot of hours into threatening to tear up free-trade agreements that are overwhelmingly advantageous to my country, and to depriving as many people as possible of health care, and to undermining confidence in NATO. I mean, what has an unprecedented ability to project military force across the world ever done for me anyway?"

"Trade wars, actual wars, seeing to it that people who get sick also go bankrupt – where does a devil on a national shoulder find the time?" I asked.

"That's not even getting into the efforts I'm putting into coddling racists. Sensitive think pieces don't write themselves, but my fingers now type 'economic anxiety' in my sleep," he said, snapping the suspenders he was wearing with a belt.

"What else can the personification of a nation's most base impulses do?" I asked.

"Well, I am going to eat this salad, for starters!" he said.

"That is not a salad," I said, my patience now tried.

"Look, no one ever said marshmallows couldn't be a salad!" he bellowed.

"I'm pretty sure God said marshmallows couldn't be a salad," I replied, because – and this has all been so unreal, you must allow me one Star Trek reference – resistance of any kind is not futile.

"I'm no biblical scholar, but it's got to be in there somewhere," I told him.

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