On January 20, 2017, Donald John Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.
Nearly fifty years prior to that day, I died so this event could come to pass.
You see, in late 1968, Trump received a medical deferment from military conscription for alleged bone spurs in his feet. This meant that he was ineligible for military service.
This also meant that the next person in the nationwide conscription queue was grabbed for involuntary military service.
That next person turned out to be me – Allen Bradley Zimson – nineteen-year-old community college dropout and jack-of-all trades at my small town’s only hardware store.
Shortly after Christmas of 1968, I started the sequence of events that would lead to my death eight months later. Induction physical, boot camp, and advanced infantry training followed by three weeks leave at home before shipping out. About six months total.
Two months into my tour, our unit was targeted by enemy field artillery. For me, the engagement was over in seconds. It seems an artillery round passed through my torso, setting off the shell’s explosive fuse. I literally disappeared in a blast of heat and light.
There were no remains to return home for burial.
Such was the life – and death – of conscripted cannon fodder without family money and connections during the Vietnam War.
I had never given much thought to an afterlife but, soon after my untimely demise, I found myself learning the ropes of eternity. Unsurprisingly, it had much more to offer than mortal existence, particularly the last eight months of my life spent in the military.
Almost immediately after my arrival in eternity, I was assigned a mentor, Karl, who had died on the Russian front in 1942 as a conscript in Germany’s army.
“So,” I asked, “how did I come to have a former soldier as a mentor on this side of mortality?”
“It seems,” Karl replied, “that those conscripted in place of someone who avoided military service have the opportunity to track the life of that person. I started tracking my subject with the guidance of a Russian army conscript in the first world war who died fighting Germany. A bit ironic since I died fighting the Russians in the next major conflict.”
“How’s that working out for you?” I asked.
“It’s interesting,” Karl replied. “I check in on my guy from time to time and it seems he survived the war and is now working for East German internal security – the ultimate rat. It’ll be interesting to see how things go for him in the coming years.”
“So,” I asked, “what happens from this point forward?”
“Until the person you died in place of passes, you get to check up on him any time you want. I’ll show you the basics of eternity and how to follow your evader’s life to see what’s happening and determine if your sacrifice was worth it. Maybe he’ll live to help cure cancer.”
I nodded in response.
“Do we know who I died for?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Karl replied, “it’s someone named Donald John Trump. Seems he comes from a family with more money than you and I could ever dream of.”
“Figures,” I remarked. “There were no sons of the rich and well connected in the army I was drafted into. So what’s this Trump guy doing now?”
“Let’s take a peek. Just focus on his name and you’ll get a mental picture of what’s going on with him right now in the mortal world.”
“Sounds easy enough,” I replied, and just let the name take the lead in my mind. “Seems he’s into real estate development – whatever that is – with his rich father,” I said. “As near as I can figure, there’s a lot of wheeling and dealing with tons of money and even more risk involved.”
“Risk?” Karl asked. “As in getting killed or maimed?”
“Don’t I wish,” I replied. “It seems all the risk has to do with losing other people’s money. Doesn’t sound very interesting. Maybe we can come back in a few years to see what’s changed. Any ideas as to what should I be doing with my time until then?”
“Yeah,” Karl said, “let’s let things coast for a while. I found that following someone on a daily basis was largely a waste of time. For now, all you need to do is let me know what you would have liked to have done with your life if it hadn’t been cut short.”
“A college degree,” I said without a moment’s hesitation. “In geography. Maps and far away places have always fascinated me but I never had the money to take care of myself and go to school.”
“Got ya covered,” Karl replied. “Let’s get you connected with people who can make that happen.”
A few days later, I was enrolled at eternity’s answer to a university campus. In five years, I was a college graduate. One of my instructors turned out to be Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal.
Pretty cosmic – no way I could have pulled this off in mortality. After graduation, I reconnected with Karl.
“Hey, college boy,” Karl greeted, “how did academia treat you?”
“Pretty well,” I replied. “A lot tougher than I thought it would be and I had to repeat a few classes.”
“Yeah, there are no free rides in eternity but you have all the time you need to be as good as you can be at whatever you decide to try. Any plans for what’s next?”
“Looking to try a variety of physical activities – starting with archery and working my way through yoga. That should keep me busy for a while.”
“Ambitious guy,” Karl noted. “Maybe you should become my mentor.”
“Thanks, but I’d like to keep things the way they are until both our draft dodgers have passed,” I replied.
“Fair enough. Let’s have a peek at how those we died for are doing. Looks to be the late 70s in the mortal world,” Karl said.
Each of us focused on our person of interest.
“So,” I asked, “how’s your guy doing?”
“Moving up the ranks in the country’s security structure. Seems he’s now specializing in ferreting out NATO agents in the East. Who knew that evil could lead to such personal success? And, your guy?”
“Trump is still wheeling and dealing, now with more than a bit of trouble attached,” I replied.
“How so?” Karl asked.
“Seems he’s been lying like crazy about his wealth and where it came from, not to mention being on the butt end of multiple lawsuits. Maybe both our sacrifices were a waste.”
“Yeah,” Karl agreed, “and that’s a great excuse to find some good beer and forget about the mortal world for a while.”
After a few hours of drowning their seemingly wasted sacrifices, the duo agreed to meet again on New Year’s Day 1990.
At the appointed time, the two connected yet again.
“So,” I asked, “how’s the past decade been treating you?”
“Pretty quiet,” Karl replied. “I followed your lead and spent most of the time in academia, taking courses that interested me and just building an increased knowledge base. I never mentioned it but, I came from a working-class background without much of a dynamic future. I was actually a plumber before I was conscripted. What were you before the military got its mitts on you?”
“Deliriously happy,” I responded with a snort. “And alive.”
Karl burst out in laughter.
“Actually,” I continued, “I was a generally unmotivated college dropout spinning my wheels with a dead-end job waiting for something – I never figured out what – to happen.”
Karl just nodded an acknowledgement to our common, undirected, and humble roots.
“Anyway,” Karl said, “my draft dodger has spent the past ten years pursuing his niche in state-sponsored evil although there seems to be some unraveling going on in East Germany and other countries allied with the Russians. The safe money is that something big is going to happen soon.
“What’s your Trump been up to?”
“Increased levels of wheeling and dealing with lawsuits filed against him and him suing others,” I replied. “Suing seems to be the favorite indoor sport for the wealthy. He even published a book although it seems is was all but totally ghost written by someone else. Also, he’s now married and cranked out some kids. I feel sorry for anyone who has this guy for a father.
“On the personal side, I’ve really stepped outside my old comfort zone and have tried just about every sport or extreme activity there is. Better at some than others.”
We talked and drank for several hours and agreed to meet New Year’s Day 2000.
“Happy New Year and new century,” I said, greeting Karl as we connected to ring in the new millennium.
“Back at ya,” he replied. “Got some major news from Germany,” he continued with a bit of excitement.
“Oh?” I queried.
“Yeah,” he said, “shortly after our last parting, the Russian domination of eastern Europe collapsed like a snowman in a tropical heatwave. The Berlin Wall came down and Germany is once again a single nation.
“Best of all, when the East German security structure collapsed, the rat I’ve been following for nearly fifty years was ‘outed’, then tracked down and killed by the family of one his victims.”
“Poetic justice,” I remarked.
“The best kind,” Karl said with a satisfied smile. “What’s going on with Trump?”
“He’s been busy on steroids,” I replied. “Since the last time we met, he’s burned through wife number one as well as a second marriage, and now has four kids. As to be expected, he’s still playing big man with other people’s money and keeping lawyers well employed.
“He acquired and subsequently sold a shuttle-style airline after several years of non-profitability. Also, he’s undergone multiple corporate bankruptcies. Looks like, despite all his supposed wealth and business acumen, he came pretty close to personal bankruptcy and the bankers put him on a spending allowance.
“My parents did that to me when I was nine.
“While watching Trump, I came across the saying ‘if you owe the bank fifty dollars and can’t pay, you have a problem; if you owe the bank fifty million dollars and can’t pay, the bank has a problem’. The book of his I mentioned earlier is titled The Art of the Deal, but from what I’ve seen over the past several years, it should have been titled The Art of the Fail.
“Seems the rich really are different from the rest of us,” I concluded with a sigh.
Karl nodded silently with a pensive look on his face.
“Looks like you’ve got something on your mind,” I remarked.
“Yeah,” he replied, “with the death of the person I died in place of, it seems I’m being moved on to other things in the eternal scheme. This will be our last meeting. I never realized this would happen.”
“I never thought about how these kinds of thing play out,” I said. “I’d like to thank you for showing me the basics around here.”
“You’re welcome,” Karl replied. “I’m gonna miss our reunions but eternity is pretty easy to navigate once you just go with the flow and simply ‘think’ about what you’d like to do.”
“Do you know,” I asked, “if I’ll be assigned as a mentor?”
“Not sure, but after the American war in Vietnam, the number of conscripts worldwide that ended up dying in someone else’s place really plummeted. The Russians in Afghanistan never came close to matching American social injustice to their own citizens in shipping them off to die. You may be one of the last of your kind. My guess is that once Trump dies, you’ll be directed onto other eternal paths.”
“Well, nothing to do except bide my time until then,” I replied. Trump’s now in his 50s and not the healthiest person on the planet so I’ll probably check up on him once a year or so. Plenty of odds and ends I can do – maybe look into some artistic outlets.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Karl remarked.
We parted with a brother-in-arms hug and Karl vanished from my sight.
With the passage of time, I checked on Trump at the end of each year. As the new millennium’s first decade came to a close, I took stock of what had transpired over the past ten years. Pretty much the same wheeling and dealing with continuing suits and countersuits. On the personal side, he was now on his third wife and fifth child. Seemed to be a life full of constant commotion and turmoil. Not something to which I would have aspired.
It seemed I was just going let the wheels of time spin until Trump died and I could move on.
Was I in for a surprise.
Subsequent checkups at the end of each year were pretty much the same until 2015 when I was stunned to see that Trump was a viable candidate for president. His previous pronouncements for the office were never taken seriously but this time things were different.
Trump won his party’s nomination and began what I came to believe was a campaign based on divisiveness, misogyny, xenophobia, and outright lies. He was bringing the worst of his personal traits to the political arena and bring out those traits in what became known as his “base”.
The conflict Trump brought to the election process had me mesmerized and observing his actions several times a week. It was like watching a never-ending train wreck where each time you looked, more cars and locomotives were added to the accumulating carnage.
Yet, he won the presidency. Despite this, instead of increasing calm, the chaos picked up steam.
Like many others, I found myself spellbound by the spectacle that become the Trump administration – never-ending turmoil that you knew you should stop watching but from which you could never turn away.
Then came the summer of 2019 and beyond – a series of months that seemed to bring out the worst of Trump and his ilk.
July witnessed a rally where the crowd shouted “Send her back” when Trump lashed out at a foreign-born, naturalized citizen congressional representative. Trump made no attempt to quell the crowd but basked in the mob mentality. It seemed like a Hitler-led Nazi rally I had seen in history class movies.
Then, in early August, a domestic terrorist targeted and murdered several ethnic American Hispanics as well as Mexican nationals, taking Trump’s repeated attacks on Hispanics to its ultimate extreme.
Finally, a few weeks later, Trump proclaimed himself to be “the chosen one” and public debate raged between those believing Trump was ordained by God to be president and others who found him to be engaged in idolatry and blasphemy. The divisiveness he promoted caused some to believe Trump was the Antichrist.
Is all this what I unwittingly and unwillingly sacrificed my life to bring about?
If one could suffer from depression in eternity, by the end of the summer, I had certainly reached that point. While I was never a religious person, at one point of extreme exasperation, I muttered aloud “What would Jesus do?”
A moment later, a middle-aged man materialized beside me.
“Whoa!” I exclaimed, clearly startled. The stranger was casually dressed, sporting a neatly trimmed beard and mustache, emanating a quiet demeanor. “I didn’t even see you coming,” I remarked.
“Yes,” the man replied, “I tend to kind of ‘pop in’ on people when I sense a need.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“I’m Jesus,” he said, “and you wondered out loud what I would do regarding all of the turmoil you’re witnessing.”
I stared at the man in disbelief – no way this was Jesus.
“Seriously,” I said. The Jesus?”
“The very same,” came the reply in a modest tone. “I had to end up somewhere. And, you are Allen Zimson, yes?” he asked, extending his right hand.
“Yes, Zimson. Allen Zimson,” I replied as I shook his hand, my mind spinning at meeting Jesus in eternity. “How did you come to be here with me?”
“Actually,” Jesus answered, “Father and I have been following Trump quite closely since his inauguration and becoming aware of his exemption from military service led me to you. I’ve been wondering when you’d ask the WWJD question?”
“What’s WWJD?” I asked, still too rattled to successfully connect the dots in the conversation. “And, who is Father?”
“WWJD is ‘what would Jesus do’, a question asked with increasing frequency in your former society. Father is – well – my spiritual father.”
“Ah, yes, of course. I see now,” I said, getting a bit more of a grip on myself but still somewhat overwhelmed.
“Anyway, to answer your question,” Jesus continued, “regarding the present state of human mortality, neither I nor Father will be doing anything. People set their own paths through free agency and it’s only in eternity that they become fully accountable for their chosen paths. Also, contrary to popular ignorance, we don’t know the future and there really never have been anything resembling miracles. They’ve always been feeble attempts to explain what isn’t understood. The refuge of the obtuse mind, if you will.”
I simply nodded in response and there was a silence between the two of us that seemed to prompt me to continue with any questions.
“So, if there won’t be any divine intervention regarding Trump’s chaos, where’s the accountability?” I asked with a bit bolder tone in my voice.
“It all comes down to having your mortal deeds judged when your spirit arrives here in the afterlife,” Jesus replied.
“I’m guessing Trump will undergo a lot of judgement,” I commented.
“Most of his kind do,” Jesus replied with a nod of confirmation. “Whenever it’s personally convenient, they claim to be living in my name and assert that I’m their personal savior, but the reality is his kind are no Jimmy Carter.”
There was a deliberate, reflective pause.
“I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the peanut farmer,” Jesus added with a smile. “In contrast, Trump has developed all the traits needed to be cast in the role of what is commonly called an ‘antichrist’, someone whose actions and values go against everything Father and I stand for.”
“You say an antichrist, not the antichrist,” I remarked. “What’s the difference?”
“The antichrist will come at the end of days with influence the likes of Trump could never image in the final conflict for human souls. How it will play out is still a great unknown. Whatever current beliefs are held in the mortal world are mere speculation without basis in fact. So many are going to be very surprised.
“Believe me when I tell you with eternal assurance that Trump and all his followers – from his unquestioning and subservient vice to the most obscure of his supporters – will not fare well in eternity. The whole lot of them have treated Trump as the second coming of – well – me,” Jesus said with a grin and a self-effacing laugh.
“But, as it’s written in Mathew 6:24 ‘No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.’
“You’re familiar with the racist shooting in El Paso?” my new friend continued.
“Oh, yes,” I replied. “It was one of the things I was mulling over when you appeared.”
Jesus gave a wry smile.
“Well, Father and I have concluded that Trump’s words incited the shooting and, when his time on earth is over, he will be held as accountable for the murders in equal standing with the shooter. His conduct against those he personally disfavors is contrary to everything I taught and stood for.
“And that ‘Send her back’ rally of his was a far cry from my sermon on the mount.”
“It very much struck me like a Hitler-led Nazi rally from the 1930s,” I said, openly conveying my earlier thoughts.
“Spot on,” Jesus replied. “It may be small comfort to you, but Trump has spent the past fifty years carving out a special niche in Hell for himself at his life’s end. He’s a bottomless pit of toxicity.
“Then there’s the circus of Trump’s impeachment with one politician claiming Trump is suffering more than I did in my last days on earth.”
Jesus paused with a reflective look that indicated I should not speak.
“When that individual passes into eternity, he and I will be having an intense one-on-one session,” Jesus said with a stone-cold firmness.
I silently nodded.
“So,” I asked, feeling increasingly secure in the company of the Father’s son, “any guesses about the end of days?”
“I believe it’s well underway,” Jesus answered, “and has more to do with humanity’s conduct than with the purely spiritual. Increasing and expanding wars along with human based ecological degradation is real and accelerating, putting increased strains on everything that supports the human race. History indicates that people will respond through acts of even more violence against one another, moving us closer to the end times.”
“It sounds ominous and complicated,” I remarked.
“Actually, it’s really very simple,” came the reply. “We are in the early days of a great winnowing, with barely half of the people willing to be the wheat in this sorting but far too many choosing to be the chaff that follow an antichrist. Some label all this as ‘simply politics’ but it goes much deeper into individual and group core values and morals. For Father and me, it’s reached a point where even the most inactive members of Trump’s political party have put their eternal souls in peril.
“Those followers of antichrists such as Trump will isolate themselves behind walls and become victims of their own limits and constrictions. Those choosing another path will be reaching out and building bridges of eternal compassion and find salvation with the ‘others’.
“In the end, it won’t be a pretty picture for those who do not choose wisely,” Jesus concluded.
A moment later my friend faded from sight.
All I could do was shudder for what the future might hold.
Author Notes: With the exception of the inclusion of current and historically relevant persons, the following is a work of creative fiction, including all words spoken by all parties. The text is a fictional commentary on the current human condition using fiction as its medium.
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