You can read this series from the beginning here.
I pushed the button in the lobby for the elevator, hoping to get to ride up to the office alone, but no such luck. Monique rode up with me, and I ever-so-casually pinched my nose shut because I’d seen her out in the alley smoking cigarettes, and she reeked of tobacco.
"You’re being a big baby, Justin," Monique said.
I didn’t like Monique. First of all, Monique was not her name. Her real name was Monica, but she’d been told on her first day that she shouldn’t use that name, so she went by Monique. She’d spent a semester abroad in France, she tended to act sort of European and affected. I didn’t mind that so much. I wasn’t really that unhappy that she and my ex-girlfriend Emma were the other members of the Intern Leadership Committee, and that Monique always voted the way Emma wanted her to vote. But I drew the line at riding the elevator with her after she’d been smoking.
"That’s one of the classic responses to microaggression," I said. "Every time someone commits a microaggression, they can always say that the victim is acting childish, or that they brought it on themselves. It’s not an excuse."
"Oh, for God’s sake," she said. "I went outside to smoke one cigarette, and I stood well away from any doors or windows, even though it’s freezing outside. Grow up."
"You’re just repeating yourself now," I said. "You come in here reeking of tobacco smoke. That’s a microaggression if there ever was one. And now you tease me because I’m responding to it. Another microaggression."
Monique just smirked at me. "According to Emma, I know another thing that’s micro,"
I think, given another couple of seconds, I could have thought up a good comeback to that, but Emma caught us as we came out of the elevator and told us to come and look at the news about what turned out to be the horrible and sickening massacre of French cartoonists in Paris.
Some moments later, the three of us sat down in a conference room to try to figure out what, if anything, we could or should do.
"This is terrorism," Emma said. "Plain and simple. This kind of act can’t be tolerated by a civil society."
"I can’t disagree with the sentiment," I said, "but we can’t be inputting our own emotional responses in for what the former Secretary wants. It’s important to follow her lead in this."
"You can’t imagine she’s in favor of terrorism," Emma said. "Come on. That’s ridiculous."
"She’s said before that it’s important to have empathy for the marginalized Muslim populations in Western Europe," I said. "So, no, I don’t know how she’s going to react to this, and we shouldn’t be the ones to get out in front of her like that."
"Besides," Monique said, "you guys are not really getting what’s going on here, are you? Do you even have passports?"
That was another microaggression, but since there was macro-aggression going on I decided to ignore it for the time being. "I have a passport," I said. There wasn’t anything on it other than stamps for the Bahamas and that one trip to Switzerland my Dad took me on that time to open up that bank account, but I wasn’t about to admit that.
"I have one because I have an aunt in Montreal," Emma said. "But you don’t need a passport to know it was terrorism."
"No," Monique said, "but it helps to understand what Charlie Hebdo is. They’re monsters, is what they are. A vile bunch of racists and sexists, and that’s before we even talk about how they bait the Muslim population."
"I don’t care what sort of cartoons they draw," Emma said. "Nobody deserves to die like that, and we need to say something."
"We don’t need to say that nobody deserves to die like that," I said. "It’s obvious enough without us having to say it. And there are dangers in getting out in front like this. You remember what happened to Romney with the B-word, right?"
"Please don’t mansplain about the B-word, Justin," Monique said.
"It’s important. If Romney had gone after Obama on the facts of the B-word, that would have been the issue. But that’s not what he did. He went after the State Department Twitter account on what they supposedly said about the Cairo riots. He totally got in his own way, and then wasn’t able to make the B-word argument effectively."
"Do you have a point, Justin?" Emma asked.
"We can’t react too quickly. We don’t know all the facts. It’s too easy to embarrass the former Secretary by saying something premature, especially something that boxes her in to a position when we don’t know what that is."
"You’re saying we ask your Aunt Joan," Emma said.
"That’s what I’m saying," I said.
"Make it quick," Aunt Joan said. "I have a briefing for the former Secretary in two hours on the new Obama plan for community college funding."
"Sounds like good policy," I said.
"Not exactly a policy concern," Aunt Joan said. "We’re trying to figure out if the community colleges can use the new funding under the President’s plan to pay honorariums for outside speakers. What is it that you young people need?"
"We need some guidance on how to handle this Charlie Hebdo thing," Emma said. "The #JeSuisCharlie is the biggest trending topic on Twitter. The memes are propagating like crazy. If we can get out in front of it, it might give us a big boost."
"No," Aunt Joan said.
"This is what I’ve been saying," Monique said. "The former Secretary needs to stress how racist and hateful these Charlie Hebdo people are."
"No," Aunt Joan said.
"We need not to say anything until the former Secretary makes a statement," I said. "Once she steps forward, that will tell us what to do."
"No," Aunt Joan said.
"Then what do we do?" I asked.
Aunt Joan stared that withering stare of hers, the one that she uses on people who aren’t quite sure yet whether they want to make a political donation yet. "Children, what is the face of the real enemy?"
"Today, it’s Islamic terrorism," Emma said.
"The white supremacist patriarchy," Monique said.
"Fox News," I said.
"A gold star for Justin," Aunt Joan said.
"So we need to focus on how Fox News is turning a European terrorist incident into an American political issue?" Monique said.
Aunt Joan sighed. "That would be a good starting point. Surely someone over there will say something truly stupid before the day is over. Is that clear enough?"
"Crystal," Emma said. "Thank you."
"Don’t mention it," Aunt Joan said. "Now, scat, all of you."
"Just one thing," Monique said. "If all we ever do is react to what Fox News says, aren’t they setting the agenda?"
"There is only one item on the agenda," Aunt Joan said. "That is getting the nomination for the former Secretary."
"Oh," Monique said.
Aunt Joan relaxed the intensity of her stare, but only a little. "Try to remember that Iowa is over a year away. Whatever political issues are hot now will be stone cold dead by January 2016. On a day-to-day basis, it’s much more important to discredit anything and everything that comes out of the mouth of the Republicans and Fox News than it is for the former Secretary to say anything about anything."
"So, when do we start to really dig into the big issues of the campaign?" Emma asked.
"If we’re lucky," Aunt Joan said, "Romney gets the nomination, and we spend the whole campaign talking about the thing with the dog on top of the car again, and not get to substantive issues until 2017. At which point, we’ll be able to do something decisive. And if you want to be there when that happens, I suggest you get back to work."
We all went down the elevator. Monique stayed on when Emma and I got off, claiming that she needed a smoke break.
"Your aunt is wrong," Emma said. "We can’t just turn our back on terrorism like it doesn’t exist. We ought to stand for something other than getting Hillary elected."
"She’s not really my aunt. And if we don’t get Hillary elected, then it doesn’t matter what we stand for," I said.
"Those guys in Paris knew where they stood, and they wouldn’t let any politician push them around. That took guts."
"And now they’re dead," I said.
"You’re not helping, Justin," Emma said. "It just seems like we’re going about this campaign the wrong way. We have a strong female candidate, with years of practical political experience, one of the most admired women in the world, and we’re not operating from strength. It’s not right. We ought to be out there on the offensive, you know? Opposed to terrorism. Standing up for liberty. It’s frustrating."
I didn’t have anything to say, so I went back to my cubicle and found a photo of Shepard Smith with his eyes closed, and pulled up Photoshop and put in a text box with the Impact font, fifty-point, with a black drop-shadow. I don’t remember now what I put in there, but I think it was funny, or it was meant to be.