After this week’s unfortunate incident, by which I mean the election of He Whose Hands Must Not Be Mentioned, I’ve had enough of American politics. The war in Eastern Ukraine hasn’t been in the news much in the past couple years. It’s turned into a frozen conflict—a stalemate between two rebel enclaves and a Ukraine that can’t take them back without starting an all-out war with Russia.
Since I’ve done a couple metaphysical interviews with the rebels before, I thought I’d pop over and see how things are going. As you may remember from previous posts, a metaphysical interview is where instead of talking to someone, you speculate about what they might say. This is a legitimate journalistic technique now. Half of what you find in the media was made up too.
I met my old friend Pavel in a café in Donetsk, the capital and largest city of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. The café was in what seemed to be the trendiest district of town, by which I mean only half the block was bombed out or boarded up.
“So how are things?” I asked Pavel.
“Excellent!” he said. “Granted, our people eke out a grim existence in the face of unceasing war. But the Donetsk People’s Republic is no longer a miserable enclave run by thugs and populated mostly by people too old to flee. We are now a truly democratic country. We just had our first truly democratic election.”
“Pavel,” I said, “I was here the last time you held a vote, and someone could only call that ‘democratic’ if they were lying through their teeth.”
“Not this time.” He grinned. “This time we used truly democratic procedures. We took them from the birthplace of democracy, the United States.”
“Usually people say the birthplace of democracy was Athens. It was, you know, a democracy two thousand years before the US came along.”
Pavel snorted. “Getting people together, debating the issues, and having them vote—that is not true democracy. Let me show you how true democracy works.” He took out an iPad and brought up a map of the enclave overlaid by a grid. “First step was, we divided the Donetsk People’s Republic into squares.”
“Why would you do that?”
“The United States is divided into states,” said Pavel, “and most of them are square, or pretty close. So we just used squares. It was easiest. Now the first step in the election is the primary race.” He tapped his tablet and an overlay appeared on the map, showing a road that wound through the grid. “The race starts here, at my cousin Iovan’s farm.”
“It starts at one farm.”
“It starts in that square. But there are only a few villages, and everybody but Iovan either fled the war or refused to go to the caucuses—something about the vote being a mockery. So the first step in the primary race ended up being when the candidates try to convince Cousin Iovan to support them. The ones he supports get momentum.”
“This is good because…”
“Momentum propels things forward. That means the candidate can skip some of the later votes. But if they lose momentum, they have to go back and do the previous votes again.”
“Um, Pavel,” I said, “that’s not an election. That’s Snakes and Ladders.”
Pavel frowned. “I thought it seemed familiar. Doesn’t matter. The primaries are only the first stage. The candidates who win them go on to the campaign.”
“Dare I ask what the campaign is like?”
“It is very democratic. The candidates hold rallies and debate each other. Newspapers make endorsements. Vladimir Putin makes an endorsement too, only he doesn’t tell you what it is. He just has hackers steal information about the other candidates and release anything that might be embarrassing. Then after the campaign is election night. We hold a vote in each square, and the candidate who gets the most votes, gets all the votes from that square.”
“That’s kind of weird,” I said.
“It was fun!” said Pavel. “Counting votes is so boring. One candidate gradually gets ahead—yawn. This way, you get to watch squares flip over on election night. There is very complicated strategy too, because there are safe squares and swing squares. The candidates cannot just try to appeal to the voters, but must devise a Path to Victory. Who will win the crucial swing square of Five Villages Near the Don River Plus the Southeastern Corner of Komsomolske? That one was a real nail-biter.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” I said. “So what was the outcome?”
Pavel looked down at the table. “The outcome was less fun. The winner was Bobov the Angry Clown.”
“Bobov has a popular TV show. He tells racist jokes while scantily-clad women dance around. Many voters thought he was a real man, very virile. Probably because his wig is shaped like a giant pair of testicles.”
“You’re telling me that people voted for a clown.”
“Actually, most of them voted for someone else. But Bobov won the most squares. His voters were more efficiently distributed. See, his opponent won most of her votes in this one square here.”
“That square says ‘City of Donetsk’.”
“That is where the city is, yes,” said Pavel.
“And that’s where most of the people live, right?”
“I think I can guess why she won most of her votes there.”
“But it is only one square,” said Pavel. “Bobov won lots of squares by very narrow margins. So he won the election.”
“That’s crazy,” I said. “How much did he lose the popular vote by? Was it close?”
Pavel shrugged. “We don’t know. We didn’t finish counting. Once it was clear Bobov won, why bother counting the rest of the votes?” I stared at him in shock. He fidgeted with his napkin. “I mean, we’ll get it done eventually. Maybe sometime in December.”
“So you had a truly democratic election where a bunch of votes haven’t even been counted because they don’t matter. That’s what you’re telling me?”
Pavel crossed his arms. “I am deeply offended by your skeptical tone. This was a truly democratic election where every citizen of the People’s Republic could vote. Unless they had been convicted of a crime. Or had unpaid parking tickets. And they registered at least six weeks in advance, and brought two pieces of photo ID, plus a valid credit card. The credit card is for age verification purposes only.”
“If that’s how you ran your election,” I said, “it doesn’t surprise me you ended up electing a clown. Did he even have a platform, or was he running as a joke?”
“His core policy is to build a wall on the border with Moldova. He wants to stop Moldovans from coming in and taking our jobs.”
“Yeah. Pavel, your enclave doesn’t border on Moldova. Moldova’s like five hundred miles west of here.”
“Our voters know that!” said Pavel. “Of course they do. I mean, they know now. Right after the election results were announced, everybody got out their phones and googled ‘Where is Moldova again?’”
I shook my head.
“So the last step in our truly democratic election was,” Pavel said, “we called up Putin and asked him to annul the whole thing. But it turns out he is a big fan of the Bobov Show.” Pavel forced himself to smile. “We are determined to work constructively with our new leader.”
“Good luck with that,” I said.