We crossed the bridge without trouble, and on the other side, a dirty, beat-up Ford Focus was waiting for us. The car looked like it would barely run, and the driver was a young man who reminded me of Maddy in many ways. He was quiet and didn’t say anything when we quickly jumped in the back. I asked Maddy how they knew each other, and Maddy only said they worked together. He told me the driver was “one of the good guys” and not to worry. From there, we cut through the lower east side of downtown Cincinnati toward Mount Adams.
I’d heard all about the infamous Mount Adams, where most of the violence took place during the early years of zone implementation. It remained a hotbed for still-active political terrorists. The violence didn’t take sides inside the zone, as evidenced by the sights in front of me. Passing through the lower part of downtown—full of half-empty skyscrapers, the never-used underground subway tunnels, filth and stench, and lost-looking people—almost made me sick. It felt odd to see all the people...those put there because, my daddy claimed, they’d never learned how to work for a living. I loved my daddy, but there were times in my past when I didn’t know who to believe. I suspected those times would become more frequent now that I was in the middle of this mess he created. The good part was that we zoomed by; roads were empty and nothing seemed to work, especially stoplights.
Within another five minutes, we finally arrived at the bottom of Mount Adams, which was still a hotspot for trouble. The other parts of the zone were just sad and dangerous, and that made Cincinnati sad and dangerous. It was called “tough-love” in the South, but no one had to pretend; everyone knew what this place was really about. When they decided to make Cincinnati’s lower downtown a national reform zone, it wasn’t directed against the city; it was the state of Ohio they hated…the must-win swing state that went blue in 2008 and 2012. Cincinnati just happened to mark the political border…with red below, blue above…and it pretty much stayed that way during the recovery years. When those in power realized that Ohio would never implement new policies necessary to ensure economic recovery, they wrote policies to ensure Cincinnati and the rest of Ohio were left out. Everyone living inside the zone was ineligible for a job under the new national employment placement program, which forced everyone to live on government handouts. And then the city was filled with left-wing radicals to blame, and no one bothered to ask why or how long?
Historians still disagree about how the aftermath of the Black Crash “really” played out…starting with a Congressional investigation of a lot of Washington insiders—senior government officials, financiers, academic leaders, media, organized labor, Hollywood cronies—who allegedly assisted in the collapse. No one attached to the Oval Office was involved, but even so, the concept of so many liberals in the echelons of power wanting our nation’s economy to collapse was enough to take back the nation by attacking the start of the nightmare—McCain and Romney losses in the key swing states. Those states were vehemently hated, and Ohio was at the top of the list.
That’s why Cincinnati’s revenge time came fast and hit hard. I didn’t see blood on the streets, but I could tell how hard this city was hit. It was like a black-and-white film compared to the color and glitz of North Atlanta. Part of it made me miss what I’d left behind, and part of it made me glad to be here. I had never traveled far from where I had grown up, but I reasoned that living off Lenox, Tuxedo Road, or in Vinings was just like everywhere else before the Black Crash. I envisioned private estates and grand country clubs lining the Ohio River too, just like those that lined the Chattahoochee going north. In my little bubble, people couldn’t spend enough, and couldn’t have enough.
That money dried up after the Crash, for everyone. But before 2014, I’m sure the money in Cincinnati showed as well as it did down south. Or did it? The dirty streets I saw as we raced through downtown didn’t give me one clue that anything grand and shiny ever existed here. Almost all the storefronts were boarded up, and no sign of a living economy existed anywhere. The stores that were open carried used stuff; I’d never seen so many “used goods” signs, and it struck home. That was one of my daddy’s policy recommendations: manufacturers were to ship nothing new into the reform zones. If they want to be Communists, let them live like Communists. Some people shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from our recovery and our American way of life. Let them rot in the poverty they love so much. Let them burn in their progressive hell.
All this nonsense seemed to be the battle cry for much of the nation, especially against the fifteen or so states that held the most blame for the 2015 Crash, but showed no remorse afterwards. That was how the Red State-Blue State political demarcation evolved. It wasn’t planned by some rightwing think tank led by rich lobbyists, and it wasn’t financed by a high-powered political action group. It was commonsense capitalism, and it infuriated the already dwindling progressive side, shocked the middle toward the right, and left a conservative leadership limitless after 2016.
But as good as this success story sounds–at least for much of the nation—America’s quick economic recovery didn’t come without tragedy, and that’s rarely talked about down South. Before the Black Crash, if someone had predicted that the conservatives would be the ones who stole away our privacy rights and imposed apartheid-like separation laws, the world would have called them crazy. And knowing what I know now about pre-Crash America, I would have said the same…had I not been taught well. But our leaders did well and so did my textbooks. Books covered those earlier progressive threats diligently, and left nothing for misinterpretation. After the Crash, nothing was taught about preserving the Constitution; the focus shifted to “using” the Constitution to heal and mend the nation. Some pieces of our nation’s founding document were left intact, others were blacked out like they never existed. Soon after, money started to flow again, and everyone with a revived new hope for making money just stood there and watched as the sacred words of our forefathers took a backseat.
I had to learn about the consequences of trashing the Constitution outside the classroom, most of it from Maddy. He couldn’t talk about it around his classmates, but privately he told me every day about the riots in the northern cities. We talked sometimes about Atlanta and all the other major southern cities that burned during the Civil War, but he reasoned this time Fate had played a horrible trick on humanity. This time cities like Cincinnati, Detroit, Baltimore, Newark, and Jersey City were burning, and carpetbaggers were headed in the opposite direction.
As much as Maddy liked to tell me about Fate and how awful the South was for letting it happen, he never ended without making it personal. “The world has gone crazy, just because it lost all its money, and politicians like your daddy are the cause of all of it.”
I would sit and listen as he rambled on. “He caused all these cities to burn and he is the one who brainstormed a new economic order that intentionally left half the nation out. And he is the one who created this domestic separation plan to relocate political opposition to reform zones. This is political slavery,” he’d argue, and then he’d cap it off each time with the same yell. “We should have a choice! We all have a choice!”
Most of the time, I’d yell back, even though I agreed with some of what Maddy said. “You’re the crazy one, so don’t talk about my daddy like that,” I’d argue back. “There will never be a long-term separation policy in America…home of the free. The zones are there to protect the recovery. When the recovery is complete, the zones will go.” And then I closed the argument with the staple reply my daddy told me to use. “If there are political slaves up north, it’s because they chose to stay on the plantation and inside the ghetto. Those fools up north love to keep people in bondage, but for the rest of the country, the plantation and ghetto days are over.”
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