Many years ago, but more recently than you would care for, there was a President so exceedingly fond of new hotels, golf courses and all the things that money could buy that he spent all his money on decorating his luxurious Penthouses. He cared nothing about reviewing his soldiers, avoiding nuclear war, or condemning racism, he spent all his time gazing at his beautiful golf courses. and instead of saying, as one might, about any other ruler, “The Presidents in council,” here they always said. “The Presidents in his jacuzzi.”
In the great city where he lived, life was always gay, except in certain states where it was an abomination. Every day many strangers came to town, and among them one day came two swindlers. They let it be known they were architects , and they said they could build the most magnificent buildings imaginable. Not only were their colors and masonry skills uncommonly fine, but buildings made of their bricks had a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.
The President heard of these two visitors and thought of a cunning idea – In order to protect all his lovely things he decided to build the biggest wall the kingdom had ever seen, he declared on Twitter. “Bigger is better.”
“Those bricks are the ones for me,” thought the President.
“If I built this wall I would be able to discover which men in my country are unfit for their posts. And I could tell the wise men from the fools. Yes, I certainly must get a wall built straight away, and I will get my neighbours to pay for it.” He chuckled to himself.
He paid the two swindlers a large sum of money, for he had saved a lot over the years as he had a clever trick to avoid paying tax, and the swindlers agreed to start work at once. They set up two workbenches and wheeled in a cement mixer and they pretended to build a wall, though there was nothing on their benches and nothing in their mixer. All the finest materials and the purest paint which they demanded went into their traveling bags, while they worked their empty workbenches far into the night.
“I’d like to know how those architects are getting on with the wall,” the President thought, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfit for their position would not be able to see the bricks. It couldn’t have been that he doubted himself, yet he thought he’d rather send someone else to see how things were going. The whole city knew about the wall’s peculiar power, and all were impatient to find out how stupid their neighbors were.
“I’ll send my honest son in-law to the site,” the President decided. “He’ll be the best one to tell me how the materials looks, for he’s a sensible man and no one does his duty better.”
So the honest son in-law went to the site where the two swindlers sat working away at their empty work stations.
“Heaven help me,” he thought as his eyes flew wide open, “I can’t see anything at all”.
But he did not say so. Both the swindlers begged him to be so kind as to come near to approve the excellent blueprints and the beautiful contours. They pointed to the empty cement mixers, and the poor son in-law stared as hard as he dared. He couldn’t see anything, because there was nothing to see.
“Heaven have mercy,” he thought. “Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the president’s son in-law and chief greeter of Russian Ambassadors? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the wall.”
“Don’t hesitate to tell us what you think of it,” said one of the architects.
“Oh, it’s beautiful -it’s enchanting.” The son in-law peered through his spectacles.
“Such design, what marvellously shaped bricks, no one will ever be able to come into our country again!” I’ll be sure to tell the President how delighted I am with it.”
“We’re pleased to hear that,” the swindlers said.
They proceeded to name all the colors and to explain the intricate skill required to build such a mighty wall. The son in-law paid the closest attention, so that he could tell it all to the President. And so he did.
The swindlers at once asked for more money to get on with the building. But it all went into their pockets. Not a cent went into building anything but still they worked hard day and night.
The President presently sent another trustworthy official to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to him that had happened to the son in-law. He looked and he looked, but as there was nothing to see at the building site he couldn’t see anything.
“Isn’t it a beautiful piece of masonry?” the swindlers asked him, as they displayed and described their imaginary plans.
“I know I’m not stupid,” the man thought, “so it must be that I’m unworthy of my good office. That’s strange. I mustn’t let anyone find it out, though.”
So he praised the wall he did not see. He declared he was delighted with the beautiful design and the significant progress. To the President he said, “It held me spellbound. No one will ever trample your golf greens again, sir, especially our neighbours, who have no respect for how mighty you are.”
All the country was now talking of this splendid brick work, and the President wanted to see it for himself while it was still being built. Attended by a band of chosen men, among whom were his two most trusted officials – the ones who had been to the architects – he set out to see the two swindlers. He found them building with might and main, but without a drop of cement on their trowels.
“Magnificent,” said the two officials already duped. “Just look, Mr President, what colors! What architectural brilliance!”
They pointed to the empty workbenches, each supposing that the others could see the stuff.
“What’s this?” thought the President. “I can’t see anything. This is terrible!
Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be the President? What a thing to happen to me of all people! – Oh! It’s very strong and structurally sound,” he said. “It has my highest approval.”
Nothing could make him say that he couldn’t see anything. His whole retinue stared and stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the President in exclaiming, “Oh! It’s bigger than the wall of China,” and they advised him to have a ribbon cutting ceremony at his inauguration, so the masses can gaze upon his towering erection, the proof of his ultimate masculinity.
“Magnificent! Excellent! Unsurpassed!” were bandied from mouth to mouth, and everyone did his best to seem well pleased. The President gave each of the swindlers a cross to wear in his buttonhole, and the title of “Chief Security Advisor – Wall Specialists.”
Before the procession the swindlers sat up all night and burned more than six candles, to show how busy they were finishing the President’s new wall. They pretended to take the wall to un-parelled heights, climbing huge ladders and banging their hammers.
And at last they said, “Now the President’s new wall is ready for him.”
Then the President himself came with his noblest noblemen, and the swindlers each raised an arm and pointed towards the imaginary wall.
They said, “This is the finest wall in all the world, it will keep all invaders and scroungers out of your city. The bricks are made to be light as a spider web. We have also included turrets so you can look out upon your kingdom and look down upon your citizens. One would almost think there is no wall there at all.”
“Exactly,” all the noblemen agreed, though they could see nothing, for there was nothing to see.
“Perhaps the President will condescend to take a tour of the battlements,” said the swindlers. The President agreed and bounded athletically up the gangplanks. He stared out anxiously at the top of the wall that wasn’t there. Was he supposed to step out into nothing.
“What do you think Mr President, isn’t it wonderful. So solid and impenetrable!” He heard on all sides.
The President waved at the citizens below, who had gathered in great numbers (albeit not in the vast numbers claimed by the press department) to see the great wall. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, what a great wall, worthy of a great president!” Everyone bought into the great delusion, to admit otherwise would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No President had every been so popular, full of funny phrases, and seemingly plain talking, and the wall was his finest achievement.
“But there is nothing there,” a little child said.
And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “There is no wall there. A child says there is no wall there.”
“There isn’t anything there!” the whole city cried out at last.
The President, who wasn’t a humble man, suspected they were right. But he thought, “I can’t show weakness.” So he walked out proudly into the nothingness and like humpty dumpty ended up crumbled on the ground, broken and humiliated.
Copyright John de Gruyther 2017
This is my modern adaptation of The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen.