I’ve just wrapped up my shift at BurgerBoy and I don’t have much time before the weekly self-criticism session at town hall. This hour with my diary is precious, especially when I have to make a big decision. Writing used to be my job, but it’s so much more difficult after eight straight hours on my feet. It’s been more than a year since the disastrous 2024 election and I can’t overestimate how much I miss my old life.
But I shouldn’t complain. Some of my former colleagues from the newspaper have it so much worse. My editor, for instance, is picking tomatoes not far from here under the hot Florida sun, which isn’t easy for a 45-year-old with bad knees. One of our former White House pool reporters is at a nearby chicken-processing plant. The few times we’ve met for a cup of coffee, I couldn’t bear to look at her hands.
If I had a choice, I wouldn’t be slinging burgers and dumping shoestring potatoes into a fryer 55 hours a week, breathing in that oil-clogged air and barely keeping up with the lunchtime rush. But it’s not as physically demanding as working in the fields or chopping up chickens on a frigid factory floor.
We’ve been at these jobs for six months, which is how long the new Civilian Conservation Corps—a name borrowed from President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal but with none of the social-democratic content—has been up and running. At the newspaper, we all thought the new president was joking when he promised to revive the old Biden administration idea of a youth climate corps. Of course, he did so with a grim focus all his own and a new slogan that “everyone has to pitch in to make America great again!”
Left unsaid was the administration’s plan to deport millions of undocumented workers and plunge the country into a desperate labor crisis. What’s more, the president blocked all new immigrants from what he called “shithole countries” and somehow expected incoming Scandinavians to fill the vacuum, though Swedes and Norwegians were clearly uninterested in moving to America en masse to cut lawns and build skyscrapers at non-Scandinavian wages.
So, that left us, the former “expert class,” newly unemployed, to do the work.
“We’re going to send those reporters and other freeloaders down to the countryside to get a real education,” the president insisted when he signed the Civilian Conservation Corps into law. “This is the first step in really draining the swamp.”
After a lifetime dedicated to exposing the corruption, legislative double-dealing, and bureaucratic insanities of Washington, my journalistic colleagues and I never thought of ourselves as actual inhabitants of the swamp. We were the zoologists. We developed the taxonomies and performed the autopsies. So, we dutifully reported on the president’s speech, never thinking it applied to us.