Part Four: The Hotseat
“I’d like to thank you all for joining us tonight. Tonight is a very special night for us on The Hotseat, for tonight we are joined—rejoined, really—by a man who was a guest on our program in the very early days of our broadcast. He has agreed to appear tonight as our guest, and does so fully understanding—indeed, having experienced firsthand—our format and expectations. I’m your host, Jacob Lynn, and I’d like introduce you—again—to our guest: Senator Tobias Morgan, welcome back to The Hotseat.”
The studio audience applauds warmly, and Senator Morgan dips his head in acknowledgment. He still carries a strong resemblance to his grandfather: his hair is dark (a trait from his mother’s side), and he doesn’t have a Project Paragon-enhanced physique, but he has the same jawline, and when he talks he radiates the same dedication and resolve. When he talks, some people say they can almost hear Liberty talking in his place. The comparison is all the more bittersweet now that his grandfather is dead.
“Thanks for having me back, Jacob.” His voice is deep and strong, managing to communicate authority, openness, and warmth all at the same time.
Jacob Lynn looks more like a stereotypical college professor than a TV host, complete with tweed jacket, bow tie, and spectacles. He’s occasionally referred to as the “Mister Rogers of news entertainment” because he projects such a gracious and meek personality to the camera. But he’s also a tenacious interviewer, famously unwilling to let his guests evade questions, and this combination is the secret of the show’s appeal. Tonight is a special treat for his viewers: the man famously unafraid to ask hard questions is interviewing a man famously unafraid to answer them.
“Senator Morgan, the past month has been a very trying one for you. Let me first offer my condolences, on behalf of myself and everyone on our show, for the loss of your grandfather. Liberty was a hero to everyone, but he was your grandfather.”
“Thank you,” the Senator says. “He was a great man. I miss him.”
“Let’s move on to the questions. There are rumors, as there are every election cycle, that you are going to run for President. Would you care to address those rumors?”
Senator Morgan laughs, a mixture of surprise and amusement. “I’m not running for President.”
“I see…” Jacob Lynn nods thoughtfully. “Of course you realize the pundits will focus on your use of present tense, and claim that while your answer is absolutely correct—you are not running now—it doesn’t mean you aren’t planning to announce a run next month.”
Senator Morgan laughs again, this time sounding more rueful than amused. “I guess I left myself wide open for that. Let me be more clear, then: I don’t plan to ever run for President. I can’t promise I won’t change my mind someday—people do that—but at this point in my life I am convinced I can do far more as a Senator than I ever could as President. My current plan is be a Senator for the rest of my political career.”
“That is rather more to the point,” Lynn agrees. “Some might consider that very limiting.”
“I don’t. Being President is limiting. Eight years at most, then you’re gone. In the Senate I can work over decades—assuming my constituents continue to support me that long—to advocate and support plans that will continue to help this country. We face grave dangers as a nation, dangers that won’t be fixed in a year, or four, or even eight.”
“Dangers,” the Senator says. “Dangers that will require constant vigilance—not just against the dangers themselves, but against what facing those dangers might make us become.”
“Might make us become? Can you elaborate on that?”
“During World War II we imprisoned Japanese-Americans because we were afraid some of them might be Japanese sympathizers,” Senator Morgan says. “We imprisoned them all, based on what we were afraid some of them might be. My grandfather once told me that one of the things he’s always regretted was that he supported it at the time. He always stressed how important it was, when fighting a monster, not to become a monster yourself.”
Jacob Lynn peers over the rims of his glasses. “That’s almost Nietzschean.”
The Senator smiles a little. “I doubt my grandfather would have appreciated the comparison.”
“Let’s return to your comment ‘we face grave dangers as a nation,’” Lynn says. “Can you be more specific? Are you talking about terrorists? Poverty?”
“I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I say the problem is how we as a nation handle the rapid increase of metahumans in our population.”
“That has been one of your less popular platforms,” Lynn notes.
“It has,” the Senator says. His jaw sets, and the resolve in his expression brings out the family resemblance even more. “It almost cost me my last election. But I think it’s an important one. If we don’t recognize the problem and find a solution, we’re going to become a nation that does terrible things. I want to avoid that.”
“What kinds of things? Senator, your opinions on ‘the metahuman threat’ have given your political foes plenty of ammunition to use against you. They accuse you of wanting to create a nation that does terrible things.”
Senator Morgan sighs. “Can I say, for the record, that ‘the metahuman threat’ is not my line? I have always called it a problem. A newspaper—the Tribune, I think—is the one that relabeled it a threat.”
“So you don’t believe metahumans are a threat?”
“I believe metahumans are humans. People. Here in America most of them are US citizens. Labeling an entire group of people as a threat is dangerous—it’s also, sadly, something we have a history of doing.”
“But do you believe they are a threat?”
“I think if you answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that question you automatically get most of it wrong. Every metahuman has the capacity to be a threat. Just like an armed man walking down a public street has the capacity to be a threat. But being able to do something and actually doing it are not the same thing. We can’t treat it as the same thing.”
“It sounds like you’re saying they’re not a threat.”
“We live in a world where we can’t tell who is a threat and who isn’t until after the dust has settled,” the Senator says. “Is the metahuman in the costume standing in front of you trying to protect you, or is he the one that you need protecting from? You won’t know until he acts, and unfortunately, if he decides to harm you, there’s probably not anything you can do about it. That’s the problem, Jacob. At the moment, our only real solution to protecting the American people from rogue metahumans is to react to what they do. I know there are people who argue that it’s the only fair system to have, but reacting doesn’t scale well when you have people who can destroy an entire city block in the time it would take for first responders to arrive. The only way we have survived so far is because we have benefited from voluntary and heroic assistance of metahumans who step up to defend their communities.”
Jacob Lynn cocks his head to one side. “Is that a new position, Senator? You haven’t spoken as warmly of the hero community in the past.”
“It’s an evolving position,” Senator Morgan says. “I’ve always known there were selfless people willing to devote their extraordinary talents to serving the public. My grandfather is the greatest example of that. But power can always be misused, and the more you have the easier it is to do. No one who has power is innocent of this—I’m not innocent of it. My colleagues in the Senate aren’t innocent of it. I suspect even you’re not innocent of it, Jacob, though you’re not in the Hotseat tonight so I won’t press the issue. As a Senator of the United States of America—and as someone who sits on committees that have access to a lot of classified information—my capacity to cause damage to the American people is enormous. And the temptation to put the people at risk in order to gratify my own wants and needs is always there. How much more tempting is it to someone who is so strong they can shrug off artillery fire like it was nothing? Or someone who can turn invisible at will? Or someone who can read minds? We don’t have to speculate about these things. They’ve already happened to us. The results have been devastating, and all we’ve done is react.”
“What else is there to do?” Lynn asks. “It seems to be, as you say, the only fair option. We can’t declare them criminals right off the bat. Don’t they have rights?”
“They do,” the Senator says. “And you’re right. But—this is where I start losing my base—I think our laws on metahuman activity are broken. We need to rewrite most of them—scaling some back, making others stronger—until we have a set of laws that let every metahuman in America know where they stand, where the lines are, and what will happen if those lines are crossed.”
“A tall order,” Lynn says.
“Very tall,” the Senator agrees. “It may not even be possible at this point. But our legal system wasn’t designed to handle metahuman crimes—not in the manner and on the scale they’re committed.”
“So far you’ve given us an eloquent description of the tensions pulling at both ends of the issue,” Lynn notes, “but you haven’t—forgive me for saying so, Senator—you haven’t actually proposed a solution in its place. Do you have a solution?”
“Yes.” Senator Morgan leans in. “I’m not, I’m afraid, prepared to talk specifics at the moment. But in very broad strokes, it’s not a matter of whether or not we as a nation need to change. We’re already changing. The question is whether we will spend our time as a nation trying to catch up with the changes that have already happened, or if we will embrace the fact that change is happening and participate in that change in order to guide it. We must acknowledge this change, and we must be willing to take the reins to make sure we adapt to it properly. And in order to do that, we must acknowledge two things: first, that metahumans are humans, and are entitled to the same rights and protections in this country as everyone else. Second, that metahumans have the capacity to cause harm on a scale far beyond their fellow citizens, and that the state has a responsibility to mitigate that threat. Any solution to our problem must acknowledge the tension that exists between those two extremes. A proposed solution that fails to do so will not be a solution at all: it will lead to either tyranny or anarchy, and either way our nation will be lost.”