“I don’t see any new clothes,” the small child said in the piercing tones only a small child who is long on sugar and short on sleep can achieve. “I see the Emperor’s butt! And his—“ the voice cut off abruptly, then finished “—really little!”
The Emperor stopped dead in the street.
Silence fell, followed by furious whispers.
“Well, I don’t!” said the child defiantly.
The Emperor drew himself up to his full height, thrust out his chin, pursed his loose, rubbery lips and narrowed his eyes to furious slits. The slits swept slowly over the crowd, all of whom suddenly found their shoes, the contents of their bags, and imaginary lapel lint of pressing importance.
All, that is, except for a small, defiant, grubby-faced child. He stared at the Emperor for a moment, and then quavered, “You are, too, naked! I can see your pee and everything! You don’t supposed to let other people see your pee!”
The Emperor glared down. “Fake news!” he thundered. “You’re spreading fake news. My new robes are the finest in the land!”
“You’re naked,” the child insisted mulishly. “I can see your pee!”
Suddenly the crowd came to life. “You’re just too much of a loser to be able to see such fine robes,” they shouted.
“Am not,” said the child. “I can see his pee.”
The Emperor’s face deepened from bright orange to deep crimson. “You are what is wrong with the kingdom,” he blasted. “You’re a hater, and you’re lying to all these people. You are their enemy. SAD.”
I would like to tell you that the crowd saw the king bullying the child for stating no more than what they could see was the naked truth. I would like to say that they turned to each other and said, “The child is right; our Emperor is naked. Let’s get him some help, and find somebody a little more grounded in reality to control the nuclear codes.”
But that’s not what happened. The Prime Minister stepped forward and said, “I see the Emperor’s robes and they’re lovely,” even as he gazed upon the Emperor’s sagging bottom.
The Minister of War stepped forward and said, “The Emperor is the perfect person to have charge of our national security, and by the way, those robes are perfect,” even as he gazed on the Emperor’s vast white belly.
The princes stepped forward and said, “Dad’s the best—great robes, big guy,” even as they averted their eyes politely.
The Empress, who was riding behind the Emperor in a closed golden carriage, said nothing at all.
And so it was that the Emperor spent the rest of the parade—and the rest of his reign, wearing his fabulously expensive, nonexistent, robes, and while a substantial number of his subjects spent their time deriding anyone who, like the small child, pointed out the obvious as haters, losers, and FAKE NEWS, the surrounding nations looked on and wondered who was crazier—the Emperor, who had been duped into exposing himself, or his people, who could see he was naked, but refused to admit it.