Amid turbulence and turmoil in Washington, Canadian authors let their imaginations take flight: what would the last days of Donald Trump’s presidency look like? Read more short stories from the Trump’s Final Chapter project here.
I met him once. This was a couple years ago, long after all that mess with the tape, long after he’d quit. My ex and I were driving from Vicksburg to visit her parents in Vegas, taking the back roads, making a little vacation of it. We stopped for lunch at this diner in Pie Town, New Mexico, a real nowhere place. And there he is, just sitting alone in a booth by the back wall, four of those brick-shaped Secret Service guys floating around the room like bees.
We’d all heard he was spending his time these days wandering around the country, or anyway the parts of the country that voted for him the first time around, the parts where they’ve got long memory for some things but short memory for others, and they’d decided to forget all the ugliness that came at the end. The places where they still smiled and shook his hand and called him Mr. President.
I remember the day the mess happened. Everyone does—Labor Day, about a month before the midterms. We were all down at my brother’s place in Gautier, one last get-together before the kids went back to college in New York.
I woke up to the sound of screaming, the kind where you can’t tell if the one doing it just won the lottery or saw a dead body, just a shrill high-pitched thing. We all came running out to the living room and there was my eldest niece sitting in front of the television saying, I knew it I knew it I knew it.
It was one of those liberal news stations, the ones who’d been at his throat every day for the past year and a half. The bottom part of the screen was all bright red and big letters – breaking news this, breaking news that. They’d been doing that for so long, treating every meaningless bit of news like it was a second Pearl Harbor, that I didn’t even notice it anymore.
But right away I knew it must be bad because the anchors were talking themselves into pretzels, using words like alleged and unverified. They kept talking about a video but all they would show were a few grainy still shots. You could tell it was the President, though, and you could tell it was from before he became President, because he looked happy.
They wouldn’t show the video on TV. But it didn’t take my niece more than a minute to bring it up on the computer. I remember we all gathered around her on the couch, watching this thing, just hypnotized. And, disgusting as it was to watch, not one of us said a word, not one of us breathed, because we knew we were watching a piece of history birthing, and we knew – even those of us who’d voted for him, who’d defended him every other time – that the President would be out of office by sundown.
Another thing I remember from that day: all the phone lines went down, the internet too. All over the country, the grid ground to a halt under the weight of everyone trying to see the same thing at the same time. By the end of the week, the news said it had become the most watched video in history.
That night we had what turned out to be our last dinner as a family. We’d spent the whole day trying to wrap our heads around what happened, until finally my sister-in-law turned off all the televisions and unplugged the computers and swore the next one to say a word about it would be sleeping at the Magnolia Inn tonight.
But at dinner my niece wouldn’t let it be. She couldn’t. For almost two years she’d been going to all those protests, shouting her lungs out, and now suddenly she was getting what she wanted.
You know it’s a shame, she said, a smug little grin on her face. A shame this is what it took to do him in. Not that scam with the wall, not handing tanks and rocket-launchers to the cops, not winking and nodding every time a mosque or synagogue had its windows smashed, not pardoning that little bigot who ran the concentration camp in Arizona, not the time he almost started a nuclear war—this.
My sister-in-law shook her head. Can we please just have dinner in peace, she said. Bad enough we had to spend the whole day hearing about that disgusting nonsense. No shame in people anymore, none.
But there was nothing else to talk about, nothing else in the whole world. You know, I said to my niece, if this had happened during those eight years when it was your golden boy in power, you would have been lecturing us all about invasion of privacy, about staying out of people’s bedrooms. But I guess that ain’t much of an issue now, is it?
My President wasn’t a white supremacist, she said.
I had to laugh. We’d been hearing this same song for so long, we’d memorized the words. So anyone who makes white folks proud, he’s got to be a white supremacist, that right?
White pride is white supremacy, she said. And if you can’t see that, you either don’t know your history or you’re just another racist.
Her mother called her by her full name then, in the same tone she’d used to bring the children in line ever since they were little babies. But I waved her off. Some things are just better to get out in the open.
Damn right I’m a racist, I said. What country you think you live in? You can go on pretending all you want, going to all those rallies and chanting all those slogans but when push comes to shove you’ll learn white’s what you are and white’s what you’ll always be and it don’t matter one bit how ashamed you are of it. Go on, keep hating yourself, see if it don’t magically make you something else.
To be honest, I never knew what an arm that girl had. Her dinner plate came flying at me as fast as she went running out the room. It’s been, what? Ten, fifteen years since that day – we haven’t spoken since.
Those next few weeks went by fast and slow, all at once. He held out for a long time, longer than any of us expected, but I suppose that’s the sort of man he was, the sort of man we voted for. But after a while, it just got to be too much. Everywhere he’d go, hecklers would drown out whatever he had to say. All the late-night show monologues were variations of the same joke, over and over and over. Everyone mocked him, and there was even some talk of criminal charges, but I guess they couldn’t prove anything criminal happened on that tape. And anyway, who was going to charge him, the Russians?
But the thing I remember most was an editorial cartoon in one of the big liberal newspapers. It ran the day after the story broke. It was just a drawing of the White House, painted yellow.
Of course he had to go.
But you know those liberals, they never really understood why. For two whole years, every time anything happened they would stand up and say, Surely this will finish him. And every time they were wrong except now, now they were finally right. But they didn’t know why they were right. They thought he’d just done something so bad even his supporters couldn’t stomach it. But it wasn’t that at all. Bad would have been fine. Bad we could have lived with.
No, it was because he had it done to him, not the other way around. Some of his supporters will say they never watched the tape, but they all did, we all did. We all know every little detail and the truth is, if it was him doing it, not having it done to him, he might have stayed President.
I’m older now and, if I’m being honest, I don’t believe in much anymore—not the politics or the parties or even the country. I’d never support a man like him now and I don’t say it to no one but inside I’m ashamed I ever did. But back then like the rest of us who voted for him I was mad, mad at watching this country be humiliated. There’s no nice in this world—you shoot or get shot and we wanted a shooter. So he missed a few times, so the wrong people got hurt every once in a while, didn’t matter. As long as he was the one pulling the trigger first, it didn’t matter.
And that’s why when the tape came out, he had to go. If what we saw was the other way around, him doing it, then maybe we’d wince or make a few jokes or wag our fingers about the sin of infidelity, but we wouldn’t have turned on him. But that’s not how it was, and I think deep down even he knew it.
We all remember the very end, watching him board Marine One for the final time. Unlike the last one who resigned, he didn’t turn around on the steps, didn’t wave a victory sign, just sulked onto the helicopter and was whisked up and away into the most well-practiced form of American forgiveness, which is really not forgiveness at all, but a violent, desperate forgetting.
It was so strange to see him there in the flesh, there in some nameless New Mexico diner, after all this time—so jarring, like stumbling onto the negatives of a photograph long ago lost in the fire. He looked old, and he was old, pushing 90 by then, but it wasn’t just the wrinkles or the way the colour thins out in the eyes. There was a hollowness about him, as though he’d retreated into himself, a great empty distance between the pit of his soul and the shell of his body.
Like most of his early supporters, I’d spent years trying to forget him, trying to forget the part I played in making him happen; I’d moved on and I wanted to believe it didn’t matter anymore because it was all so long ago. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a wince of sympathy when I saw him that day, alone and so, so small—the brittle remains of a man who once wore this country’s rage like a crown.
When he was done with his banana cream pie, one of the Secret Service men paid the bill and another helped him up and out of the booth. I don’t know where he went next, and I never saw him again.
Omar El Akkad is an author and journalist. He previously worked at the Globe and Mail, where he won the Goff Penny Award for young journalists and a National Newspaper Award for investigative reporting. His debut novel, American War, was released in Canada and the United States in April, and has been translated into more than ten languages. He currently lives in the woods outside Portland, Oregon.