Trump is standing by his desk as he reads a magazine lying on it. The window behind him has the curtains drawn wide and the afternoon’s light fills the room.
Now he hears the music cue from his cellphone. It’s a text from Ivanka. He replies, then returns to the magazine.
A moment passes.
A knock at the door.
‘C’mon in,’ he cries out.
Ivanka steps in. She goes straight up to her father and they embrace and kiss on the cheek.
‘How are you?’ she says.
But Ivanka notices he sounds a bit dejected.
‘What are you reading?’
‘An article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Birx got it for me (Dr Deborah Birx). They did a controlled study on the effects of Hydroxycloroquine on people who’d been exposed to the virus. The two groups took the medication for four days after exposure but there was no difference between those who took it and those who didn’t’.
‘The drug didn’t protect them?’ she says.
‘That’s right. But the study is not definitive so the drug may yet have preventive benefits.’
‘You stopped taking it, didn’t you?’
‘Yes, a while back.’
‘I’m glad you did.’
They look at each other.
‘Have to let it go, don’t we?’ she says.
She puts her hand on his shoulder, ‘Let’s sit, I want to talk to you about something.’
They walk over to the space in front of the desk and sit across each other.
‘What’s this about?’
She smiles. ‘I’m worried about you.’
‘The polls are not looking good.’
It’s clear he’s feeling the pressure.
‘It’s not over yet,’ he says.
‘Of course not. What do you think about Biden’s choice of running mate?’
‘Have to see how it plays out.’
‘You think she’ll take votes from you?’
‘Don’t know, but I’m glad Karen Bass was not the one… and better, that Klobuchar dropped out earlier.’
‘Speaking of… I saw a new video, from the officers’ body cameras… they botched that one, didn’t they?’
‘You think you botched it?’
He looks at her for a moment… then, ‘I think I did.’
‘What would you have done differently?’
‘Not identified so much with law enforcement.’
Ivanka nods… looks down at her hands on her lap.
‘Dad… you’re okay talking to me about all this?’
But Ivanka thinks his expression says otherwise.
‘Dad… we don’t have to talk…’
‘I know we don’t.’
‘I just wanted to see how you were doing.’
‘I’m glad you did.’
She looks down at her dress and smooths it out.
‘How are the children?’ he asks.
‘Doing very well.’
‘I would’ve liked to have given them another four years.’
‘Oh, dad. It’s been a great run. I’ve taken so many videos of them, they’ll never forget this.’
‘Some consolation, at least,’ he says.
‘If the virus hadn’t happened you’d be cruising to reelection.’
‘That’s true. The economy would have cinched it for me.’
‘But the virus did happen and there’s nothing we can do about it,’ she says.
‘They had it in for me,’ says Trump. ‘They sent it to me… express delivery, from Wuhan, Hubei province.’
‘No, they didn’t.’
‘They were so angry because of the tariffs I slapped on them.’
‘It got away from you,’ she says, gently.
He looks at her, uncertain he wants to continue the conversation.
‘Can I offer you anything? A soda?’
He sits back and folds his hands.
‘You think we could’ve done better?’ he asks.
‘Yes. It would’ve been difficult but yes, we could have.’
‘I stopped travel from China at the end of January…’
‘We minimized the danger,’ she says.
‘I don’t think so.’
‘It’s easier to see now, but we should’ve done what they did,’ continues Ivanka.
‘No. Our people wouldn’t have allowed it… absolutely not,’ returns Trump firmly.
‘They would have… if you had trained them.’
‘Yes. You had been mollycoddling your supporters all along.’
He laughs. ‘Mollycoddling?’
‘They wanted a Wall, you said I’ll give you the Wall. Let’s have immigrants out, you said out they go. Want tariffs on China? I’ll give you that. Out of the Paris accord? Done. Roll back regulations, bring back coal? Deal.’
He shakes his head slowly.
‘I suppose I did overdo it, but I did promise them that.’
‘Sure, you had to get in. But once in, you had to go back and renegotiate.’
‘And say what to them?’
‘You can’t have everything you want. Let’s face it, we’re only half of America. Actually, less, since we lost the popular vote by 3 million.’
Trump chuckles… but she’s clearly getting to him.
‘You had to negotiate… and you didn’t,’ presses Ivanka.
‘Half of a Wall? Half of the immigrants…?’
‘You know what I mean.’
He gets up, walks off a few steps, then turns to look back at her.
‘You’ve said these things before…’
‘We don’t know if it would’ve worked… so there’s that,’ returns Ivanka.
“The beauty of hindsight.’
‘But it’s been a good run… we’ll never forget this,’ she says.
He nods, a little sad, then sits down again, resting his hands on his knees.
‘I’ll miss the activity… all the attention… having the final say… it’s addictive… the spotlight… never had so much fun in my life. What’s sad is that nothing else I do afterwards will be able to match this. How do I recreate this? Once I leave it’s gone forever. No more.’
There’s an ache in his voice.
‘Now, if I had done two terms, then it would be easier to let go, but one term?’
‘Think of it this way… only the very few get to land a job like this,’ she says. ‘And you’re one of them.’
‘I wonder if Jimmy Carter went through a depression. I’ll have to ask him… he probably did. The Iran hostage crisis got him. He was indecisive.’
‘You were indecisive on the virus.’
‘Yes, I was!’ he says abruptly, angrily, as he stands, waving his arms. ‘Yes, I was, and not a day goes by that I don’t regret it. I screwed up!’
Ivanka is surprised by his sudden rage.
‘Goddammit! I had the economy going for me, the markets flying high, and I go and screw it up! I regret it deeply.’
He stops, crosses to his desk, then turns around to face Ivanka.
‘I signed those executive orders to protect the workers, didn’t I… so they’ll have money in their pockets while we still deal with the pandemic and wait for Congress to make up its mind. I did that.’
‘That was good,’ says Ivanka.
‘I care about the workers, that’s why I did it… still I get criticized.’
She nods thoughtfully.
‘So that’s it, then?’ he says.
‘I didn’t go back to my people and said to them, “we’ve got to negotiate with the other side, we’re only half of this nation?”’
Ivanka nods her assent.
‘And the thing is… I could’ve done it… I could’ve.’
Trump sits down again, looks directly at Ivanka.
‘I have trouble with the truth.’
Ivanka’s never heard him say this to her.
‘I am terrific at hiding it… I find all kinds of ways to do it.’
Ivanka’s instinct is to soothe her father but manages to hold back.
‘Do you mind if I tell you this?’
He looks down at the ground for a moment, then up at her again.
‘I’m great at putting on a show… and I know it’s a show… but after a while I start believing it myself.’
‘You remember that moment in Helsinki, in July 2018, after the press conference with Putin… well… I did not stand up to him… and I could have… but I didn’t.’
‘I remember that…. I was watching that day… why didn’t you, dad?’
‘What if he would’ve challenged me… right there in front of the whole world?’
‘What if…?’ returns Ivanka, ‘it’s not like you would’ve had to fight the guy if he did.’
Trump lowers his eyes.
‘All I needed to do was tell him to not interfere with our elections… but to do that would’ve been to admit that he had… and to admit that meant to acknowledge his meddling might have made a difference. See… even though I had won the election…. it didn’t feel like I really had… and so it felt like I owed Putin something… and I feared that if I challenged him, he would’ve come back with all kinds of details about his interfering… and the idea of that happening was something I could not accept. So I chose not to confront him.’
‘All this time, you’ve lived with the belief that you really didn’t win the election?’
Trump hangs his head.
‘Sometimes I believe it… sometimes I don’t.’
Ivanka ponders his words. He has never spoken to her this way.
‘I very much wanted to become president and saw the opportunity… it was right there… I knew Hillary was weak and could be pushed… and it worked.’
‘Dad… the things you said to get elected… you believe in any of them?’
He closes his eyes for a moment…
‘I will say what I must to get the votes… I have no real conviction… instead there’s this void in me… which I mostly ignore… yet it seems like it wants to be filled… but I’m afraid that if I try to… I would have to be honest… and I fear that if I do… the laughter will stop.’
‘And then what?’ she asks softly.
‘Then I discover that I’m all about nothing.’
‘If my supporters want me to believe in conspiracy theories, why then, I believe in those too. Except that I don’t. I pretend to, mostly.’
Ivanka looks off.
‘Am I making you uncomfortable?’ he asks.
‘No. I want to hear you out. I’m your daughter. Maybe there’s something I can do.’
He nods thoughtfully. Then he rises and walks about a few paces.
‘I am a gifted man, gifted with energy, gifted with charm, with intelligence… but I’ve made a mess of things. And I have because I didn’t reflect on who I was and didn’t do something about it.’
‘Who are you?’ she asks, mustering the courage.
Trump looks at her.
‘Does it seem strange to you that you are asking that question of me?’ says Trump.
‘The good news… is that failure… failure… yes, that word that I abhor… failure… is finally catching up with me. Who am I you ask? I am a man without a center… comfortable only when trying to persuade others to not find their own center.’
He’s said those words before, to himself, but never to another person.
‘Acknowledging failure would give me a sense of my real limitations… and open the door to developing empathy. That would be the start of the road to my center, to my self… and I say that now and have said it before but don’t do it!’
He stands up again, this time walking toward the open window. He stands there for a moment, looking out, then returns to sit across Ivanka.
‘I’ve known that I have to look at my flaws… again and again until I process them… and that’s how I’ll develop my center… but I don’t do it. I let them sit, unexamined, till they fly again in my face.’
He slides up to the edge of his seat, the expression anguished.
‘I suppose there’s still time…’
He drops his face in his hands and stays like that for a moment, as if in penitence.
‘You’re right… there’s no reason I couldn’t have gone back to my people right after the election and said, ‘we have got to mend fences… we’re all in this together… I’ve got your back, I will be your champion, but we’ve got to talk to the other side.’
She nods approvingly.
‘And if I had… if I’d have had the resolve to do that… the courage to do it… well then, when the virus was looming, when it was approaching, when it was crossing the ocean… I would’ve stepped up.’
‘But I didn’t… and all these people have died as a result.’
‘Don’t think that hasn’t weighed on me… the loss of so many people… and me just blaming China instead of owning up to my flaws.’
‘It’s very sad,’ she says.
Trump stares down at the ground for a moment, then up at her again.
‘Did the virus kick me out of the White House? No. I did it myself. I blew it.’
‘Dad… I know you’ll get on with confronting your flaws… I know you will.’
‘You have to, dad. Like you said, it’s not over… but if you lose this election… then there’s still 2024. You’ll be a fit 78 by then.’
He looks up at her, the trace of a smile, hope now sparkling in his eyes.
‘Politics is in your blood. I know you’re not going into retirement,’ continues Ivanka.
‘You’re right about that.’
She smiles at him. Then looks in the direction of the window, as she runs her fingers through her hair.
‘I’m going to miss this place, too,’ she says, longing coloring her words.
‘Would you like to run for office one day?’ he asks.
‘Maybe… it’s a cutthroat business.’
‘Cutthroat yes… but a hell of a lot of fun.’
‘Would you like Barron to run for office one day?’ she asks.
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘I would like that, very much.’
He leans forward, joining his hands in front of him.
‘Next time I’ll be better prepared. I’m a good campaigner. I can work a crowd, give them what they want… so no… I’m not through, even if I have to leave this place for 4 years.’
‘It’ll keep you active, wheeling and dealing,’ she says.
‘You know me well,’ he replies. ‘I’ve got too much left in me… and if I make it back I’ll get my face carved on Mount Rushmore.’
‘Dad! You’re not really serious, are you?’ she says with a note of alarm.
‘Why not? I get that I’m not on the same level with Washington, Jefferson or Lincoln, but what does Teddy Roosevelt have on me? He rode horses? Went to Cuba on a publicity stunt?’
‘No! Don’t do that! It’s just way too grandiose!’ She slides up to the edge of her seat, the tone urgent. ‘If you really want to stay in politics and run again, you’ve got to deal with the grandiosity.’
But he’s on a roll.
‘You’re not getting it… people love me because I’m brash, unpredictable… and yes, sometimes grandiose. But I don’t believe half of it, so I’m okay.’
‘Dad… listen to yourself, please… you were just talking about confronting your flaws…’
‘Even if I lose this election, it won’t be because of Biden but because of the virus, and the proof of it will be that I’ll trounce him in the debates. I’ll beat him silly. Those debates will be memorable, real gems of political theatre, to be studied for generations!’
‘Dad, stop! Did you already forget what you were talking about?’
He stops, brings his palms together in front of his face as he catches his breath… nods thoughtfully in the pause. Then begins again, slowly.
‘You’re right… it just gets away from me… it’s my personality… I can think about all these things to do to become a better person… then it gets away from me, just slips away.’
‘You need to keep reminding yourself,’ insists Ivanka.
‘Absolutely. Yes. You’re right. Now, tell me, who do you think will run against me for the nomination, in 4 years?’
‘That’s a good one. I think… Romney, for sure. Pompeo too…’
‘Yes, he’s aching for the chance. And he’ll hire Bolton as an advisor and he’ll quote from his book.’
‘Bolton, sure, he’s nuts, always dreaming of going to war. Oh, the scoundrels,’ says Trump. ‘Who else?’
‘He’d run against me? After all I’ve done for him, lifting him out of obscurity in godforsaken Indiana?’
‘Yes. He’d run against you.’
‘You know… I’ve asked him to pardon me.’
‘Yes. I’d resign a couple of weeks before leaving office, just so he could become president and then turn around and pardon me.’
‘That’s crazy,’ she says.
‘But what about if you resign and he changes his mind and doesn’t pardon you?’
Trump reflects on it. ‘He wouldn’t do that… that would be treason. That’s not Mike. Anyone else you think would run against me?’
She thinks. ‘Can’t come up with anyone else, but there will be others. Maybe Nikki Hailey.’
‘Could be. Well… let me know. I need to get back to work. One last thing… you think Bolsonaro in Brazil really got the virus he says he got and recovered from?’
‘Why… you think it was a hoax?’
Intrigued by his question, she asks, ‘You’re not… thinking of intentionally getting the virus yourself, are you?’
He smiles mischievously.
‘It would be a modified version of it, an attenuated form, enough to make me test positive but not enough to get that godawful lung infection that comes with it. And it would get me a lot of sympathy and a boost in the polls.’
‘Dad, it’s not just the lungs, it can affect the heart too! Don’t you dare do that. I won’t let you. I will not!’
He smiles affectionately. ‘You know… I’d like for you to stay political… and four years from now, when I run again, I’ll put you in as my running mate. A Trump Trump ticket.’
She laughs, stands and goes to him. He rises and they hug.
‘Just remember,’ he says as they pull apart. ‘One way or another, Donald Trump is not through. I’ll be back in 2024.’
To be continued.
Oscar Valdes is the author of Psychiatrist for A Nation. Available on Amazon.