The Unpresidenting

“Trust me,” the businessman Donald Trump told sportswriter Rick Reilly way back in 2004, “one day with me is more than enough.”

Reilly heartily concurred after 18 holes. And, 16 years later, several billion people no doubt agree.

We’ve been living with this guy’s voice — and face — in our heads for years, from The Apprentice to the amateur in the White House. And although Trump can’t be un-presidented soon enough, the chances of his simply disappearing “like a miracle” are about the same as wishing away the coronavirus.

So it’s not too soon to do a thought experiment: more than four years on, we still don’t have a model for how to deal with a President Trump, so how will we deal with an ex-president Trump?


  • The Twitter feed: We’re still not sure if it’s official policy, lawful order, private bigotry, or just plain hate speech. As a private citizen, he’ll lose the (lessened) imprimatur of office, but not the microphone nor the audience. Assuming he doesn’t follow the accustomed code of silence and reticence (!!), will what he has to say be worth covering? If not worth covering, who’ll be listening anyway, and what directions might they be taking?
  • Transfer of power: Our democratic republic promises a peaceful and predictable transfer of power. Former presidents can be global statesmen like Jimmy Carter or reclusive watercolorists like George W. Bush, but they can’t call balls and strikes on the incumbent, nor — worse — offer an alternative reality to their supporters. We’re going to need to come up with a way to prevent even the semblance of an alt-presidency, while still acknowledging …
  • The changed narrative: Both parties spent two decades talking about how great and indispensable we were while letting the market replace the government. Trump accurately pointed out the hypocrisy, and brought forth the nastiness that matched too many people’s daily experience of the United States. We’re not going to unsee that for at least a generation, yet establishment-manufactured alternatives too often boil down to “The 1980s called — they want their domestic policy back.”

When Trump will leave the White House is indeed a pressing question, and the answer had better be 2020. But how he will leave office — and how we’ll live with him afterward — isn’t getting enough careful attention.

We’re already stuck with Trump for the rest of his days. And we absolutely must find a way to avoid putting marginal Trump voters on death ground.

But Cliven Bundy’s political views with Jimmy Carter’s stature?

We don’t need even one day of that.