More than a week after losing the presidential election to Joe Biden, Donald Trump continues to proclaim victory and stall the transition. Some White House advisers profess (“privately”) to be nudging Trump toward a concession—so far with no success. It’s time to think differently about how to ease the president into a new reality.
In the movie Good Bye, Lenin!, a woman in communist East Berlin falls into a coma shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. She awakens many months later, unaware of the world-changing events that have taken place. Doctors fear that the slightest shock could kill her. Because the woman had been an ardent party member, her teenage son sets out to create the illusion—for her—that the wall is intact and everything is how it was. He dresses the way East Germans used to dress. He stocks his mother’s kitchen with East German food. He cobbles together fake news programs out of old footage on state-run TV. He comes up with an explanation for the “Coca-Cola” billboard his mother sees one day from her window.
Inhabiting the lie that he actually won the election, Trump is ripe for similar treatment. It might be simplest for everyone if he found refuge in a safe space where he can indulge his illusions while the rest of us get on with our business.
Trump is destined to receive the Secret Service protection accorded to every former chief executive, and he still gets to be called “Mr. President”—a good start when it comes to creating the right ambience. On the next trip to Bedminster or Mar-a-Lago, he should be induced by some pretext to stay put. (Antifa caravan approaching Washington?) His minders can give him an updated version of that 2016 electoral map he likes so much, with its swaths of red. A flick of the Sharpie would excise Philadelphia, Detroit, and Atlanta, flipping three states into his column. A gratifying extra touch—Greenland, given three electoral votes, also shown in red.
His normal schedule already consists of “no public activities,” which is helpful, but he will be expecting “state visits” from foreign leaders. This could easily be accomplished. NATO is governed by the principle of collective security—all for one, one for all—and a clearer case for invoking Article 5 can hardly be imagined. Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, and others can stop by on a rotating basis. Think of it as “burden-sharing.” With the help of Howard X, the famed Kim Jong Un impersonator, a summit meeting with the North Korean leader could also be arranged.
Real news, of course, cannot be allowed to reach Trump—perhaps a notional concern. Aides can tell him that the “failing” New York Times and the “failing” Washington Post are not being delivered because they have … failed. As for TV, if Fox insists on depicting reality, they can switch the screen to NewsMax or One America News Network. He could still phone in to Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, who haven’t conceded the election, either. And if he wants to tweet with abandon, then Twitter can grasp a path to redemption, and quietly separate his account from his audience.
Verisimilitude is important. To recreate the White House environment, a stream of COVID-positive visitors could be invited for meetings, keeping infection levels high. Having familiar faces around—Jared, Ivanka, Melania—is essential. Would they go along with the charade? They need no lessons in complicity—a big plus—but an “all is forgiven” welcome to a future Met Gala might be part of the answer. Mike Pence would be harder to persuade, but the cardboard cutout has been working well for years. Having familiar faces no longer around is also important; the president needs to be able to fire people on a regular basis. And to hire new ones. Firing is easy: His administration would already be gone. But if Hollywood celebrities really want to serve their country, a troupe of performers straight from central casting—John Goodman, Kristin Chenoweth, Bryan Cranston, Anne Hathaway—would stand ready to play their part and bring the idea of “acting secretary” to its logical conclusion.
As time goes on, the Good Bye, Lenin! strategy would present challenges. It’s easy to simulate a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony (Scott Baio and Roger Stone would definitely accept), harder to explain why an inauguration can’t be held on the Mall (“Being used for spectator overflow from the Biden trial, sir”). But it’s worth a try. With luck, Trump will one day tell us he’s had “the greatest second term in history, with the possible exception of Lincoln’s.”