It’s not every day that one is presented with the opportunity to spend a little one-on-one time with the President of the United States. Indeed, most people will never have the honor of such an opportunity, and for many who do, it will happen only once. For me, quite unexpectedly, that honor arrived today.
Now, in full disclosure, the opportunity lasted only for a few seconds and we were – Donald and I – not entirely alone, insofar as I was accompanied by my good lady wife and he was surrounded by dozens of police and secret service officers, as is only appropriate for the Commander in Chief. Nevertheless, for those few seconds, I felt there was a real, tangible bond between us. I dare say Donald felt it, too.
The story begins as my wife and I were innocently taking a morning constitutional through our green and pleasant suburb of Washington, DC, as we so often do. The route from our house to our favorite coffee place is a pleasant stroll of about a mile, unremarkable in all aspects except one: it is also the route along which the presidential motorcade must past, whenever our 45th president, tired from a long week of international diplomacy and strategic national security decision-making, takes a well-earned break at his very own golf club.
Since our 45th president quite often feels the need for a round of golf, quite commonly twice on a weekend, our neighbors and ourselves are quite used to seeing the long motorcade of black Chevy Suburbans flanked by police cars and sundry other vehicles, including the presidential fire truck. This in itself is not remarkable around here. But one never knows when the motorcade will appear, and generally there are a plenty of other folks around to offer greetings, or otherwise.
This morning, however, the scene was a little different. It was a pleasant but chilly Sunday morning, before ten o’clock. Our route – usually popular with dog walkers, joggers and the like – was largely deserted. Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when – about half way along the tree-lined boulevard – I looked up to see the motorcade’s leading police cars heading towards us, with the armored Suburbans close behind.
An interesting opportunity had presented itself. I took a quick look around and found that, for some distance in all directions, my wife and myself were the only souls in sight. It would take the motorcade as long as ten or fifteen seconds to pass us and, during that time, it would be just us and them. A moment of communion. That’s when I knew I had to take action.
Now, I should admit that I had a particular gesture in mind, a gesture known in polite circles as the Trudeau salute. However, in the few seconds available for planning purposes, as the forward police vehicles hurtled towards us, my wife made it very clear that that particular gesture was out of bounds, despite the fact that she harbors no more regard for the 45th POTUS than I do myself. Thinking quickly on my feet, I thrust out a thumb and – lest it be taken mistakenly as a request for a lift – turned it decisively downwards, just as the leading police cars reached us. One imagines the Secret Service does not make a habit of picking up hitchhikers, but I wanted to leave no doubt.
What happened next was nothing short of a once-in-a-lifetime political experience. For those glorious few seconds that followed, I forgot about everything: my surroundings, the pandemic, the secret service, and (dare I say) even my significant other: it was just me and Donny, communing with each other, president and subject. For my part, my thumb never wavered from its unmistakably downward position. No one regarding my thumb in those moments could have reached the conclusion that it was pointing upwards or even wavering somewhere in the middle, unsure of itself. No; this was unequivocally a thumbs down.
Sadly, I will never know the precise reaction from POTUS, given the tinted windows, the decoy vehicles, and the high speed progress of the motorcade. But I think I know what happened. I think, at that very moment, the Commander in Chief looked through his window and found his gaze resting irresistibly on my downward thumb. Perhaps he tried to tear his gaze away, but found he could not. In that moment, he knew the game was up. He knew that all 78 million votes cast for his successor were somehow encapsulated into that tiny appendage, signalling the end of his tumultuous reign.
Just seconds later, we were passed by the three vans that carry the White House press pool. Photographers were standing tall through the roofs of two of the vans, their long-lens cameras unmistakably trained on my still-unwavering thumb.
Later this morning, I checked the Twitter feed of the White House press pool and found the following words. “Motorcade passed through the gates at Trump National 10:10am. The usual coterie of pedestrians watched and filmed the motorcade along the route. Some offered thumbs up, some down.”
If you’re tempted to be underwhelmed by these simple words, I implore you to think again. No, I am not named. Nor am I described in any personal, specific way that would distinguish me from others the journalists spotted en route today. And yet, there I am: indelibly recorded in political history as being amongst those whose thumbs were firmly in the down column when the 45th president was still trying to hang on to the final throes of his wretched tenure. What’s more, I could feel in my bones that mine was a thumb POTUS had witnessed with his own carefully sprayed-around eyes.
Never one to rest on my political laurels, I have decided to look forward to what comes next. One day, sooner or later, Hollywood will no doubt turn its attention to the bizarre dumpster fire of the 45th presidency. When that day comes, I wonder who will be selected to play the role that will likely be described in the cast list as ‘bearded thumbs-down guy’. George Clooney grows a reasonable beard, although it would need to be bushier than his usual effort. Brad Pitt is too blond and too clean-shaven by half. And Leo DiCaprio is much too boyish. Clooney it is.
Imagine, if you will, dear reader, a Hollywood blockbluster released just a few years from now that tackles the bizarre phenomenon of Trumpism. The director will undoubtedly be a heavyweight: Fincher or Lynch or Coppola. Over two or three hours, viewers will be taken on a rollercoaster ride through the life of a real estate tycoon and reality TV star who, despite having no political experience, becomes the most powerful man in the world. The movie will have glamor, parties, smoke-filled rooms and stadiums filled with adoring followers. In the final reel, just as the maverick president is promising his flock another four glorious years, it all comes crashing down. Something goes horribly wrong and, as he hunkers down at the White House with his campaign team over several tense days, it slowly becomes clear that his unlikely grip on power is slipping away.
Now imagine the final scene of the movie. The atmosphere has shifted from tense to desolate. POTUS knows that all is lost, even if he is not yet prepared to admit as much in public. Dejected and all alone (aside from dozens of Secret Service officers, of course), he decides to spend the last few miserable weeks of his tenure golfing. As the credits begin to roll, we see the motorcade of black Suburbans roll through the Virginia suburbs. Just before reaching his golf club, POTUS looks through his window to see George Clooney – in an uncredited cameo – marching purposefully along the sidewalk, his thumb pointing resolutely downwards.
Just before the scene fades, the camera closes in on Clooney’s impressively suntanned thumb, a poignant symbol of all that has gone wrong, personally and politically, for the 45th president. At that moment, dear reader, you will finally be able to appreciate my part in his downfall.