The day is January 21st, 2024. My future self will remember this day forever, the culmination of a windstorm of negative events I could never have predicted. Exactly one year prior, it had become clear that our family would not be able to afford my daughter’s senior year of college. With a sizable mortgage still looming and my decent paying work years decreasing, I (and I emphasize, I and I alone) took a fateful shortcut. TurboTax ensured there would be no other culpable party. After nervously waiting for the summer months to pass, most of a senior year now safely in the bank, that day the ominous letter from the IRS finally did come. I was being audited.
Don’t believe it when they tell you the IRS is too busy to deal with the small guys.
I had no CPA to hide behind. Justice came strong and swift. I was sentenced to nine months in prison. After the fines, the loss of a job, the destruction of my reputation and the financial peril I put my family in, prison seemed too lenient.
And so, on the very day my daughter began her last semester of college (loans and scholarship somehow making that possible), at 9:15 A.M., I surrendered myself at the minimum security penitentiary at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Having only ever been to court twice for jury duty, the entire process was horrifying and wholly unfamiliar. Years ago, I remembered the old mafia mayor of my state capital spent five years here (only to return to run for mayor again). But with no true frame of reference other than episodes of Law & Order, I felt I was receiving unusually special attention upon arrival. After several meetings with psychologists, a senior Federal Bureau of Prisons official, the warden himself, and a battery of very invasive questions, they finally herded me in my oversized orange jumpsuit and handcuffs (man, they hurt!), to what would be my cell home for the next 271 days.
I was led far down the line of cells to what looked like the end of the block. Inmate eyes sizing me up. Mostly accountants and crooked businessmen in here I suspected, but the prospect of a random, hardened criminal cornering me had me terrified. As I approached the cell intended for me, I noted no other surrounding cells.
Why were the men opening my cell door wearing suits and earpieces?
One of the men removed my cuffs, and I turned to nervously enter the cell. A rather large man in orange silk pajamas and tan slippers emerged, sitting up in what appeared to be a king-size Serta, the grand headboard adorned with red, white, and blue bunting. I stood stock still as he sprung to his feet.
“Welcome to my Situation Room.” He gestured to my prison issue cot in the far right corner. A breakfast tray rested on a coffee table adjacent the bed. Sections of newspapers strewn all across the cell. A large screen TV hung on the far side wall, cable news running in the background. He picked up the remote, muting it, and carefully adjusted an unmistakable mane of blondish-white locks clinging desperately to one remaining live follicle line in his aging scalp.
“OH…….MY…….GOD.” They sent you HERE?
“Devin, right? I take it they didn’t tell you.” He laughed sincerely. “Well then, wow, this’ll be a real experience.”
The ex-leader of the free world scrolled his smartphone. “Sit.” He began to chuckle. “You’re my second, uh, roomie. The last guy, well, he had to go, bad news. I had you vetted. You’re squeaky clean, son. And that tax thing… a parking ticket, kid stuff.” He looked up like he suddenly wanted something.
“Thirsty?” Without waiting for my reply, he bolted over to the cell door and fisted a big red button attached to the bars with two distinct strikes. Five seconds later, two Diet Coke cans rolled through what looked like a doggie door.
“Isn’t that cool? He hands me one as he cracks his open. He looks around. “It’s kinda like the Oval Office, just not all that oval.”
Nothing about this was informed by my exposure to Law & Order. The Presidential Seal appeared centered over the bunting on his headboard. Pictures of him with famous people hung from mauve walls temporarily sheet-rocked over metal bars. A gaudy light fixture hung from a generously high ceiling. A window welcomed an afternoon sun over the parking lot. A private makeshift bathroom occupied the far corner of the cell, which I surmised wasn’t meant for my use given the exposed commode right next to my cot. Then I noticed the big red banner across the top of the cell’s entrance.
And it struck me. Donald Trump is running again. Or is he? The outside world isn’t tracking to this. There’s been no news whatsoever in the metaverse I just left, that this is happening.
January 2024 America knows only that Trump was finally charged, then convicted of interfering with an official government proceeding. And for his guilty plea, the DOJ dropped all charges of sedition, witness tampering, dereliction of duty, violations of the Espionage Act, and a lengthy list of provable tax crimes that a 27-year IRS audit finally uncovered, without any question. The 18-month sentence, a fair and reasonable penance for crimes that left a deep, perhaps unhealable wound on global democracy, and arguably within our society in general.
The one redeeming feature of this arrangement seemed to be that the Republicans, and to an extent, all of mainstream society, began moving swiftly away from the looming shadow of The Donald.
Ron DeSantis was pulling away from the ‘24 conservative pack, a smarter, meaner, more focused sportscar of colonial hatred. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez strode mightily out in front of a progressive ‘24 frantic scramble to stop the end of humanity as President Biden wearily began plans for a small library in Scranton. In short, while the world spiraled further downward, the guy who lit the fuse was presently enclosed in a Truman Show-like snow globe, fully believing he’s still in the game.
Over the next eleven days, I pieced together exactly how this Truman Show operated. The TV programming he consumed each day was artificially manufactured to feature him. The newspapers (various), all fake news (oh, the irony!). Hope Hicks appeared daily with a briefcase to help him plan his daily activities (shooting me a conspiratorial look and a smirk whenever he turned away). I attended two bizarrely staged prison rallies in a cafeteria full of confused embezzlers and a few very emotional bikers. I got to witness first-hand the daily hair ritual. My supportiveness at every turn began to ingratiate me to the man that almost made it onto Mount Rushmore.
That evening, lying back on my cot and staring over at my candidate, watching TV in jammies enjoying yet another cola, I felt it finally time to walk through his campaign platform.
“Okay, boss.” I adjust my prison-issue glasses as I prepare my notepad. “Let’s go through some of your positions on the key issues.” He appeared too distracted by the image of Brian Kilmeade doing another fake Trump feature, so I raise my voice. “Hey, 47.”
He smiled and turned my way. I’d developed an effective dog whistle.
“Quick word association. I throw out some topics and you give me your most current riff on each, okay?” Framing it like a game, with no attention span needed, his tail wagged in response.
“I get to be totally honest here, right? ‘Cause if I’m gonna run again, this time I’m gonna be the real Kanye…. you know, off the meds.”
“Sure…. let’s go. Guns?”
“Whatever the Republicans want. Guns pay all the campaign bills, so dammit we need lots and lots of guns. What does Wayne always say good guys with guns bla bla bla….okay, that.
“NO COLLUSION, period. Bill Barr said it…”
“Mr. President, Russia is a far bigger issue than just how it relates to you personally, remember. They’ve invaded Ukraine, remember? They’re holding the world hostage with oil…”
“I don’t know. They could be. They might not be. How can you tell? We’ll have to see, but I don’t understand why it’s so bad if we’re like, friendly with the guy. That’s how stuff gets done. If I were in, that 9-foot basketball player would be home smokin’ all the weed this once great country now happily allows.”
“Foreign Relations, our allies… NATO?”
“Pussies. Totally dependent on us to defend ‘em against all the world’s bad guys. Our awesome military should be a profit center making us money. Ten million dollars and we drone strike your enemy. One hundred million dollars and we drive that enemy out all the way. Can you imagine all the schools we could build with that kind of cash coming in all the time?”
“Black Lives Matter?”
“Sure. Yeah. Just obey the f@#$% law.”
“Ask Jared. He’s a Jew. I’m not. I surround myself with good people.”
A blank stare. I watched him process the words, struggling. “Sir, do you know what that means?”
He smiled. “Not exactly, but I think it has something to do with nukes and other countries getting nukes. From what I think I remember as President, something like maybe 10 countries have nukes, right? So what if a few more are working on getting them? That stuff is so complicated, they’ll never figure it out all the way. Look at North Korea. They knocked it off while I was in charge. I think we make way too big a deal about that issue.”
“I always get this one wrong. Blame the woman? Blame the doctor? I’ll be really honest here. I don’t care. I don’t. I’m not a woman. Just do whatever.”
I broke the cadence of our little exercise. “Wow, Mr. President, you know that’s pretty far apart from what the conservatives think.”
“You know, I’m thinking of running this time as an independent. I’m tired of having to fall in line with what these corrupt party people say we need to do. I was kinda thinking that my special brand… you know, the Trump philosophy, well, it kinda stretches across and over all party lines. I think I can grow my base this time if I just run on my own.”
The candidate appeared drained from this visceral exercise, turned off the TV and retired to his Serta. I watched him kick off his slippers, recharging his phone on a maple nightstand. “That was fun. I think we got a lot of good strategy work done today, Devin. I’m really glad you’re with me in this.” He clicked off the light and snuggled deeply into a feather pillow, the soft, white down comforter cradling his frame.
“Do you know that, while you were President, and probably right up to the time they convicted you, that a sizable percentage of people in this country went to bed with their final thought being if I could somehow get a clean shot at that guy, I might give up absolutely everything in my life, in fact my life itself, just to rid the world of that utterly despicable, disgraceful, evil scourge.”
I could see The Donald’s face through the moonglow from the window, smiling contently, eyes gently shut. He sighed deeply. “Ahhh, that’s the thought I want to drift off to sleep with.”