The president is silent. To get into office, he had launched an erratic and often unintelligible campaign—an army for space, anti-immigration, anti-plant and animal, pro-large, expensive, and medieval wall, pro-flak jackets, pro no choice for anyone except other people like him (that is to say, rich and male and white), generally positive towards tyranny and combativeness, negative about libraries, intangible and expensive healthcare coverage and despots for all—and was voted in on a lukewarm tide of inertia, of ennui, of racism and sexism. He celebrated his victory by eating layer cake and pepperoni hot pockets, by drinking champagne and demanding more ice cream. Then he stopped talking.
At first the news networks don’t know how to respond. FOX launches a minute counter at the bottom of the screen that catalogs the ongoing quiet. CNN dispatches reporters to stand in front of the White House 24-hours a day in case the president speaks in his sleep. He doesn’t; he rarely even sneezes. There are letters to the editor and experts on elective muteness and theories that it is something in the D.C. water. Theories that he’s haunted by the ghost of William Henry Harrison, theories that he is silent because Facebook, because Google, because internet. Gradually the hysteria fades. The minutes are still counted, larger and larger numbers scrolling through each major news program, but the anchors begin talking about other things: the moon, successful trade negotiations, the downturn in domestic partner and police-perpetrated violence, how millennials are ruining spaghetti.
In the beginning the senators aren’t sure how to act either. They press the president for opinions on anything. They want to know what he thinks about Mexicans or women’s bodies or a specific celebrity or what he had for breakfast. Then they start asking for individual words. Verbs, preferably, but even adjectives will do! they cry. The president doesn’t answer any of their questions; he doesn’t say a thing. Like the newscasters, the senators eventually move on. They fill their time by passing laws that are beneficial for vast swathes of the population, laws that combat late-stage capitalism and white supremacy. They stop parading and instead walk or bike to work. They go bowling.
While the senators and the news anchors and the American people are out doing something else, like solving the climate crisis and addressing the opioid epidemic, the president eats snack foods. The president pops popcorn in the microwave and makes single-serve coffee mug cakes. The president eats pretzels and ranch dip he mixes from packets. The president doesn’t provide any opinions, positive or negative, on how another person looks; he never tells his wife what to wear. Instead he folds his own underwear and wipes his nose on the back of his hand. He massages lotion into his skin after watching Silence of the Lambs. He purchases an ant farm from Amazon and names the individual ants. He reads Twilight and Guns, Germs, and Steel. He enjoys memes involving cats and walks on a treadmill and becomes a pet bird enthusiast. The Oval Office is filled with the sound of parakeets ringing their toy bells and hopping from perch to perch.
Never, at any point during the course of his tenure, does the president offer to buy another country or make fun of a woman’s face or remark disparagingly about a football team. He never trades insults with other world leaders or calls anyone dummy or dope or clown or phony or lightweight or dopey or spoiled or brat or pathetic or obnoxious or low class slob. He doesn’t taunt disaster survivors or entire races of people or refer to even one country as a shit-hole. He doesn’t refuse to comply with laws or attempt to profit off his position. Not once does the president talk about grabbing anyone by any body part. The president doesn’t speak at all.
Kara McMullen is a writer and research scientist based in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has also appeared in The Offing, Storychord, and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in DIAGRAM and Slush Pile Magazine. www.karamcmullen.com