In life, there are two tragedies. One is not being elected president. The other is being elected president.
Out in the garden, the butterflies flitted carelessly from leaf to leaf. In his studio in 2007, the painter fretted.
“It is the best thing I have ever done,” he said to his friend Lord Henry Wotton, who was only somewhat transparently analogous to Satan. “That is why it frightens me. Although it is a speed-painting, I have put too much of myself into it. I have put in it the very secret of my soul. Look at it. It’s the Donald.”
“Remarkable,” Lord Henry said, puffing on his long, gold-tipped cigarette. “This cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite and leaves one with lung cancer.”
“Fantastic,” Donald Trump said. He could not see the picture, but knowing that it was of him he felt confident that it would be excellent.
“It is remarkable,” Lord Henry went on. “Here you are in all your vibrancy and power. You shall never again look as you look on this day here at Mar-A-Lago, posing for this charity auction. You shall wither and lose your radiance as surely as the Trump Taj Mahal, yet this painting shall endure.”
“Well,” the painter said. “It is finished. Come and look at yourself, Donald.”
Donald Trump gazed at the painting. It was, indeed, a thing of splendor. He had heard, before, the compliments of his friends, but he had found them empty. Now he found himself transported by this luminous cloud of verbiage. “Suppose it aged and I didn’t?” he said. “Some people would give their soul for that kind of thing.”
All the foliage rustled ominously. No one in the drawing room noticed. Lord Henry flung himself into an armchair.
Donald Trump noticed no change in the painting for many months. He lived in society. He watched the unchanging gold of his hair and the unvarying ochre of his complexion. He enjoyed a daily milkshake. Life seemed stale and routine. He obtained donations to the Donald J. Trump Foundation and then gave them from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to other places. He began to feel that life could hold no further thrill.
One day, on a whim, he announced that he could not feel quite confident in his mind whether the president of the United States had not been born in Kenya.
That night, gazing at the painting, he noticed a change. It was now wearing an unflattering red hat and bore a curious smirk. The hat was vermilion, with white, spidery letters upon it. He could not make out the writing on the hat.
He continued this crusade for months, bolstered by the attention. Each evening he examined the painting and the writing on the hat became clearer and clearer until one day he could make it out. “Make America Great Again,” it read.
Donald Trump sought out every sort of vice. He became a connoisseur of scents, of sensations, of the myriad different fashions in which a building could be plated in brass and tinted in ivory. He bought a curious book full of speeches with a yellow cover and perused it and kept it on his bedside table. Whenever he read from it, the painting looked pleased. A TRUMP 2016 sign appeared behind him, and then, even farther behind, a chagrined-looking image of what he took to be the governor of New Jersey.
He steeped himself in sin. He complimented his daughter in ways that made most listeners uncomfortable, to show that society with its petty pruderies would hold no sway over him. He mocked a disabled reporter. The painting laughed and laughed.
Whenever the painting changed he knew that something was right in his life. It consumed him and devoured him. When he announced on his famous escalator that he was running for president, the painting raised its hand in a thumbs-up.
Occasionally, the painting would alter for the worse. When Donald Trump fired Corey Lewandowski, it went so far as to remove its hat.
One evening the painter, in an old raincoat and on his way to Victoria Station, stopped by Donald Trump’s golf club.
“Donald,” the painter said, “I am concerned for you. Since you have begun to run for president, you take no joy in your former life. You did not use to surround yourself with throngs of people who shouted such hateful things. You did not use to encourage the shouting.”
“Do you not see?” Donald Trump asked. “It is you who have done this! Look!” And he grasped the painter by the arm and drew him up the stairs to where the painting hung in what was technically a public area of the golf club for tax purposes. “Look at your work!”
“It’s different,” the painter said. “I don’t understand. You had it altered?”
“Your painting has shown me my true self,” Donald Trump explained. “It has shown me the soul of America. It is going to make me the president of the United States.”
The painter blanched and staggered. “No!” he cried. “I never meant it to be thus! We must destroy it, Donald! Together, you and I!” He took up a palette knife and charged at the painting.
Donald Trump stopped him, but not before the painter had fallen onto the knife and died. Donald Trump wrapped him in a large, ornate carpet and fired several members of his hotel staff. The painting smirked. It was a loathsome smirk. Blood appeared on the large, capable hands of the man in the painting. Donald Trump did not like to look at it. He tried to bleach it out but only succeeded in damaging the canvas. For the first time in his life, he did not like the thought of this painting holding such sway over him.
“Perhaps,” he thought. “Perhaps.”
The next day, he stood before the media and announced that the birther movement had not been his idea but was, in fact, Hillary Clinton’s. He announced that it was over.
Quickly he ran to the painting. But – horror – there was no change in it at all. Only, behind the figure in it, he could plainly see the windows of the Oval Office.