During their private White House meeting on Thursday, Mr. Obama walked his successor through the duties of running the country, and Mr. Trump seemed surprised by the scope, said people familiar with the meeting. Trump aides were described by those people as unaware that the entire presidential staff working in the West Wing had to be replaced at the end of Mr. Obama’s term.
After meeting with Mr. Trump, the only person to be elected president without having held a government or military position, Mr. Obama realized the Republican needs more guidance. He plans to spend more time with his successor than presidents typically do, people familiar with the matter said.
President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump (I’m going to have to get used to typing that, aren’t I?) sit in the Oval Office. Vice President Joe Biden sits on the sofa, sipping tea and eating scones from a tray.
Trump: You said I was unfit for office, so I brought these barbells.
Obama: Did you bring anything else?
Trump: Was that pun not enough to win you over?
Obama: No, Donald, it wasn’t.
Biden: (to Obama) No way. There’s no way.
Obama: I can make a president of him, Joe. Now he’s a simple huckster, a mere orange con artist, but I can make something of him. It’s not impossible. I was a professor before I was a senator. I can make sure he knows the fundamental principles of our democracy, at least. It can be done, and I can do it.
He turns to Trump, who has pulled his phone out of his pocket and is fiddling with it.
Obama: (instantly panicked) Oh no, are you tweeting? Please don’t tweet anything. (He wrestles the phone away and throws it down as if burned.) How do you even have your phone? I thought Kellyanne took it.
Biden: “Not impossible,” you said.
Obama: Donald, I am an expert in the Constitution, and I believe that if you study and practice hard and follow my instructions, I can make you into a president who will not embarrass us by Inauguration Day.
Biden: (through a mouthful of scone) I bet he can’t.
Obama: Donald, do you know the articles of the Constitution?
Trump: Sure I do. I’ve known them all my life. Article One, Article Two, Article 12.
Joe Biden sighs heavily.
Obama: No. There is no Article 12. There are seven articles. The first deals with the legislative branch. The second deals with the —
Donald Trump has wandered over to the curtains and is looking despondently out the window.
Obama: Donald, over here, please.
Trump: I’m bored.
Obama: I understand that it can be difficult to go from not having to read or study or do anything even a tiny bit hard or boring at all, ever, to being the CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE MOST POWERFUL NATION ON EARTH, whose life is an unceasing parade of unpleasant responsibilities and difficult decisions, but, please, focus. The second article — what do you think that deals with?
Trump: That’s the one that says everyone has to have a gun.
Obama: Okay, I think I see what our mix-up is here. That is the Second Amendment (mumbles); also that’s not exactly what the second amendment says, but — (louder) I’m talking about Article II, which deals with the powers of the executive. That power has limits, Donald. Are you paying attention? It is important to understand what those limits are. I know I’ve issued my share of executive orders — take that out of your mouth, Donald.
Donald Trump spits out a curtain tassel.
Obama: But I know I speak for a definite if not an electoral college majority of Americans when I say, “Well, that was me, and this is YOU.”
Trump: When can I go back home to New York?
Obama: You can’t. You can’t just go back to New York. This is the White House. You live here now.
Trump: (quietly) Oh.
Several days later
Biden is asleep on the couch with a newspaper over his head. Obama, who evidently has not slept, is marching back and forth drilling a resentful and droopy Trump from a copy of the Constitution.
Obama: “The First Amendment guarantees the rights to freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”
Trump: The First Amendment guarantees —
Obama: That’s right.
Trump: I’m tired. Can we stop?
Obama: No. We cannot stop. The First Amendment guarantees. Free press, assembly, religion and speech. Here’s a mnemonic: PARS. Like golf. You love golf, right, buddy?
Trump: Not as much as Obama loves to golf!
Obama: That’s me. I’m here. I’m in the room.
Trump: I thought all the president did was play golf and make polarizing speeches. I am good at both of those things.
Obama: No, buddy.
Trump: Are you sure?
Obama: I’m sure.
Trump: And once a year you got to tell jokes at a fancy dinner.
Obama: No. No, Donald.
Trump: And you get to go to all the best funerals.
Obama: That is so, so far from the point of being president.
Trump: Can we play golf?
Obama: Not until you tell me what is in the First Amendment.
Trump: This is hard!
Obama: Religion. That includes Islam, by the way, Donald. When people say that banning people from the country on the basis of religion is unconstitutional, this is what they mean. They mean you can’t, because this is a protected right.
Trump: Are you Muslim?
Obama: No, but if I were, that would be okay, too. This is America.
Trump: Figured I’d ask.
Obama: Yes, Donald. The freedom of the press is guaranteed. If someone prints facts about you that you don’t like, like if you said something but you wish that you hadn’t, or if you aren’t paying income taxes, they are allowed to. That’s their right.
Trump: Seems wrong, but okay.
Obama: No. Not wrong. Literally one of the foundational principles of our democracy.
(He grabs an entire pitcher of coffee and drinks it.)
Obama: Look. American democracy is a fragile flame that has burned brightly for almost three centuries. If you can say this correctly, maybe that flame will not go out. Now, what’s in the First Amendment?
Biden: Maybe you should try it with marbles in his mouth.
Obama: Joe, you’re not helping.
Several more days have passed.
Trump is sitting with an unhappy expression under a big whiteboard on which Obama has drawn the branches of government with a lot of arrows between them. They have just finished watching “Schoolhouse Rock.”
Trump: When do I get to start hanging out with A-list celebrities?
Obama: That’s not what this is about.
Trump: But you hang out with Bey-on-cee.
Obama: I see Beyonce and Jay-Z. But you won’t. You’ll probably see a lot of Mitch McConnell, though.
Trump: Ugh, Mitch McConnell.
Obama: I hear you there.
Trump: And I have to live here?
Trump: How did you do it? Weren’t you lonely?
Obama: Well, it helped that every day I got to talk to Michelle, whose mind I value.
Obama: Michelle agrees with Joe that this is not possible.
Trump: Well, do you hang out with Putin much?
Obama: Absolutely not.
Trump: Oh. (He deflates a little.)
Later that night, after Trump has gone home to his tower.
Obama: Joe, you were right. I don’t think I can do this.
Biden: You have to.
Obama: I can’t.
Biden: Don’t give up now. We need someone like you to make this okay.
Obama: What if I just stayed here? I know he wouldn’t mind. I know millions of Americans wouldn’t mind.
Biden: Now you’re sounding just like him.
Obama: I guess I’ve grown accustomed to his face.
Obama: Not that way, Joe. Just in the way if your car smells like cigarettes eventually you stop noticing.
Biden: Oh. Yeah.
Obama: Okay, let’s try some phrases. Say with me. “As president, I will not retweet racist memes.”
Trump: “As president, I will not retweet racist memes?”
Obama: Without the question mark.
Trump: As president, I will not retweet racist memes. (with greater confidence) As president, I will not retweet racist memes.
Obama: By George, I think he’s got it! Joe, listen! Donald, say it again.
Trump: (beat) What if I think it’s a statistic?
Obama: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but, if you’re not sure, ask Reince Priebus.
Trump: Can I ask Steve Bannon?
Obama: Absolutely not. Do not ask Steve Bannon.
Trump: (writes, painstakingly) DON’T ASK STEVE.
Obama: Now say, “As president, I will not grope women.”
Trump: Then what’s the point?
Biden: I’m going out to get some more hard liquor, do you want anything?
Obama: 1,000 cigarettes.
Biden: Got it.
The next day. Books are strewn everywhere.
Trump: Wasn’t Andrew Jackson president once? I think I read that somewhere. He didn’t read all these books, he just sort of — he sort of did his own thing, you know.
Obama: If by “did his own thing,” you mean “presided over the Trail of Tears, a forced removal of thousands of Native Americans from their homes that formed a permanent black mark on this nation’s history,” then, yes.
Trump: Wait, the president can do that?
Obama: I’m sorry I said anything.
Obama: (finishes a long PowerPoint as Biden hums the last bars of “Ashokan Farewell”) … and that was what Abraham Lincoln did.
Trump: A civil war, huh?
Trump: So that’s where those little red flags come from, with the blue X’s.
Obama: Yes. And that is why they have such a complex racist history.
Trump: I thought it was, like, a country music thing.
Obama: (too cheerfully) Never too late to learn!
Trump: (beat) Who was Alexander Hamilton, by the way? I keep hearing his name. Was he some sort of a rapper?
Obama: He was the first secretary of the treasury.
Trump: (writes, in big squiggly letters) Secretary. Of. The. Treasury.
Obama: That’s another Cabinet post you’re going to need to fill.
Trump: Not another one.
Obama: You have to fill ALL of them.
Trump: You’re kidding me.
Trump: Okay. (beat) How many of them are there?
Obama sighs and hands Biden $50.
Obama: So, that’s most of American history.
Trump: You’re sure Ted Cruz’s dad had nothing to do with that — you know, the thing.
Obama: JFK. And yes, I’m sure.
Trump: I have to apologize to a lot of people, it looks like.
Several weeks later. Trump is reading, with difficulty, from a sheet on which is written “I apologize for saying that Mexican immigrants were killers and rapists” and “I will not ‘open up’ our libel laws.”
Obama: So those are things NOT to do. Have you given thought to what you’re going to accomplish?
Trump: I will build a wall, and Mexico will pay for it.
Obama: You know that the border between Mexico and the United States is something like 670 miles, or 1,078 kilometers.
Trump: What’s a kilometer?
Obama: It’s like a better, more efficient mile.
(Biden mutters something under his breath.)
Trump: 670 miles, huh.
Trump: That’s longer than I realized.
Trump: How would I actually go about building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico?
Obama: I don’t know, Donald. I’ve been trying to ask that question all campaign.
Trump: Maybe some parts of it could be a fence.
Trump: That’s — that’s a really long distance.
Obama: No kidding, Donald.
Trump: 670 miles, you said.
Trump: I mean you can’t build a wall that big, that would be crazy.
Trump: How do I get Mexico to pay for it?
Obama: Why are you asking me this?
Trump: When can I make jobs? I want to make millions of jobs.
Obama: (his voice is pleasant, but his eyes are screaming) H-how were you planning to do that, Donald?
Trump: (long pause) A pageant. A pageant for jobs.
Obama: Sure, buddy.
Trump: Good deals.
Obama: Okay. Buddy. That sounds great. But remember, like we went over, Article II of the Constitution, it says that Congress has to give consent to treaties, which most trade deals — even NAFTA, that required the president to go through —
Trump: You okay? Your eye is twitching.
Obama: Fine. I’m fine. Let’s try something else.
Trump: I hate this.
Obama: Not as much as I do, Donald. Come on. Focus. Repeat. “I will stop calling Alex Jones.”
Trump: “I will stop calling Alex Jones?”
Obama: You keep putting question marks at the end and I really wish you wouldn’t.
Trump: “I will do as little as possible, and I will ask Barack if I have any questions.”
Obama: Let’s start with that. “And I will denounce any followers who take my election as license to engage in acts of hate.”
Trump: I’m tired.
Obama: Say it.
Several weeks later. Biden is asleep. Trump appears at the door.
Obama: Come on, Donald. Inauguration is tomorrow. Grab my slippers and then we can go over waterboarding.
Trump throws Obama’s slippers at him.
Trump: NO, TAKE YOUR DUMB SLIPPERS! LEAVE ME ALONE! I CAN’T POSSIBLY LEARN ALL OF THIS BY INAUGURATION! I WANT TO GO BACK TO TRUMP TOWER! I DON’T WANT ANY PART OF THIS! THIS IS GOING TO RUIN MY LIFE! Can’t we just let the popular vote decide it?
Obama: (very sadly picking up the slippers) That’s not how democracy works, Donald. Believe me, I wish it were.