In Nancy Mitford’s comic 1960 novel “Don’t Tell Alfred,” the wife of the new British ambassador to Paris arrives at the embassy to find that she has a vexing problem: Her predecessor has refused to move out.
Indeed, Pauline Leone, the wife of the previous ambassador, is so unhinged by the prospect of a status-free future that she has set up her own rival court, grandly receiving a stream of visitors as if for all the world she were still Madame L’Ambassadrice, the social arbiter of Paris.
“At the beginning one thought it was a lark — that in a day or two she’d get tired of it,” a British official says crossly. But no. “She’s having the time of her life,” he adds, “and quite honestly I don’t see how we shall ever induce her to go.”
As the nation ponders the awkward case of Donald J. Trump, a president who will not admit that he has been fired, it is helpful to consider him through the experiences of other people, fictional and otherwise, who have been unable to accept the arrival of unwelcome developments in their personal and professional lives.
Is Trump like King Lear, raging naked on the heath and desperately hanging on to the increasingly diminished trappings of power even as they are stripped from him? Or is he more like Bartleby the Scrivener, the inscrutable model of passive resistance who one day declines to do any more work or indeed leave the building, declaring: “I would prefer not to?”
Is he like Nellie, the character in “The Office” who installs herself at the desk of the regional manager when he is out of town and unilaterally appoints herself boss? Or how about George from “Seinfeld,” who quits one of his many jobs in a huff, unsuccessfully tries to get it back, and reports to work anyway, as if nothing had happened?
Timothy Naftali, a history professor at New York University, said that one way to view Mr. Trump would be as a version of Miss Havisham, the jilted bride from “Great Expectations” who lives forever in the past, never taking off her tattered wedding gown even as her house decays around her.
“He’s wearing the cloak of the presidency and he’s stuck in his room, getting dusty, while everyone else has moved on,” Mr. Naftali said.
No president in American history has ever before refused for so long to concede an election he has obviously lost. But when it comes to hanging on to an alternative version of reality, Mr. Trump has plenty of nonpresidential company.
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