I have a confession to make: Donald Trump is imprisoned in my closet.

He’s been in there for months, and I haven’t dared to let him out, for fear that his presence might be discovered. What’s worse, now that he’s president I’ve come to realize that my treatment of Trump does not conform with the Geneva Convention. He’s spent all this time in a tiny, dark space, without proper ventilation. I haven’t even bothered to provide him with food or water.

I’m not a kidnapper or a hostage-taker or a torturer, I swear. My only defense is puzzlement: I don’t know what to do with him. Like most people in California, I badly want to get rid of Donald Trump, but I can’t figure out how.

To be clear: My Donald Trump looks a lot like the one who is assuming the presidency of the United States. And my Trump can be maddening and utterly frustrating, and he hasn’t released any tax returns. But my Trump is not that Trump.

How do I know? Well, the Trump in my closet has never insulted Mexicans, or threatened to ban Muslims from the country, or boasted about assaulting women, or cozied up to Vladimir Putin (as far as I know—I haven’t had the closet swept for bugs and other wiretaps yet).

My Trump is a piñata. He is about half the size, and a tiny fraction of the weight, of the human Trump taking office.


The trouble is that he has become, like President Trump, inescapable.

I never thought my Trump would hang around this long.

I bought him online in the summer of 2015—not for me, but as a gift. A friend and colleague who lives in the north of Sweden was celebrating his 50th birthday party there in the fall. Since my friend is a journalist who is deeply immersed in politics and has a robust sense of humor, I thought a Trump piñata might offer an opportunity for amusing intercultural exchange. So I paid to have Trump shipped direct.

But borders are always fraught in matters involving Trump. And Swedish officials wouldn’t allow him into their country for reasons that I still don’t understand. (Did they build a wall and make Norway pay for it?) Perhaps they wanted to keep their distance, since Trump had long falsely claimed Swedish heritage, instead of his real German ancestry.

Trump was deported, in a big cardboard box, and returned to me in Southern California. I lazily kept him in the box, by a big pile of kids’ toys, for a while. But then the kids opened the box and started asking questions (about everything from whether he was a puppet to his lack of obvious private parts), many of which I didn’t want to answer.

Early in 2016, I relocated Trump to the closet, laying him on his back on the top shelf—above my suits and baseball caps.

I didn’t think much about him at first. At that point a Trump piñata felt like any gag gift you might keep in the closet—not so different from a fake nose or a shocking red wig. I figured, like so many other Americans, that the non-piñata Trump wouldn’t last. But as he kept winning primaries, I felt unsettled about having a likeness of an unhinged white nationalist in the closet. Trump’s presence in such an intimate space carried a psychic weight. I didn’t want to have to look at him every time I needed my shoes.

So I tried to get rid of him. I offered him to friends who were having birthdays. I offered him to friends whose kids were having birthdays. I offered him to friends whose friends were having birthdays. No one would take him. It was like trying to give away a stock of smallpox. My Trump experienced bipartisan rejection—more liberally minded people didn’t want to be near the piñata. And more conservative minded people didn’t want any association because they would have to explain their views about him—either that they were opposed to a leading Republican candidate, or that they favored a person who so many others fervently disliked.

Desperate, I tried to repurpose Trump. Parrots and other noisy birds had taken up cacophonous residency in our yard, so I attached him to our grapefruit tree—my very own Trumpian scarecrow. Unfortunately, he scared the neighbors more than the birds. One asked me how I could be a Trump supporter. Another asked me if my suspending Trump from the tree was a form of lynching. The accountant next door, whose property was closest to hanging Trump, gently suggested I take him down.

Trump went back in the closet (without his right ear, which mysteriously disappeared when he was hanging outside). But I didn’t give up. After his frightening convention speech, I put him out with the trash. But Trump was too large to fit entirely in one trash can, and the company that handles our city’s trash won’t pick up oversize items unless you schedule an expensive special pickup. I can never get that company on the phone anyway.

mathews-col-trump-in-closet-interior-image-2After that setback, I briefly considered setting him on fire in the driveway, but I haven’t burned anything that large before. Would I be in violation of Southern California’s strict air quality regulations? And if the fire department were called, how would I explain myself?

Back into the closet Trump went for the rest of election season. After his upset victory in November, I redoubled my resolve to dispatch him once and for all. I asked my wife and eldest son if we could please seize the opportunity of a December birthday party to let the piñata fulfill its intended destiny. But people were still upset by the election, and my wife, who stays out of politics, didn’t think it was a good idea. My 8-year-old chimed in too, informing me that he was sick of hearing about Trump all the time.

So today Trump remains in my closet. And I remain stuck, in the same way California is with President Trump.

There are many ideas about what to do about the new president. We can’t support him—more than two thirds of Californians voted against him, and big majorities of us don’t trust him or like him. We can have the new state attorney general Xavier Becerra sue him, but lawsuits won’t get rid of a man as litigious as Trump. And while we can fight to protect vulnerable people from him, we can’t really fight him at every single turn—he’s the federal government and we still need our Social Security and our Medicare and Medicaid and military. And our state can’t declare independence and secede from the country—at least without starting a civil war.

There is, of course, the lingering temptation to stuff him full of candy, and beat him with a stick until he breaks into pieces. But maybe we can’t even do that anymore. Now that he’s president, would someone call the cops or the Secret Service?

In recent days, I’ve decided I was devoting too much energy to the question of what to do about Trump. So I’ve surrendered, at least for now.

I’m keeping Trump in my closet for the foreseeable future. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with him, but the two of us can coexist. At least the piñata version of our new president hasn’t told me any lies.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.