It was a beautiful spring day in Washington when the two most powerful people in the free world held their first meeting.
She sat primly on the striped couch, waiting. Her silver hair glistened in the sunlight; an active intelligence danced in her eyes. She’d been here before, in the presence of a succession of powerful men, but this was different. There was just a bit of fear this time. For a woman as confident and experienced as she, used to maneuvering with assurance in a world dominated by men, the tickle of fear was unfamiliar, and a little exciting.
He strode purposefully into the oval room and leaned back on the massive desk. His strong shoulders shifted beneath a deep blue bespoke suit. The sunlight backlit him, playing off the waves of his blond mane. He surveyed the room, the epicenter of his domain.
“How does this work?” he barked.
“You know what I do?” she asked. “Because I can explain . . . ”
“Of course I know what you do. Everybody knows what you do. You remember that I’ve complained about how you do it.”
“I’ve noticed,” she said, softly. “It’s unusual. People in your position rarely weigh in.”
“So how do you explain yourself?”
He has no clue how we work, she thought. Best to assume nothing and explain.
“I, and my colleagues, monitor everything about the economy. We represent the collective economic wisdom of the government. We use the most powerful tool that the nation has to keep that economy safe and growing. We set interest rates. And as you saw last week, the economy is heating up a little too fast. So we moved those rates up a few notches. To keep the threat of inflation in check . . . ”
His mouth twisted into a hard line as he lost the thread of what she was saying. He thought back to his days as a builder and financier. Higher interest rates put pressure on everything. Bankers owned him, in those days. Now, in this center of power, he thought he was free. But here was a banker — now he understood, no matter what she called herself, she was a banker — who was determined to hold his plans hostage. His infrastructure plans, hamstrung by finance. Growth rates, reigned in by . . . a woman. Men, he understood. But a powerful, mature woman in his way, that reawakened an anger he had thought was behind him.
He strode to the couch and loomed over her.
“You realize I could fire you,” he said. ” ‘You’re fired,’ I could say. I like to say that.”
“You can’t,” she said. “You can’t fire me, just like you can’t fire the Supreme Court. That’s how we maintain our independence.”
“I can cut off your funding.”
“Actually, we’re one of the only parts of the government that makes a profit,” she said. “We don’t need your funding. We can print money. And we own your debt. A lot of your debt.”
Power, he thought. Naked power, right here in the city I rule. This mild woman was not what she seemed.
Her power stirred something deep within him. His body shifted.
He sat down on the couch. It creaked. Everything in this place is so old, he thought. Even us. But for some of us, age makes no difference.
The smell of her perfect hair wafted up to him. She was beautiful, he realized. Power is always beautiful, once you really see it.
“Surely we can work together. Making America great again is my job. Isn’t that what you want, too?”
“You must respect my independence,” she said. “I do not work for you. My job is math, and judgment, and wisdom. It cannot shift in the daily breezes of the capital, or at the whims of a mercurial chief executive.”
That stung. But he thought he could see an opening.
Slowly, gently, he put his right arm across her shoulders. His small hand stroked her suit, just once, as if admiring the fabric.
“Talk to me about the economy,” he said.
“Inflation,” she explained, as if speaking to a child. “It could destroy everything you are doing.”
As she rambled on, he turned. He moved on her, clumsily.
“Please don’t grab me there,” she said. But she didn’t turn away! There was hope.
“I have always wanted . . . may I . . . may I touch your hair?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. He tilted his huge head down towards her, and she ran her fingers through it.
“I’m married,” she said. “So am I,” he said. But they both knew that they loved power more than anything else. Power had, inevitably, driven them to this moment.
“Will you respect my independence?” she said. “I have an awesome and sacred responsibility.”
“I know,” he lied. “I feel the weight of that responsibility as well.” And he smiled.
“I think this is going to be a valuable partnership,” he said. He pressed a button on the phone that rested on the ornate, antique coffee table.
“Yes, Mr. President,” a woman’s voice answered.
“Please hold my calls for the next half hour. I’m not to be interrupted.”
“But the joint-chiefs. . . .”
“I said, don’t interrupt me,” he said firmly. His tiny finger pushed a button to end the call. He turned toward the woman whose power rivaled his. And he smiled.