President Obama invited Donald Trump to the White House two days after the election. He reached out his hand and said, “I want to emphasize to you, Mr. President-elect, that we now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed because if you succeed, then the country succeeds”. For many of us, and I suspect for Obama himself, those were jarring words. We hadn’t yet accepted in our own minds that the man sitting across from him is our President-Elect. For Obama, both the words and the meeting were essential. As our president it is his responsibility to see the peaceful transition of power. Our democracy is built and dependent on that. Perhaps that’s even more important after such a contentious and bitter election. You and I probably couldn’t have brought ourselves to extending an invitation much less saying those words to such an awful ill-prepared man, but that’s the luxury of being an ordinary citizen.
Obama isn’t the only person who has had to move on and exercise his sworn obligation to the Constitution. Members of Congress in both parties are preparing their own adjustment to the new order. Democrats don’t want to get marginalized or be painted as kneejerk obstructionists. Yes, the Republicans did just that and paid no price for it, but Chuck Schumer and his new leadership team which now includes Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are playing with a weaker hand in 2016. Republican, or conservative, control has shifted to all three branches of government. Democrats want, as reported in the Times, to find areas of common ground where they can get some things done and claim some credit. Whether that will work with as untried an administration as we have ever known remains unseen. Beyond the obvious ideological differences, this administration has not only potential for but real conflicts of interest that will sorely teste them and the Congress. Moreover, we can look forward to legislation with which Democrats can’t and shouldn’t agree. That said, painful as it may be, elections count and this one didn’t go our way
There is a big difference between public officials who have taken an oath to carry out their duties -- the President and Congress -- and the press. You think? Well, get ready for those it’s not so bad articles. If you haven’t seen them, they’re coming, and soon, to a newsstand, TV, computer or smart phone screen near you. The press has played a significant and often shameful role in creating this president in waiting. The amount of “ink” they gave him compared to anyone or anything else is nothing less than breathtaking. Often what they wrote or said was critical, but the fact that they lavished so much attention to his every gesture or tweet and that they so grossly underestimated him did us an unbelievable disservice. The latter was part of why we were so blind sighted by his victory. Whether they were doing “their job” or not, whether they maintained either appropriate independence or were driven more by self-greed -- his reality show hype drove ratings -- will long be debated. What’s clear is that they, both during the campaign and now, have set a very low bar for his performance. So expect that positive “reporting” in the very near future. “He’s not as bad as we expected”. Right.
The first days of transition have not been, to understate it, encouraging. Only two appointments have been made, neither of which require Senate approval. His named chief of staff reminds us that the Paul Ryan GOP has taken charge; his chief strategist that the alt right fringe has been mainstreamed. Taken together, both our disappointment in Hilary’s loss and our fears about what the Trump victory will mean have been measurably reinforced. The potential cabinet members who have been mentioned only heighten those feelings. We citizens are not constrained by any oath of government service or the conflicts inherent in the for-profit news media. We are all, party affiliations or not, independents in the true meaning of the word. We are the ultimate checks and balances, both in exercising our freedom of speech and more importantly of vote. President Obama and others have often said that we have the most important title in our democracy: Citizen. The time ahead will test how well we live up to it. In some ways, we will all -- those in government and we the citizens -- have to fall in line with respect to living with the election results. We will need to function day-to-day under this new administration. But it’s on us not to confuse functioning with maintaining vigilance and speaking out when all that we hold dear is threatened. If your moral compass is sitting in a drawer gathering dust, take it out, dust it off and keep it close at hand. The waters are likely to be choppy and we’ll need it as a constant reference point.