Tumultuous transition nears end

By Andrew Beatty, AFP

WASHINGTON — After vowing a smooth transition, President Barack Obama and Donald Trump are presiding over one of the most tumultuous transfers of power in U.S. history. Assassinations notwithstanding, American presidential transitions have generally been peaceful affairs. But that doesn’t mean they have been smooth. Andrew Johnson was effectively barred from attending Ulysses Grant’s swearing in. Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt did not speak to each other on inauguration day.

Bill Clinton’s staff removed the “W” keys from dozens of White House keyboards before George W. Bush moved in. But few transitions have been as tempestuous as Obama’s passing of the baton to Trump. When the pair met in the Oval Office a few days after Trump’s shock November victory, the tone was cordial enough. Hailing an “excellent conversation,” Obama said “it is important for all of us, regardless of party and regardless of political preferences, to now come together, work together, to deal with the many challenges that we face.” Quite a show of unity for two men who are as different as two politicians can be: Obama, a 55-year-old former law lecturer, is as systematic as Trump, a 70-year-old reality TV mogul, is impulsive. But Obama’s early strategy of flattering his way into Trump’s good graces has melted away with each incendiary tweet. In the span of a few weeks, the president-elect has picked fights with Mexico, China, Toyota, Lockheed Martin, the media, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the cast of “Hamilton.” He has also taken aim at Obama personally.

“Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition – NOT!” Trump tweeted in late December. Trump infuriated the White House by offering a running commentary on Obama’s final weeks, criticizing his decision not to veto a U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements and the transfer of prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay prison.

“Trump has incinerated the ‘one president at a time’ rule. His behavior during the transition has been just as erratic as we’ve come to expect on most matters” said Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. The president-elect “has been acting as though he was co-president-or maybe already president. It’s a total break with tradition,” said Sabato.