WASHINGTON — The outgoing president somberly ruminated about the fragility of democracy and earnestly implored Americans to reject corrosive political dialogue. Fourteen hours later, the incoming president staged a defiant and frenetic news conference at his gilded New York City tower, dismissing critics, insulting reporters and likening the country’s intelligence officers to Nazis.
President Barack Obama’s farewell address in his hometown of Chicago on Tuesday night and President-elect Donald Trump’s news conference Wednesday morning offered a study in presidential whiplash, giving the country a striking look at how the White House will change next week.
“Historians are going to look at this period of Obama’s farewell and Trump’s press conference — they’re almost companion pieces in different styles,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “Everyone says that Obama and Trump are 180 degrees different and you can see why.”
The difference in ideology, of course, has been no secret. Trump campaigned on undoing nearly all of Obama’s major policies. But the back-to-back moments in the spotlight illuminated differences in tone and style that left little doubt Americans face a change unlike any in recent memory. It’s a coming shift — from reserved to aggressive, from controlled to wildly unpredictable, from cautious to unfiltered — that left some Americans pining for the Obama era before it had officially ended, and others embracing as refreshing an incoming president far less concerned with conforming to past notions of what is “presidential.”
“They say it’s not presidential to call up these massive leaders of business,” Trump told a crowd in Indianapolis in December after he negotiated a deal with an air-conditioning company to keep jobs in the state, a move many economists derided as unworkable national economic policy. “I think it’s very presidential. And if it’s not presidential, that’s OK. That’s OK. Because I actually like doing it.”