The “photo op” didn’t last long. Donald Trump had come to the Oval Office to meet President Obama and get acquainted. Trump noted as cameras of the Washington press corps whirred and clicked that the meeting they held in private lasted longer than he expected, and that he hoped to call upon Obama for “counsel.”
That would be wise. Trump not only has never held elected office, he didn’t really expect to win the White House last Tuesday, and even as he held a meeting with the president, his associates were scrambling to put together the most urgent staff appointments, first among them having to do with areas of national security.
This meeting obviously is a formality, but Obama made it more than the customary session because he remembered so well that outgoing President George W. Bush insisted his hand-off to Obama be better than any other.
These are not easy meetings. In the course of a year-long campaign, Trump repeatedly attacked Obama, sometimes referring to him as the worst president of all time. Obama gave it back in the later stages of the campaign. So meetings such as the one last week aren’t typically much easier than that long ride down Pennsylvania Ave. on Inauguration Day, when the outgoing and incoming presidents are of different parties.
This was made no easier because Trump’s surprise victory mightily upset some partisans favoring the defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton. It’s understandable, of course, that people heavily invested emotionally in a presidential candidate would take losing hard. And yes, perhaps some protesting is to be expected. But the two candidates, and now the president who supported Clinton, have spoken about unity. Clinton asked everyone to give Trump a fair chance to govern, and Obama said he wanted to see Trump succeed because that would be in the nation’s best interest.
Trump has seemed subdued since his victory, starting with an acceptance speech that was without question the best of his year. He clearly is trying to grapple with the difference in campaigning and governing, which is something Obama likely discussed with him.
Trump, contrary to some of his themes on the campaign stump, is not really committed to one philosophy or stance over all others. Like most people, he’s changed his positions on things over the years. While Trump has aligned himself with conservative Republicans to build support for his campaign, he won’t necessarily follow the line dictated by ideologues.
Trump is about to join a most elite group, presidents and former presidents. Books written about the relationships among the men who have held the job — there will soon be five living ex-presidents — show that there is an understanding there of challenges and duties that only those who hold or have held the office can understand. Trump would do well to call on his predecessors.
Citizens disappointed in the election’s outcome have the right to be heard, to protest. But a new president deserves from the people he will serve a measure of moral support. Because Obama had it right: a president’s success is the country’s success.