Transition: Trump vs Obama
Never in the recent history of the United States has it gone through such a turbulent post-election phase with the incumbent President Donald Trump of the Republican Party refusing to concede defeat despite projections showing his rival, Democrat Joe Biden, having a decisive majority in the Electoral College. Sullying the sanctity of the highest office to an unprecedented extent, the millionaire and former reality TV host is going on a no-holds-barred attack against the former vice president, hurling allegations of voting fraud, which have no base whatsoever, and stubbornly refusing to pave the way for a smooth transition of power. His vitriolic rhetoric, bravado, conspiracy theories, bigoted views often bordering on racism and baseless charges have tested the patience of his countrymen as well as citizens of other democratic countries, leaving them with frayed nerves. In this chaotic scenario, one can’t help but reminisce the presidency under Barack Obama and his dignified exit in 2016.
When comparing the Obama and Trump eras, what comes to mind are the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Sans an iota of doubt, one can say these lines ring true in the present context. Both Obama and Trump are at two ends of the spectrum. While one is cerebral, dignified, chivalrous and polished, the other is brash, maverick, bigoted, insensitive and imprudent. Way back in 2016, just two days after Election Day, Obama invited Trump to the White House. During the 90-minute meeting, he promised all support for a smooth transition. On the other hand, the sitting president has not extended any such invitation to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. In fact, a CNN report says that Trump has no such plans to comply with the time-honoured tradition.
His mediocrity and lack of chivalry became evident when he flouted yet another hallowed custom when he came to power in 2016. It is an old tradition for the new first-term president to invite his predecessor to the White House to unveil an official portrait. However, he chose not to invite Obama, the first Afro-American to become president, as he accused him of several unsubstantiated offences. The ceremony, which takes place in the White House East Room, is also attended by the former first lady, whose portrait too is unveiled.
Unlike his predecessor, who preached inclusiveness in word and deed, Trump’s rhetoric has been blamed for being insensitive, divisive and even racist. For instance, when he started his campaign for the presidency in 2015, he termed Mexicans “rapists”, accusing them of “bringing drugs” to the country. In the same manner, when the coronavirus pandemic broke out, the president was quick to term it “Chinese virus” and “kung flu”, raising the hackles of Beijing. He also proposed a blanket ban on immigrants from Muslim-majority countries.
His unkindest cut was when he hinted that Harris did not meet the benchmarks required to contest after Biden announced his running mate. It reminded one of Trump’s attacks on Obama, harping on the “birther” controversy that he was not born in the US. When the nation was rattled by the Black Lives Matter protests, he described it as “the symbol of hate” and was slow in slamming the actions of white supremacists. On the contrary, he has retweeted messages of extreme right-wing outfits during his campaign.
Trump’s animosity towards his predecessor became very much evident when he systematically targeted Obama’s achievements. He began by pulling the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks and revoking protection given to undocumented immigrants. Souring US-Cuba ties, which had thawed under Obama, the Republican president re-imposed sanctions on Havana, including travel curbs.
Trump has also come under fire for the shoddy manner in which he handled the pandemic when it first broke out earlier this year. This is in sharp contrast to the much more efficient manner in which his predecessor tackled the spread of H1N1 in 2009.
It is time to heal the wounded soul of the nation and take across the message of unity and inclusiveness to Americans of all racial backgrounds. People believe that Biden and Harris can do it better and fight the pandemic with renewed vigour. Without further ado and histrionics, Trump should ensure a smooth transition and avoid going down in history as the president who left the White House in disgrace.