So you think a bitter Trump is behaving disgracefully over relinquishing the White House? History shows he’s not the first…
‘Ok, loser, it’s time to give up power. That means you, Mr Ex-President.’ It’s never an easy message for leaders to swallow, and the current one is obviously finding it harder than most. But he has some illustrious company.
The transition of power in America, in those dark, cold weeks between the election in November and the new president’s inauguration in January, is a delicate process. It’s a chance for the self-styled ‘world’s greatest nation’ to show others how a grown-up, mature democracy acts.
And a chance for the outgoing, soon to be ex-leader of “of the free world” to demonstrate that he (no she’s yet, Kamala, wait your turn) is above feeling bitter, sour, or uncooperative. Even. Though. He’s. A. LOSER. And staring down the barrel of “consulting” for Goldman Sachs, endless ribbon-cutting ceremonies and dreary after-dinner speeches, tedious charity work, and the obligatory setting up of a (ex) presidential library that no one wants to visit.
A life in decline, where your only bit of fun is grabbing the asses of women that are in your line of fire because you’re in a wheelchair.
At best, the handover of power involves a good working relationship, or at least a mutual respect, between the incumbent, lame-duck prez, and the newly-elected leader who’s headed for the White House.
The words that should be at the forefront here are ones such as honourable, graciousness, decentness and humility – witness one-term George H Bush’s handwritten letter left for his usurper Bill Clinton in 1993: “You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.”
And then there’s the Donald Trump way.
The words that come to mind here are one such as immature, sore loser, spoiled brat, and thin-skinned. Doing the presidential equivalent of stamping his foot and taking his ball home, it looks a lot like Trump is, well, doing his best to f**k it up for the incoming Biden administration.
He’s blacklisting Chinese companies in the US before a China-friendlier Biden even takes office.
He’s ordering troops back home from Afghanistan and other hot spots, against the wishes of most generals.
He’s presided over a Department of Justice rule change that will effectively bring back firing squads and electric chairs for states that can’t get hold of the drugs for lethal injections (and yet, go figure, he’s against abortions…).
He’s apparently considering handing our preemptive pardons to favoured consigliere such as Rudy Guliani and the like, and maybe even one for himself and his family.
And he’s still not even accepted the reality that – sorry, Mr President – he LOST last month’s election, big time. Why concede when you can still whine, after all? He’s managing to convince half of America (the red half, natch) that the election was stolen from him, simply through repeating it loudly and often, despite no evidence to support his claims. ‘RIGGED ELECTION!’, ‘FAKE RESULT!’, ‘STOP THE STEAL!’, ‘WE WON!”. Donald’s the orange-hued Dory of this satirical s**tshow: “Just keep tweeting… just keep tweeting…” Then it must all be true, huh?
What’s the next scene, a flouncy refusal to attend his successor’s inauguration on January 20? Except maybe at the head of a bunch of armed Proud Boys, marching down 16th Street (sorry, Black Lives Matter Plaza), standing by ready to reoccupy the White House?
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I suppose it means we’re not likely to see some uber-awkward and ultra-civil photos like the ones of Trump and Barack Obama back in 2016 – when Obama had to be a good ol’ boy, grit his teeth, and welcome his nemesis into the White House.
But many presidential transitions have been tough. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the founding fathers and supposed BFFs, fell out so badly during the course of the election in 1800 that Adams didn’t even go to Jefferson’s inauguration.
In 1828, when Andrew Jackson won the election, the vitriol, including charges of adultery, thrown at him by his opponent, John Quincy Adams, was so vicious that he became convinced it contributed to his wife dying of a heart attack just before Christmas. Understandably bitter, Jackon refused to pay a courtesy call on Adams during the three weeks before his inauguration, which the defeated man then refused to attend.
But history also shows us that, sometimes, making a transition awkward can be all about doing very little.
Take the great depression election of 1932, when Herbert Hoover had to make way for Franklin D Roosevelt. Hoover hated FDR, mostly for being disabled. He called the partially paralyzed FDR a “chameleon on plaid”, accused him of dealing “from the bottom of the deck”, and said that the Democrat’s tendencies would put the USA “on a march to Moscow.”
So, in the midst of the worst banking crisis ever, lame-duck Hoover sat back and did nothing to improve the dire economic situation or intervene. Paving the way for FDR to inherit an even bigger mess.
In response, FDR called Hoover a “fat, timid, capon.” Which, of course, is a castrated rooster. A fat and timid one, at that.
The period of a presidential transition is also a dangerous one when it comes to foreign policy.
It’s unlikely that Israel would have whacked that Iranian nuclear scientist last week without Trump’s tacit approval – perhaps in the hope of provoking Tehran into doing something rash. Both Bibi Netanyahu, the Israeli leader, and the Donald are said to feel a rising anxiety about the impending arrival of the Biden team, which wants to bring the Iranian nuclear deal back from the deep freeze.
The disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco in April, 1961, the failed US-backed invasion of Cuba, took place just three months into the John F. Kennedy presidency. Many historians have blamed it on the power vacuum of the transitional period. An original, stealthy plan had been approved by Eisenhower. By the time his old guard in the CIA sold it to a freshly inaugurated Kennedy, it had ballooned into a full-blown invasion.
But there’s awkward transitions, and then there’s Bill Clinton.
His team’s lack of largesse, shall we call it, when handing over the reins to George W Bush after a bitterly contested legal fight with Bill’s chosen successor Al Gore over the election in 2000, has become the stuff of legend.
First of all, there’s the presidential pardon controversy. Clinton, aided by his lobbyist brother and brothers-in-law, pardoned 140 people on his last day in office. His list of excused included world-wide pariah Marc Rich, a cocaine trafficking kingpin, a few major terrorists, and, oh yeah, his own brother, Roger.
But even then, the Clinton team didn’t leave the White House gracefully. Democrat staffers reportedly ripped phones from the walls, cut presidential seals from the carpets and left anti-Bush graffiti in the stalls of the men’s toilets.
But perhaps best and bitterest of all, they removed the letter W from 62 of the White House’s computers – which was a bit of a problem since George W was referred to simply as “W” to differentiate him from his dad.
It was obviously a prank. Some of the missing W keys were eventually found on top of extremely high door frames. The Clinton team denied many of these claims, but the General Accounting Office reported that the White House had suffered $15,000 worth of damage. A third of that had to be spent on replacing keyboards.
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So transitions of power are a spectrum, with the Clinton-to-Dubya transition at one end of the scale (we’ll call it the ‘college frat party’ end), the ‘Fat capon’, do-nothing Hoover-Roosevelt somewhere in the middle, and the frankly delightful, if awks, Obama-to-Trump transition at the ‘tea with the Queen’ end.
We’re yet to see where the 2020/2021 handover of power is going to end up. But I think it might, just might, trump the lot of them for its sheer awfulness.
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