By David Cruz
At a speech last night and at a press conference this morning, President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump showed that — policy differences aside — the country should expect a new tone from the White House going forward. Obama’s farewell address was a feel-good final chapter of a historic American event.
“Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well wishes that we’ve received over the past few weeks, but tonight it’s my turn to say thanks,” he told a Chicago audience.
By comparison, the first press conference from the president-elect since his election was a somewhat disjointed, often inelegant display of bombast and self-aggrandizing.
“Thank you very much. It’s very familiar territory, news conferences, because we used to give them on an almost daily basis. I think we probably maybe won the nomination because of news conferences,” boasted Trump as he opened his press conference in New York. “We stopped giving them because we were getting quite a bit of inaccurate news but I do have to say that I thank a lot of the news organizations here today.”
Where Obama had the luxury of looking back on a mostly scandal-free term in office, the president-elect was forced to deal with unsubstantiated but widely reported allegations of his private activities in Russia.
“Somebody released it,” he snapped. “It shouldn’t have even entered paper but it should never have been released. But I read what was released and I think it was a disgrace, an absolute disgrace.”
With no elections to worry about and riding some of his highest approval ratings in eight years, Obama was freed to engage in the soaring rhetoric that propelled him to the White House in 2008.
“Democracy does not require uniformity,” he said. “Our founders argued; they quarreled. Eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity, the idea that, for all our outward differences, that we’re all in this together.”
Obama did take time to outline his accomplishments, from saving the auto industry to the Affordable Care Act, the Iran nuclear deal and inroads to Cuba. He had the luxury of eight years on which to reflect. The new president can still only make promises.
“I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created and I mean that,” he said.
On the Affordable Care Act: “The plan will be repeal and replace Obamacare. We’re going to have health care that is far less expensive and far better.”
Obama said he would welcome an alternative that made sense to Americans. Instead of arguing the point in his speech, he warned against the nation’s retreat into the seeming safety of insular pockets of the like-minded.
“For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, college campuses or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions,” he warned. “We’ve become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information — whether it’s true or not — that fits our opinions. Instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.”
Example: reports of a president-elect cavorting with prostitutes overseas, all unsubstantiated but dominating the news cycle and prompting perhaps a preview of future press/White House relations with President-elect Trump refusing to allow a CNN reporter to ask a question. “Be quiet,” he said. “You’re fake news.”
A glimpse of things to come? Or just the uneasy first steps of a new president on the eve of taking the reigns of power? The answers will start to come in just over a week.