Don't drag your feet on the way out, Mr President.
Even in these uncertain times, the fear of what comes next can’t sugar-coat the agony of what came before. No doubt we’ve all been charmed by President Obama these past few months. Our awareness of who is to follow, combined with the more easy-going nature of Presidents in their final stretch, has made many of Obama’s critics (myself included) further appreciate his humour, his class-act family, and his integrity.
But the overarching attitude of his eight-year administration has been one of arrogance, which drove the President’s politics – not to mention the nation – to a jarring halt.
Obama’s one (and only) signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act, remains unpopular, unaffordable, unreformed – and finds itself first on the new administration’s chopping block.
The parts of his legacy that will survive are mostly messes that need to be cleaned up. Having doubled the nation’s debt, while failing to act in a timely or consistent manner abroad, the US is entering 2017 looking like a weaker, more vulnerable world player.
It’s hard to know if Obama’s progressive agenda failed, as it never managed to get completely off the ground. What is certain is that both Obama and his party failed to sense the mood of the public, who outright rejected the Democrats’ direction for the country, at the local, state, and national levels.
Which brings us to Obama’s successor: don’t expect the red carpet to be rolled out for you, Mr President-Elect.
Donald Trump is entering office with historically low opinion approval ratings. According to the ABC News/Washington Post’s poll, his favourability rating is a mere 40 per cent. Other polling has Trump in the 40s (and lower), making him the least popular of any recent incomer.
In the long run, Trump’s approval ratings will be determined by his actions; but in the meantime, it’s perfectly understandable why the public is holding back their praise. No one has forgotten the inflammatory, sometimes xenophobic, comments Trump made throughout the election cycle. His supporters and spokespeople deflect it and talk about the future, but they know, as do we all, that Trump’s victory remains tainted with the ugly rhetoric he used unabashedly during his race to the White House.
Any signs of change in his demeanour are few and far between. Trump’s most memorable moment of humility came immediately after the election, once it became apparent he had won. Despite his insistence that he knew he would win, I believe to this day the humility was brought on by shock that the American people had chosen him to lead. As he addressed the public, his tone was reserved, his language kind, and his attitude one of inclusiveness. His America was going to work for all.
Unfortunately, that Trump has not been seen since. His bread and butter is tweeting and insults, and Trump has shown no sign that this will change. It’s possible that, after today’s inauguration, Trump’s communication team will force him into operating differently, but given the very limited evidence for this so far, I wouldn’t bet on it.
The inauguration itself acknowledges a historical moment in which America changes its leadership, and with that its direction – admittedly, this time round, that seems like an understatement. Many Trump supporters will be tuning in, sporting their MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats and cheering. The next day, thousands of protesters are expected to march on Washington DC, symbolising that this is not the change they wished to see.
But as President Ronald Reagan said at his inauguration in 1981, “in the eyes of many in the world, this every four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle”.
From Obama to Trump, a new era begins. The spirit of democracy, however, is alive and well in America. Rest assured for both sides – the debate will continue.