It’s hello, goodbye today as America inaugurates a new president and bids farewell to its leader of eight years. It represents a dramatic change in leadership.
As President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office today, Americans should wish him well in the complex task of growing the economy and improving national security. That is obviously true of his supporters, but should be equally so for the millions who remain unreconciled to his victory. He is going to be the president and, in the interests of the country, he should have the best wishes of its people.
Meanwhile, President Obama will take his leave today after eight eventful years as president and, not insignificantly, its first African-American president. He broke a historic barrier and while his presidency suffered from racism, political obstructionism and his own shortcomings, there are some broad observations that should go without dispute.
He rescued the banking system, including the credit markets that threatened to freeze in early 2009. As terrible as the Great Recession was, it could easily have become another Great Depression. The first one didn’t end until World War II put Americans back to work.
Part of the reason it didn’t become worse was because Obama also insisted on saving the American automobile industry, a crucial cog in the Western New York economy. Imagine the cost – here and around the country – if General Motors had gone under, as some observers thought it should.
And of course, he dealt with Osama bin Laden.
Other aspects of Obama’s record are less glowing. The Affordable Care Act, his legacy domestic program, has become unaffordable to too many people. But it moved the country forward on health care, abolishing the unconscionable restriction on pre-existing conditions and allowing parents to cover their children longer. Still, it was far from an ideal solution.
Even more spotty was his foreign policy. The nuclear deal with Iran remains controversial; it’s wisdom – or lack of it – may not be told for years to come. As terrible a man as Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi was, our role in toppling him looks increasingly like a mistake. Obama’s so-called “red line” in Syria was non-existent.
But, virtually alone among long-serving presidents, there was no second-term scandal – no Watergate, no Iran-Contra, no Monica Lewinsky. Whatever else he may be criticized for, Obama was an admirable and moral man who, for the most part, ran a clean ship.
Now, he gives way to Trump, one of only a few political novices ever to move into the White House and the first since 1953, when former Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was sworn in. He is, perhaps by design, the most inscrutable president-elect in memory. Does he really want to build a wall, or deport millions of illegal aliens, or “drain the swamp,” as he says? Who can tell, given his changing rhetoric and the contradictions offered by so many of his cabinet nominees?
One thing he can do immediately is to give his Twitter finger a rest. We see nothing wrong with any president using that technology, assuming it is truly secure, but a president needs to think a little before sounding off and should do so only when circumstances call for it. The presidency requires restraint and calm reflection in all of its facets. And as Franklin Roosevelt understood, regarding his fireside chats, less is more. If it’s commonplace, it’s not special. And then, people tune out.
Regardless, today begins a high-wire experiment within the context of the American experiment, and everyone – voters, members of Congress and Trump – has a job to do to ensure its success. Here’s wishing us all well.