The new re­al­ity sets in

Pres­i­dent Obama gives the man who ques­tioned his cit­i­zen­ship a White House tour

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Jules Wit­cover Jules Wit­cover is a syn­di­cated colum­nist and former long­time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His lat­est book is “The Amer­i­can Vice Presidency: From Ir­rel­e­vance to Power” (Smith­so­nian Books). His email is juleswit­cover@com­cast.net.

As the shock of Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion set­tles in, an uneasy elec­torate faces the re­al­ity of a shat­tered Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

With the ex­ec­u­tive branch fall­ing to a loose can­non driven by im­pulse, the na­tion is headed for a threat­en­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian era. Mr. Trump ex­udes the dic­ta­to­rial odor of a man on a white horse.

At the same time, who will speak and act on be­half of the unglued Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic par­ties in and out of Congress? In the GOP-con­trolled Se­nate, the pli­able Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell can be counted on to be Mr. Trump’s in­stru­ment. In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan will strive to man­age his con­ser­va­tive flock em­bold­ened by the new, like-minded pres­i­dent about whom Mr. Ryan him­self has reser­va­tions.

The Democrats will have a new Se­nate leader in New York’s Chuck Schumer, along with the stolidly lib­eral Nancy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia in the House. Both will have to dig in against an an­tic­i­pated Trump on­slaught against Barack Obama’s leg­isla­tive ac­com­plish­ments, be­gin­ning with un­do­ing Obamacare.

Be­yond Capi­tol Hill, both par­ties will en­ter the Trump Era in tur­moil. The old Repub­li­can Party es­tab­lish­ment finds it­self largely on the out­side look­ing in, lick­ing wounds suf­fered in Mr. Trump’s tram­pling of its pa­thetic pri­mary field of chal­lengers.

Repub­li­can National Chair­man Reince Priebus, who early on rolled over for Mr. Trump, has been cho­sen the new White House chief of staff, yet he has had no ex­pe­ri­ence in Wash­ing­ton. Other party lead­ers who also signed on early, in­clud­ing former House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, former New York Mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, ap­pear in line for high Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion posts.

As for the Democrats, the de­feat of Hil­lary Clin­ton leaves the party look­ing to a de­pleted corps of left-of-cen­ter lead­ers, in­clud­ing the ag­ing Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mas­sachusetts Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, to carry on the fight.

In re­tire­ment, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, though both will leave of­fice still pop­u­lar in party ranks, in­evitably will be­come echoes of the past, as they strug­gle to de­fend the Obama legacy.

Per­haps the worst af­front to Pres­i­dent Obama in the af­ter­math of the elec­tion was hav­ing to wel­come the win­ner Mr. Trump to the White House. Be­ing obliged to show around the man who ques­tioned his right by birth to be pres­i­dent was more than the re­tir­ing res­i­dent should have been re­quired by pro­to­col and good man­ners to do.

For go­ing on eight years, Mr. Obama has served there with good will, good hu­mor, in­tel­li­gence and rev­er­ence for the po­si­tion, as well as an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for its his­tory and sym­bol­ism. He came in bear­ing an agenda of hope and change but was obliged to spend much of his time there un­do­ing the dam­age left by an­other Repub­li­can pres­i­dent in mat­ters of peace and war.

Mr. Bi­den as a sur­ro­gate for Hil­lary Clin­ton cor­rectly iden­ti­fied a key fac­tor in her loss. He warned that his party was not do­ing enough to court the old blue-col­lar New Deal con­stituency that Mr. Trump man­aged to lure by speak­ing to its fears of lost jobs in the Rust Belt, win­ning Penn­syl­va­nia, Ohio, Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin.

Now, the new­comer has al­ready sig­naled his in­ten­tion to take over the pres­i­den­tial desk to undo the Obama years, start­ing with his host’s name­sake health care law. He has also threat­ened, per­haps face­tiously, to put the Demo­crat he has just de­feated in jail. Surely he has the good sense to shelve that par­tic­u­lar in­san­ity.

Mr. Trump’s in­vi­ta­tion to the White House was largely earned by ef­fec­tively dis­parag­ing his host’s pres­i­den­tial years as an abysmal eco­nomic fail­ure. He did so even though Mr. Obama re­duced the na­tion’s un­em­ploy­ment rate from 10 per­cent to the cur­rent 4.9 per­cent, adding mil­lions of new jobs in that time and bail­ing out the Amer­i­can au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try.

Un­for­tu­nately, the coun­try must now en­dure from the Democrats in Congress the same ob­struc­tion­ist mode fash­ioned by the Repub­li­cans there for the last six years, start­ing with yet an­other fight over Mr. Obama’s health-care law. It’s hardly a joy­ous or op­ti­mistic way to usher in the hor­rific mis­take com­mit­ted by the vot­ers last Tues­day.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama shake hands fol­low­ing their meet­ing at the White House last week.

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