Obama ex­udes calm about Trump as Dems fret

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Josh Lederman

LIMA, PERU >> On the sur­face, President Barack Obama was cool-headed, cere­bral and con­fi­dent, dol­ing out parting re­as­sur­ances to world lead­ers on his fi­nal global jaunt. Be­hind the scenes, his aides and Democrats back at home were a de­flated and weary bunch, grimly end­ing Obama’s ten­ure in a way they never imag­ined.

The jar­ring gap be­tween Obama’s pub­lic face and the pre­vail­ing Demo­cratic sen­ti­ment about Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion was an un­ex­pected el­e­ment to Obama’s fi­nal pres­i­den­tial trip, which in­cluded vis­its to Greece, Ger­many and Peru. Time af­ter time, Obama opted for op­ti­mism over any sense of fore­bod­ing, and diplo­matic dodges over crit­i­cism. The man whose legacy risks be­ing dev­as­tated by Trump’s elec­tion ap­peared to be the one Demo­crat who wouldn’t pub­licly fret about its im­pact.

As Obama hopped from cap­i­tal to cap­i­tal, news of the emerg­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion fol­lowed him, dom­i­nat­ing news con­fer­ences and pri­vate meet­ings with lead­ers. The president an­swered nearly ev­ery ques­tion about Trump, his new hires and his plan to dis­man­tle Obama’s legacy, with a ver­sion of the same an­swer.

“Re­al­ity will force him to ad­just how he ap­proaches many of these is­sues,” Obama said Sun­day as he closed out his trip in Lima. “That’s just how this of­fice works.”

It was far from clear that other Democrats shared that op­ti­mism.

Each time Air Force One landed in an­other for­eign cap­i­tal, cell­phones buzzed and White House of­fi­cials’ faces fell as the lat­est news came in about Trump’s team-in-wait­ing: First, Steve Ban­non, for­mer head of the far-right out­let Bre­it­bart News, as chief White House strate­gist, then re­tired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has said Is­lam is a “can­cer,” to be na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

And as Obama was some­where over the At­lantic Ocean, flying to Lima, Trump picked im­mi­gra­tion hard-liner Sen. Jeff Ses­sions for at­tor­ney gen­eral and na­tional se­cu­rity hawk Rep. Mike Pom­peo for CIA chief.

Taken to­gether, the selec­tions de­flated the hopes in the White House that Trump, faced with the awe­some duty of run­ning the na­tion, might tone it down af­ter the cam­paign.

Of all the Trump’s choices, White House of­fi­cials said it was the se­lec­tion of Flynn that felt like the most dev­as­tat­ing blow, given the im­mense author­ity the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser has over mat­ters of war and peace.

By the time Obama ar­rived in Peru, the creep­ing sense of de­spair among his aides was pal­pa­ble.

Even still, Obama told a young stu­dent from Peru the next day that she shouldn’t as­sume the worst. When she asked whether anx­i­ety about Trump was me­dia-driven “global para­noia,” Obama’s ad­vice was to “wait un­til the ad­min­is­tra­tion is in place.”

Though he ac­knowl­edged that Trump’s ve­he­ment op­po­si­tion to free trade deals would cre­ate ten­sions, he stood firm that Trump, de­spite his cam­paign rhetoric, was com­mit­ted to NATO, echo­ing his message to lead­ers in Ber­lin and Athens. He didn’t dwell on Trump’s tough talk about im­mi­gra­tion, a key con­cern in Latin Amer­ica.

“With re­spect to Latin Amer­ica, I don’t an­tic­i­pate ma­jor changes in pol­icy from the new ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Obama said.

If Obama seems more as­sured than fel­low Democrats about how Trump will gov­ern, that’s be­cause he is, said in­di­vid­u­als fa­mil­iar with his think­ing.

In their Oval Of­fice meet­ing af­ter Trump’s vic­tory, Obama dis­cussed his up­com­ing trip and said he’d be quizzed on what to ex­pect from Trump. In­formed by their con­ver­sa­tion, Obama felt con­fi­dent enough to tell for­eign lead­ers that Trump, for ex­am­ple, would stand be­hind NATO and wouldn’t cut ties to Latin Amer­ica, said the in­di­vid­u­als, who weren’t au­tho­rized to com­ment pub­licly and re­quested anonymity.

Whether world lead­ers are tak­ing Obama — and there­fore, Trump — at his word re­mains to be seen. Af­ter all, there may be a cred­i­bil­ity gap for Obama, who spent the last year re­as­sur­ing anxious al­lies that Trump would never win.

Since Elec­tion Day, Obama has re­fused to en­ter­tain any wal­low­ing in de­spair, nor has he en­gaged in the kind of wart­sand-all di­ag­no­sis of what went wrong that many Democrats crave, in hopes of en­sur­ing their dev­as­tat­ing loss isn’t re­peated. In­stead, his message has been to buck up and keep calm.

It started within hours of Trump’s vic­tory, when Obama called shell-shocked aides in for a morn­ing meet­ing and told them, essen­tially, to get it to­gether, keep their heads up, and go about their work, aides said. This is pol­i­tics, stuff hap­pens, and this is how the game is played, the president told his team.

For Obama’s aides, many of whom sobbed openly in the Rose Gar­den hours later when he ad­dressed the na­tion, it was the slap in the face needed to be able to fo­cus on a task they never imag­ined hav­ing to per­form: pre­par­ing to hand over the White House to Don­ald Trump.

That process started im­me­di­ately — be­fore the na­tion had a chance to truly grasp what hap­pened — and by the next day Trump was there, in the Oval Of­fice, sit­ting down with Obama while his aides toured the West Wing.


President Barack Obama boards Air Force One dur­ing his de­par­ture at Jorge Chavez In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Lima, Peru, on Nov. 20.

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