The agony of watch­ing the tran­si­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary Securing The Navy - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

What we used to call “the press,” be­fore the news­pa­pers as­pired to be part of the pro­fes­sional class with its in­flated ti­tles and airs, is never happy. Nor should it be. The press is a de­mand­ing and cranky lot by def­i­ni­tion, and now they’re some­thing called “the me­dia.” Mar­shall McLuhan, who in­vented the con­cept if not the word, must never be for­given.

This in­vited tele­vi­sion, which is an en­ter­tain­ment medium, to share a def­i­ni­tion with news­pa­pers, and soon news­pa­per­men (in­clud­ing women) wanted to be seen as well as heard, and there went the neigh­bor­hood. Megyn Kelly is Hol­ly­wood gor­geous, but she wouldn’t be happy work­ing on a news­pa­per where no­body could see her.

The press is in a pout just now be­cause Don­ald Trump is not sup­ply­ing a new Cab­i­net of­fi­cer on de­mand. He’s tak­ing his time choos­ing his team, and this is re­ported as if a na­tional tragedy. Time mag­a­zine calls the Trump tran­si­tion “chaotic,” and The New York Times as­serts that the Don­ald’s team is plagued by “dis­cord” and stalled in “dis­ar­ray.” A re­porter at Politico, the po­lit­i­cal daily, says the tran­si­tion team is hav­ing “a knife fight,” which demon­strates mostly that the re­porter has never been to a knife fight, and is prob­a­bly cov­er­ing his first tran­si­tion.

“The pres­i­dent-elect will be an­nounc­ing spe­cific Cab­i­net po­si­tions,” says Jason Miller, a spokesman for the tran­si­tion, “as well as key po­si­tion staff, when those de­ci­sions are made. The fo­cus of the ad­min­is­tra­tion is putting to­gether the best team. It is not an ar­bi­trary timetable. It’s about get­ting it right.”

The wise­heads in the Trump camp un­der­stand that the press/me­dia will never think he’s “get­ting it right.” The no­ta­bil­i­ties of press and the twin­kles of the tube should be pleased with a slow pace that spreads their mis­ery. A wise man await­ing the hang­man never com­plains if he can’t re­mem­ber where he put the rope.

But the pace this time is not un­usu­ally slow, and it’s faster than in many in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tions. Ge­orge W. Bush, be­dev­iled by all those hanging chads, did not name his first Cab­i­net of­fi­cer un­til early De­cem­ber. Pres­i­dent Obama was ea­ger to get mov­ing to deal with the fi­nan­cial cri­sis in 2008, but nev­er­the­less did not make his first Cab­i­net ap­point­ment, the Trea­sury sec­re­tary, un­til Nov. 24. The press was so busy swoon­ing it never no­ticed. Don­ald Trump beat that date with four such ap­point­ments.

Mr. Obama did not re­veal his next ap­point­ments, sec­re­tary of State, at­tor­ney gen­eral and di­rec­tor of home­land se­cu­rity un­til Dec. 1. By that time, Richard Nixon had named his en­tire Cab­i­net, and see where that got us.

The chat­ter­ing about dis­cord, dis­ar­ray and knife fights is nei­ther un­prece­dented nor un­ex­pected. Chat­ter­ing is what mag­pies do, and De­cem­ber an­nounce­ments are the rule not the ex­cep­tion. The smarter mag­pies might use­fully aim their hys­te­ria else­where.

David Ax­el­rod, a se­nior ad­viser in the early Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, says he has “lots of rea­sons” to be con­cerned about a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion but the pace of an­nounce­ments isn’t one of them. “We hadn’t made any ma­jor an­nounce­ments at this point in 2008,” he says, “and I don’t re­mem­ber be­ing crit­i­cized for it.”

But crit­i­ciz­ing is what Wash­ing­ton does well, and some­times it’s all that Wash­ing­ton does well. Crit­i­cisms are the fleas that come with the dog. Chang­ing gov­ern­ments is a big job, and nowhere as big as in the United States. Ron­ald Rea­gan’s tran­si­tion was marked by fits and starts. Bill Clin­ton’s path was not strewn with rose petals (though he was al­ways on the scout for rose­buds), and John F. Kennedy’s tran­si­tion to Camelot was dif­fi­cult, par­tic­u­larly af­ter he ap­pointed his brother Robert as the U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral.

The pace of ap­point­ments may be giv­ing the Don­ald’s crit­ics a headache now, and the headache will be­come a belly­ache when all ap­point­ments are made, and the Democrats have cho­sen the sub­ject of the ex­e­cu­tion. That might be Jeff Ses­sions, the at­tor­ney gen­er­al­nom­i­nee. He’s white and a South­erner, and the hang­man only needs to find the third strike.

The tran­si­tion to pres­i­dent of the United States is never easy be­cause it’s unique. There’s noth­ing re­motely like the pres­i­dency; noth­ing can pre­pare man or woman for it. Harry Tru­man said on as­sum­ing the of­fice in the fi­nal days of World War II that he felt like “the sun, the moon and the stars fell on me.”

He never ex­pected the star shower, and ap­par­ently never did Don­ald Trump. Un­like some other pres­i­dents, he wouldn’t talk about a tran­si­tion dur­ing the cam­paign. “I don’t want to talk about this,” he told his in­ner cir­cle. “I don’t want to jinx this.”

With the jinx de­feated, he can get on with choos­ing his side. Life will go on. Our friends on the left will sur­vive, too. Wes­ley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

Jeff Ses­sions

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