...by Larry Sabato on the U. Va Center for Politics website, entitled The End of the Beginning: Sic Transit Transition.
The transition gives Americans sufficient time to adjust to the change they themselves have wrought. Over 70 days of transition exist between the November election and the Jan. 20 inauguration, and before the 20th Amendment first applied in 1936, the transition was close to double that time span, from November until March 4. The transition was cut in half precisely because the Hoover-to-FDR handoff was fraught with peril and left the nation rudderless during a calamitous period.
Much worse than any scheduled transition were the nine immediate White House transformations caused by natural death, assassination, or resignation. Popular and governmental adjustment had to be instantaneous, and the elevated vice presidents usually had personal styles that contrasted with their late predecessors, as well as some different substantive policies. Theodore Roosevelt was about as dissimilar from William McKinley as two presidents from the same party could be, for instance.
History could only partially prepare us for the aftermath of November 2016’s earthquake. In the hours and days following Donald Trump’s shocking upset, many observers wondered if a crisis would develop right away. How could Trump and Obama, fierce personal enemies and ideological polar opposites, ever manage a transition? After all, Trump had spent five years as the most prominent leader of the spurious, outrageous birther movement that sought to delegitimize Obama’s presidency by claiming he was not a natural-born American. In return, Obama had made a thin-skinned Trump the butt of jokes and barbs for years. And no one worked harder than Obama to keep Trump out of the Oval Office.
It couldn’t have been easy for either man to be civil to the other after the election. But they were and continued to be, for the most part, to their substantial credit. Our country is still deeply divided, much more so than usual, yet imagine how much worse it could have been had No. 44 and No. 45 feuded day after day. Their businesslike tone made cooperation possible, or at least less of a chore, for their staffs. We can’t expect political enemies to join hands and sing kumbaya; we can expect presidents to act in the national interest...
Even after a close, losing campaign that greatly disappointed him, President Gerald Ford was determined to organize the most extensive and professional transition ever -- and he did, as Jimmy Carter noted at the outset of his 1977 inaugural address and again as a speaker at Ford’s funeral decades later.
If any president has exceeded Ford’s labors, it might be George W. Bush. The Obamas have frequently mentioned the extraordinary efforts of President and Mrs. Bush to make their move into the White House a smooth one. Moreover, Bush and Obama did what Hoover and FDR did not -- coordinate on some urgent responses to the near-collapse of the U.S. financial superstructure in 2008.
No doubt the precedent set by Bush influenced Obama’s actions in recent weeks. The outgoing president knew he owed the incoming one every assistance, whatever their past conflicts. And while Trump has launched broadsides at many an Obama program and ally, the president-elect of late has stayed generally respectful of the outgoing president himself.
In these hyper-partisan times, one is grateful for any hint of civility. Under difficult circumstances, both Obama and Trump have listened to the better angels of their nature. It may be too much to hope that this initial precedent will apply to the many battles on the horizon, but to the extent it can, we’ll all be better off.