Everyone only thought the interregnum between presidents was “the natural transition,” an orderly march to the beat of neither knives, nor guns or even stones. It’s the way Americans have conducted themselves since George Washington turned the house key over to John Adams.
Until this time. A few embittered denizens of Bubba World pulled a few childish tricks as they left the White House, such as extracting the “W” key from typewriter keyboards. Hillary decamped with a few pieces of her favorite White House furniture. But she sent it back, probably on the advice of lawyers versed in the criminal code. She and Bubba might have been tempted to swipe the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom, but it was so broken down from harsh use by campaign donors that it probably wasn’t worth taking. But no knives have been unsheathed over the centuries, no guns drawn.
Barack Obama is obsessed with what he calls his “legacy,” but doesn’t seem to understand what a legacy is. It’s not something a president or anyone else can write or devise, to put it on a scroll for the National Archives, to be taken out to be read in a ceremony on the Fourth of July.
An authentic presidential legacy is the record of everything a president has done, all the good and bad that he will be remembered for, and President Obama will have a lot to be remembered by and for. A lot of it is what he didn’t deliver of what he promised eight years ago. Someone, perhaps Hillary, perhaps John Podesta, the Democratic campaign chairman, should tell him about the moving finger, the one that writes in bold and legible letters, so that not a single line of all the piety and wit his speechwriters can concoct can be recalled.
President Obama arrived in Washington on the wings of his promise to cool the rancor between the races, the nation’s saddest and most enduring inheritance of slavery, and he leaves Pennsylvania Avenue having only made things worse. That was the promise that won the 2008 election, and four years later the voters, including the majority whites who are so fashionably disdained now, still gave him the benefit of the doubt out of an abundance of good wishes and good faith.
His promise to make the transition to the administration of Donald Trump easy is similarly worthless. The new president will bring to office an agenda with radically different priorities — which is why the people of the 50 states elected him — and Mr. Obama is doing everything he can to lay traps and land mines in the Donald’s paths, few of which he would have dared earlier.
He has banned oil drilling in the Atlantic off the eastern coast, seized land for monuments to radical environmental causes, protected federal funding for fraud and the profitable abortion schemes of Planned Parenthood, transferred terrorists in a last-minute, desperate attempt to empty the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and last but by no means least, did what he could — and it was a lot — to permanently cripple Israel’s ability to deter the Palestinians who, with the assistance of their radical Islamic neighbors, promise to wipe the Jewish state “off the map.” Rarely if ever since the Nazi era has there been such blatant public spite taken against Jews.
The president has done what he could to people the federal bureaucracy with new appointments designed to disable the new president at the beginning of his administration, with appointments to boards and commissions ranging from the National Council on Disability to the Amtrak Board of Directors to the boards of visitors to the military academies.
“He’s doing all this stuff as his legacy,” says Newt Gingrich, the former speaker and onetime candidate for president. “If he goes through three more weeks of this stuff, who is the country going to think is the extremist? Trump? Or Obama.”
Indeed. Barack Obama has always portrayed himself as a man of dignity and repute, aspiring to stateliness, and now in his last days in office he’s acting, in the words of one pundit, as if “Obama and John Kerry are tenants who trash the place as they are being evicted.”
Some of the dead-end Democrats are even urging Mr. Obama to try, like a mouse in pursuit of a piece of cheese discovered in a rat hole, to exploit a loophole in the law that could enable him to put Merrick Garland on the U.S. Supreme Court with a recess appointment in the few seconds between the Obama and the Trump presidencies.
The president-elect has moderated his Twitter feed. “Too bad,” he says of the Obama mischief, “but we will get it done, anyway.”
• Wesley Pruden is editor-in-chief emeritus of The Times.