How to Go From Arrogant Thin-Skinned Bully to Leader of the Free World in Three Short Months: The Transition of Presidential Power
Let’s talk about becoming the president, shall we? President-elect Trump will become our Commander in Chief, sworn defender of the Constitution, and keeper of the nuclear codes, at 12:01 January 20th. Please, no sobbing (*SOB*).
I’d go on about comparing Trump to other contemporary leaders that laid waste to our modern world, but I’ll save that for another day.
Moving on. There have been 44 transitions, some more contentious than others. Way back in the day, they went fairly smoothly mainly because it was the same old white dudes that were already running everything – Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison – the usual suspects. Back then it was all like, Here’s the keys, there’s fresh quills and parchment in the office, and the wife left extra toilet paper. See you at Monticello for brunch Sunday.
That said. Adams, as our second Commander in Chief and more than willing to set precedence, was kind of a dick. The first example (and from our second President!) of a presidential attempt to circumvent Congress came from him, in last-minute appointments of judges. Adams’ actions created a court challenge that resulted in one of the most important early Supreme Court decisions, Marbury v. Madison. So the bullshitty political machinations go way back, is what I’m saying.
Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829 was a party, and by party I mean a drunken debacle. For much of the transition, Jackson was mourning the passing of his wife, and consequently not terribly engaged. He opened the grounds of the White House to anyone who wanted to attend the Inauguration. DUDE. What a disaster. People got drunk and overheated and were passing out left and right. It went something like this:
Listen, we’ve all been there. Except for me because I am a big nerd and never invited anywhere.
Arguably the worst presidential transition was in 1860, from Buchanan to Lincoln. While Buck and Abe spent the transition period pretty much not talking to each other (as grown ass men with differing views, who are supposed to be running the country, are wont to do) seven states seceded to form the provisional confederate government. Five weeks after Lincoln’s inauguration, the Civil War began. Congrats, Lincoln – Enjoy!
The most recent example of hilarious transitional hijinks comes from Bush’s transition to the White House after Clinton. There was the usual wear and tear of eight years of an administration in the same office, and a few things got pinched. But what rose to the level of Not Cool, People!, was the removal of the “W” keys from almost 60 keyboards. HAHAhahaha! But really though, that wasn’t terribly professional. We’re talking about around 16 grand in damages. Also, for all You Kids out there: Stay in school, don’t do drugs.
The transition of power in the general, logistical sense takes place between the election and noon on inauguration day, although candidates should put their transition teams together months before the election. Besides vetting for replacing all the big guns that need confirmation – such as the Cabinet members, undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries – practically everyone who works in or for the White House is replaced.
So then we come to the morning of January 20th. The outgoing president traditionally leaves a letter for the incoming president. Presumably a note of hope or guidance or encouragement, the contents are not revealed to the public. When Trump leaves office after being impeached two years from now, (assuming he can write) I imagine his letter to Pence will be something along the lines of, “I’m too big for this job, can’t be bothered – public servants are LOSERS. SAD.”
That’s just me spitballing though.
We are now at the ceremonial and peaceful transfer of power. HAhahaha. All terribly peaceful. But really though - a small Yay for our country not falling into armed overthrow of the government after a presidential election for all the years we’ve been in business. So here is the small Yay: Yay us.
Setting aside the subsequent rending of the Union over owning people as slaves, (which I have to give the nod to, in terms of a reason for going to war and all) the United States has indeed historically had peaceful transfers of power. It is saying something that, regardless of court challenges, recounts demanded, restrained, or denied; or massive protests during the inauguration ceremonies, we have managed to work within the law.
The morning of the 20th, the Trumps will leave Blair House for the White House, where the Obamas will receive them. This is probably when the Obamas give them the keys and the garage door openers and show them that one sticky door that never closes. Then, after a couple of shots of tequila (1) they all head to Capitol Hill – the President and President-elect in one limousine, and the First Lady and Mrs. Trump in another.
Once they leave, during the six hours of inaugural pomp and circumstance-ing, the controlled, crazy machinations of transforming the 132-room White House from one family’s home to another is completed.
Everything of the Obama’s is taken off the walls, any personal furniture is broken down, clothing is packed. Painting and minor repairs are done if necessary. At the same time, the moving vans with the Trump’s possessions are brought in. Personal furniture is placed, as well as anything the Trumps have chosen to use from the White House collection. They can also choose artwork from the White House’s curator office.
No detail is missed – clothes are folded and put away. Select personal items are displayed, and specific toiletries are in each bath. The pantries and refrigerators are emptied and restocked with whatever the Trumps have requested. Finally, there are no boxes or packing supplies lying about when the staff wraps up – the White House is pristine, ready for its new First Family.
The ceremony itself, and specifically the oath of office, is the transition. As provided for in the Constitution, the timing is as follows: “The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January” (20th Amendment, Section 1). At that time and date Article II, section 1 provides that the President-elect recites the following: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” This is it: the transformation of a private citizen to the President of the United States.
After the swearing-in, the new president traditionally gives an address, and some inaugural speeches have given us soaring, inspiring words that guide us today. In 1933, Roosevelt rallied a stricken country with the phrase, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” From Kennedy, in words that still resonate, we were challenged with, “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”
Of course no discussion on inaugural addresses is complete without mentioning William Henry Harrison, our ninth President. Harrison, a big man-baby, refused to wear an overcoat or hat during his record-setting address of two hours, delivered in the freezing snow – he thought dressing warmly would make him look weak. He promptly became sick, developed pneumonia and died about four weeks later (2). You had one job, Harrison. ONE JOB.
After the inauguration, the Obamas return to the grounds of the White House without ceremony. The former president and his family then board Marine One, and, flying over the Mall, leave us behind to carry on the good fight.
(1) - I don’t think they really do a couple of shots of tequila. It’s like 10 in the morning! Probably more like vodka.
(2) - It was established in 2014 that Harrison actually died of Typhoid Fever. Consequently, his actions at the inauguration probably didn’t contribute to his death. I did not include this finding in the main essay because I didn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good story.
If you love us like we love you, please turn off your adblocker to throw some pennies our way, so we can keep on scolding. <3