Politics

Contrast Shows With Trump in Obama’s Farewell Address

Outgoing president calls for unity; Trump calls critics ‘stupid people’

President-elect Donald Trump talks after a meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Nov. 10. Obama's Tuesday evening farewell address showed their widely contrasting styles. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The friendly crowd in Chicago booed when President Barack Obama mentioned his fast-approaching return to private life when he will hand power to his successor, Donald Trump.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Obama stopped them, saying next Friday’s “peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next” a “hallmark of our democracy.”

It was reminiscent of the times he was campaigning for Hillary Clinton when he would mention Trump and hear even louder jeers from Democratic audiences. Rather than play into the crowd’s animosity toward the then-GOP nominee, Obama responded each time this way: “Don’t boo. Vote.”

And it provides contrast to the incoming president, who encouraged chants of “lock her up” at his rallies in reference to Clinton and her use of a private email server while secretary of State.

The difference in the two men also was on display Wednesday when Trump held his first press conference since late July. The president-elect jabbed at former and current foes, and clashed with a CNN reporter in a remarkable exchange.

As he and CNN reporter Jim Acosta raised their voices, Trump repeatedly refused to take Acosta's question. “Not you. Not you. Your organization is terrible. Quiet. Quiet. Don't be rude. You are fake news," Trump said, taking umbrage with the network's Tuesday story about a document appearing to feature an intelligence community finding about Russian intelligence "cultivating" Trump for five years. In a scene not scene during the modern era, the CNN journalist told a president-elect his behavior was “not appropriate.”

To be sure, Obama expressed plenty of criticisms of his Republican foes over his eight years in office. But, by all accounts, the man who will follow Obama plans to use emotional, bombastic, off-the-cuff 140-character Twitter rants where his predecessor often opted for Ivy League eloquence and speeches he spent days writing, and as his aides often say with a slight grimace, re-writing.

Obama used much of his farewell address Tuesday night not to assess the state of the union but to dissect the “state of our democracy.”

“Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued, they quarreled, and eventually they compromised,” Obama said. “They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity. The idea that, for all our outward differences, we're all in this together, that we rise or fall as one.”

[Trump Facing Questions on Whether Russian Intel ‘Cultivated’ Him]

The speech was vintage Obama, a blend of eloquence, historical reflections, honest criticism of both political parties and a plea for all Americans to “help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

From his pledge to publicly support any plan to replace his signature health care law that would be “demonstrably better” to his words about minorities to his call for all elected officials to “pay attention and listen” to the “middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he's got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change,” even his critics said the farewell address was a final graceful act for the 44th president.

“America will forever be indebted to him … for the character that he showed, and for the class that he showed, and for the dignity that he showed,” Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman-turned MSNBC host, said Wednesday morning. “As a man, as a husband, as a father, as a person, in his eight years in the White House, his character was beyond reproach.”

Saturday offered an example of how the 44th and 45th presidents communicate and view the office so differently.

As U.S. intelligence officials, the Obama administration and lawmakers from both parties were warning about an escalating threat from Russia, Trump — much like a ratings-minded sports radio host — played the contrarian role.

He doubled down on his call for warmer U.S.-Russia relations. But where Obama, the former constitutional law professor, would have started a lengthy lecture aimed at changing his critics’ thinking about what would amount to a 180-degree shift in U.S. policy, Trump resorted to name-calling, writing that only “stupid” people would oppose cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After reports surfaced Tuesday that intelligence officials felt Trump had been “compromised” by Russian agents enough to be blackmailed, Trump took the Kremlin’s side and accused the intel community of leaking "fake news” to reporters.

In November 2015, Trump used a campaign rally to copy the body movements of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has a joint condition.

In July of that year, after Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., warned Trump that his immigration rhetoric was emboldening “crazies” within the Republican Party, Trump said the Vietnam conflict prisoner of war is “not a war hero” because he preferred heroes who didn’t get captured.

Later, he singled out a female NBC News journalist at rallies, causing angry crowds to shout threats at her.

Rather than focusing on policy differences with his primary and general election foes, he attacked their character with nicknames like “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary.” Though it proved effective in an age of social media, as well as cable news and sports shows that feature loud, lowest-common-denominator programming, few Republicans and Democrats found it presidential.

[Trump Blames DNC for Getting Hacked by Russia]

On the campaign trail, outgoing first lady Michelle Obama shared advice with Democratic voters that she generally only gives to her daughters. “When they go low, we go high,” she said at multiple rallies when discussing Trump’s brusque and sometimes-petulant campaigning style.

After eight years of the polished Professor Obama, 62.9 million Americans seemed to prefer four years of the go-low candidate over the scandal-plagued Hillary Clinton. Trump figured that out and rode it all the way to the White House. And there’s no evidence he intends to stop now.

When actress Meryl Streep, a Clinton supporter, criticized him Sunday night at the Golden Globe Awards, Trump could have done what most presidents have done: ignore her. He didn’t.

He woke up Monday morning and unleashed a Twitter barrage that included calling Streep “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood,” adding in his next post that the actress is a “Hillary flunky who lost big.”

The two posts about Streep got a combined 59,000 re-tweets.

Contrast that reaction to that for a series of seven policy focused Tweets from Obama’s official Twitter account dating back to Nov. 3. Those received an average of 2,900 re-tweets.

-This article was updated at 1:52 p.m.Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.