Listening to President Obama's elegant eulogy for Ted Kennedy on Saturday, I was struck by the differences between the two great orators, and also by the epic struggle Obama is facing right now in trying to advance their shared ideals.
Kennedy was a lion. It was his great roar of passion that so often won over constituents and colleagues.
Obama is a famously cool cat. While sharing many of Kennedy's political goals, his oratory is built on reason and clarity. He employs low-voltage words that aim to stimulate our frontal cortex, the part of our brain that considers, compares, and calculates what's best for our future. Obama obviously believes deeply in the power of this rational oratory, and with the help of his extraordinary chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, has turned precision and clarity into an art form.
From his Kennedy eulogy:
We cannot know for certain how long we have here. We cannot foresee the trials or misfortunes that will test us along the way. We cannot know God's plan for us. What we can do is to live out our lives as best we can with purpose, and love, and joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we care about them, and treat others with the kindness and respect that we wish for ourselves. We can learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures. And we can strive at all costs to make a better world, so that someday, if we are blessed with the chance to look back on our time here, we can know that we spent it well; that we made a difference; that our fleeting presence had a lasting impact on the lives of other human beings.
While he was seen by his fiercest critics as a partisan lightning rod, that is not the prism through which Ted Kennedy saw the world, nor was it the prism through which his colleagues saw him. He was a product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect -- a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots.
Clearly Obama wants to recapture this spirit, and drag our nation back to a renewed Era of Civility and Reason.
Unfortunately, what he's discovered this summer is that Civility and Reason are quite easy to short-circuit. Some of Obama's win-at-all-cost opponents seem to have perfected their technique: convince people that their nation is in mortal danger, that our free society is being undermined by a racist, socialist, usurper. Once you've activated the fear module of the brain (the amygdala), there's little room left for logic, reason, rationality.
(Before the anti-Obamites jump all over this, allow me to make the case that one does not have to agree with Obama's specific political goals to be worried about the birthers and the town-hall intimidators. Rationality is something we should all desperately desire, and is dear to all well-meaning conservatives that I know.)
Obama's task now is to figure out how to short-circuit the short-circuiters. If he can't, health care reform won't be the only casualty. We'll lose a real opportunity to elevate our politics and our culture.
Can he and Favreau pull this off? Or do we need another roaring lion to stand-up to these people?
Commentators love to praise the peaceful handover of power—but this year, it stands as a reminder of the system’s fragility and shortcomings.
Every presidency is different, but inaugural coverage is always the same. Commentators congratulate Americans on the peaceful transition of power and intone solemn sentences about democratic renewal.
There is something unnerving about these reassurances, something overstated, even hysterical. When a British prime minister loses the confidence of the House of Commons and must suddenly trundle out of 10 Downing Street (as some six dozen of them have done since the job was invented in the 1740s; a few more than once), nobody marvels on television how wonderful it is that he or she doesn’t try to retain power by force of arms. Nobody in Denmark thinks it extraordinary when one party relinquishes power to another. Ditto New Zealand or Switzerland—all of them treat peaceful transfers of power as the developed world norm, like reliable electricity or potable water.
Donald Trump will take the oath of office on Friday, becoming the 45th president of the United States.
Donald Trump takes the oath of office on Friday, to become the 45th president of the United States.
The day’s inaugural festivities will get underway in the morning and continue through Saturday. The swearing-in ceremony, which will take place outside of the Capitol, is expected to begin at 11:30 a.m., followed by an inaugural parade at 3 p.m. and inaugural balls in the evening.
Thousands of attendees are expected to descend on Washington, DC for the ceremonies, which will likely be met with celebration and protest. We’ll bring you the latest updates from the nation’s capital as events unfold. Also see our continuing coverage:
He’s moved to establish his dominance of his party, of Congress, and of the media. Now, he turns to the nation.
Even for some Republicans, it is still a bit unbelievable. They have it all now—all the power. They won it fair and square. Donald Trump is assuming the presidency, and Republicans control the House and Senate.
They streamed into Washington this week to collect their reward, the activists and party hacks and true believers who helped make it happen. The members of the Republican National Committee, representing every state and territory, gathered in the ornate, slightly dowdy ballrooms of Washington’s Omni Shoreham hotel, where they took care of the party’s business between being feted at lunches, receptions, and inaugural balls. The mood was jubilant: Against all odds, after years of frustration, everything they worked for had come to pass.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
Many Americans who support the incoming president feel hopeful about the future. But even some who plan to attend his inauguration are wary about what he’ll do.
Joseph Richardson believes Donald Trump is already working to turn his campaign promises into a reality. “He started talking to companies about keeping jobs in the U.S. even before taking office, and when it comes to business I think people do listen because he’s very successful,” the 23-year-old Trump voter from Delaware said in a recent interview. High hopes for the incoming administration, though, haven’t necessarily translated into fuzzy feelings toward Trump himself. “At the same time, he’s kind of a jackass,” he added.
When Trump takes over the presidency on Friday, he will face a deeply divided nation, and may be on track for historically low approval ratings in office. Many Hillary Clinton voters, shocked and devastated by the outcome of the election, remain unwilling to rally around Trump. But the way his supporters feel about the future, and the candidate they elected to the presidency, may be more nuanced—and, in some cases, more surprising.
Curfews, sports, and understanding kids’ brain chemistry have all helped dramatically curb substance abuse in the country.
It’s a little before 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon and Laugardalur Park, near central Reykjavik, looks practically deserted. There’s an occasional adult with a stroller, but the park’s surrounded by apartment blocks and houses, and school’s out—so where are all the kids?
Walking with me are Gudberg Jónsson, a local psychologist, and Harvey Milkman, an American psychology professor who teaches for part of the year at Reykjavik University. Twenty years ago, says Gudberg, Icelandic teens were among the heaviest-drinking youths in Europe. “You couldn’t walk the streets in downtown Reykjavik on a Friday night because it felt unsafe,” adds Milkman. “There were hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk.”
As the president’s picks run into trouble, Democrats find themselves stymied by a Senate rules change they engineered.
A little over three years ago, Senator Mitch McConnell stood on the Senate floor and issued a warning to the Democrats who then controlled the majority.
“I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this,” McConnell, then the minority leader, told them. “And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”
At the urging of Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrats had just voted along strict party lines to change the rules of the Senate, deploying what had become known in Washington as “the nuclear option.” McConnell and his Republican colleagues were furious. Under the new rules, presidential nominees for all executive-branch position—including the Cabinet—and judicial vacancies below the Supreme Court could advance with a simple majority of 51 votes. The rules for legislation were untouched, but the 60-vote threshold for overcoming a filibuster on nearly all nominations was dead.
The president-elect filled out his Cabinet on Thursday by nominating former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary.
Updated on January 19, 2017
A day before his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump has filled out his Cabinet.
Trump on Thursday morning announced the nomination of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture, completing a search that took the duration of his presidential transition.
Perdue, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011, grew up on a farm in Georgia and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine. “Sonny Perdue is going to accomplish great things as Secretary of Agriculture,” Trump said in a statement. “From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land.”
We do not know if the period we are about to enter under the presidency of Donald Trump will be as turbulent as the 1910s, the 1930s, the 1940s, or even the 1960s. But it is a safe bet that if such turbulence were to recur in our lifetimes, it would happen under conditions like those of today—a superpower under radical and volatile leadership, geopolitical rivalries, a populist revolt, and a fragile global economy.
As we peer into that future, it makes little sense to talk of Trump’s foreign policy in terms of how it will cope with normal emergencies—North Korea testing an ICBM, the Islamic State attacking the United States, Venezuela collapsing, just to name a few. Yes, the National Security Council is disorganized. Yes, Trump is untested and impulsive. And, yes, chances are he will err, at least in the beginning. His team may learn from the experience, or they may not. But the real questions concern what unique crises they will face. What was previously unthinkable, but now plausible?