President-elect Trump — and that’s a phrase I never thought I’d write — met Thursday with President Barack Obama at the White House for the very first time. It was a largely symbolic event designed to reassure the world that a peaceful transfer of power is still possible in America even when the outgoing and incoming presidents hate each other’s guts.
So far both men have done an excellent job masking their true feelings since that momentous moment when the nation learned voters had awarded the required 270 Electoral College votes to a man who has never been elected to anything in his life, not even grade school hallway monitor.
Donald Trump’s uncharacteristically humble acceptance speech in the wee hours of Wednesday set the stage for Hillary Clinton’s uncharacteristically graceful concession speech 12 hours later, establishing the tone for Thursday’s phony but vital piece of political theater.
Way back in 1801, John Adams was so steamed after losing his re-election bid, he left Washington the night before Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural. Other outgoing presidents have given their successors the cold shoulder, most notably Truman’s hostility to Eisenhower (mutual) and Jimmy Carter’s thinly veiled contempt for Ronald Reagan. So given all the rotten things said by and about each other, Trump and Obama deserve some kind of honorary Academy Award for acting.
We are told the two spoke for nearly 90 minutes, no aides in attendance. Afterward, both men struck the appropriate positive note as a gaggle of reporters salivated to ask questions while camera shutters clacked away like the sound of my high school typing class from a thousand years go.
What was actually said may never be known, but since I’m a pundit — and as this election proved — pundits know everything, I have re-created what I believe transpired when Barack met Donald at the White House.
The scene is the Oval Office, Washington, D.C. The date is Nov. 10, 2016. A Secret Service agent escorts President-elect Trump to the office door, where he is greeted by President Obama.
Trump enters, the Secret Service agent closes the door.
OBAMA: Grab a chair.
Trump sits in front of the Resolute desk while the president settles in across from him. A long silence follows. Then:
TRUMP: So, how long do you think we have to stay here?
Obama looks at his watch.
OBAMA: Twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes?
TRUMP: Let’s go for an hour. It’ll look better.
OBAMA: Got it.
The president loses himself in paperwork. Trump picks a hangnail. After a very long silence:
OBAMA: Can I get you water? A Diet Coke?
TRUMP: I’m good.
Another long silence, this time a full half-hour. Then:
TRUMP: Have you got anything to read?
The president looks up from his paperwork.
OBAMA: I have a copy of Newsweek that calls Hillary “Madame President.”
He holds up the magazine.
Trump snatches Newsweek and begins to thumb through it. Another long silence. The president checks his watch, eyes still glued to his paperwork, says:
OBAMA: Hey, can you get me a tee-time at Doral?
TRUMP: Probably. When?
OBAMA: January 20th? I’m thinking 3:30. Better make it 4:30. Traffic to Andrew’s Air Force Base can be a bear.
TRUMP: I’ll make a call.
Another long pause.
TRUMP: Are we good?
The president checks his watch one last time.
OBAMA: We’re good. I’ve got LeBron and the Cavs coming in a few.
TRUMP: See you at the inaugural.
Both men exit to greet the waiting press.
It’s possible things didn’t go exactly as I’ve written, but given what these guys have said about each other, the years of Birther nonsense from Trump and President Obama declaring The Donald “unfit” to be commander in chief, it’s semi-miraculous they could even sit in the same room together.
If Barack Obama and Donald Trump can fake it, maybe, just maybe, it’s possible the rest of us can return to some measure of civility. Left and right will not suddenly sing “Kumbaya” and forget the seemingly irreconcilable gap the divides us on so many issues, but as Obama, Hillary Clinton and even Donald Trump have begun to show, even synthetic civility is preferable to endless, relentless hostility.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays 5-10 a.m. on KABC-AM (790). He can be reached at: Doug@DougMcIntyre.com.
By Doug McIntyre, Los Angeles Daily News