Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
It was the unthinkable: President Obama meeting with his successor at the White House in the first step to carry out the peaceful transition of power in the American Republic — and it’s Donald Trump.
But that’s exactly what’s happening Thursday morning in what amounts to one of the more surreal moments in American political history.
President-elect Trump called President Obama a “very fine man,” and noted that the two could have talked for even longer than they did. He noted that they talked about “difficulties” around the world but also “accomplishments.”
They have been meeting since about 11 am ET. First Lady Michelle Obama and incoming First Lady Melania Trump are also meeting. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was spotted by the White House pool taking a walk on the South Lawn with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kushner is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka. Kushner played a key role in Trump’s campaign.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has been rumored to potentially serve as Trump’s chief of staff, though he told NBC he’s had “no conversations” about that. Whether Trump were to make Kushner his chief of staff would be remarkable, given he’s a member of the family, but even if not, it’s clear he is poised to play a key role as an adviser in President Trump’s inner circle. Among other things, Kushner is the publisher of the New York Observer.
Trump has been a thorn in Obama’s side. He rose to political fame, using the birther movement to translate his pop-culture notoriety as a reality-TV star into an improbable winning presidential campaign.
That birther movement questioned the president’s place of birth and thereby the legitimacy of the first African American president. The president, of course, was born in Hawaii. Trump’s accusations and innuendo for years about the president’s origin were false — which he finally later admitted during this campaign.
But he used the issue to stir up a base of antipathy toward this president. It wasn’t even so much that the largely rural, white, populist voters, who eventually propelled Trump into the White House, even really believed the allegations. They just liked that Trump spoke to them when they felt ignored — by the professional class, the Washington establishment and the media elites — and was willing to annoy and disrupt them all.
What Trump accomplished is nothing short of a populist, white-working class revolt — even as Hillary Clinton won more popular votes nationwide. Trump was able to win giant margins in white, rural counties, especially in the Industrial North and Midwest, like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. It was enough to offset Clinton’s margins in the cities and suburbs, upending decades of the fundamentals of political thought and analysis.
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