In The News Quiz January 18, 2021
Difficult American Presidential Transitions
Across U.S. history, transfers of presidential power have generally been smooth. The Trump-Biden succession in 2020-21 was a glaring exception, even before the violence at the U.S. Capitol. But the past does feature examples when standard practices — detailed briefings of incoming Cabinet leaders by the outgoing department heads, national intelligence updates for the new president and their national-security team, new First Family visits to the White House hosted by the outgoing president and First Lady — were ignored or slow to happen. Some transition troubles included mischievous pranks, as when George W. Bush staffers arriving in the White House found all computer keyboards missing the letter ‘W,’ thanks to outgoing Clinton administrators. Other transitions were marked by personal grievance, as when a drunk Andrew Johnson refused to attend his successor Ulysses Grant’s inauguration.
The most perilous transitions took place during times of national trouble: Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office while a shocked country tried to process the murder of John F. Kennedy. Other crises included economic collapse (most recently, Barack Obama succeeding George W. Bush) or wartime (Harry Truman giving way to Dwight Eisenhower during Korea, or Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon as the Vietnam War raged).
What about the 2021 transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden? It takes place during the worst health crisis in modern U.S. history; during economic devastation caused by the pandemic; and — most striking of all — a president who flatly refuses to accept that he lost the election and insists that subordinates, allies, and followers deny the outcome. Is this the most difficult presidential transition in the history of our nation?
Read the following articles that detail some of these issues:
- William Antholis & David Marchick, “Transitions in Crisis” (2020).
- Stephen Hess, “First Impressions: A Look Back at Five Presidential Transitions” (2001).