Guest Column: What Trump and Obama’s Meeting Suggests About Trump’s Presidency

Aleyna Rentz

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A Different Trump

The Donald Trump we saw during his victory speech was not the same Trump we saw during his campaign. Reneging on the divisive rhetoric of his rallies, he asked for America to “bind the wounds of division,” the very wounds he and his supporters opened. He came into this election with a sword but now preaches peace, a transformation that might seem promising, but could be no less bombastic than his usual bravado.

While I can easily imagine Kellyanne Conway slipping him a Xanax and coaching him in angry whispers on proper presidential etiquette, I am trying to be less cynical. With the sobering results of this election, I have to learn how to be hopeful.

Right now, my hope lies in Trump’s fear. His contempt for political correctness has begun to disappear now that he is actually a politician, a shift in strategy that shouldn’t puzzle anyone who saw the photograph of Trump and President Obama shaking hands after their meeting at the White House. Obama, his face stern and unsmiling, stared straight at Trump, who could not bring himself to look back. Trump’s face was tilted down, his eyes closed, his expression showing hints of burgeoning shame.

Perhaps this was the first time Trump ever experienced such a feeling.

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President-Elect Meets the President

Unlike past meetings between President-Elects and their predecessors, there was no warm handshake on the front lawn, no grinning for photo-ops, no attempts at feigning camaraderie, despite Trump’s insistence that the two had “great chemistry.”

Given the frigid, pained atmosphere of the meeting, clearly that was not the case. After all, it is difficult to have great chemistry with someone whose career you’ve repeatedly attempted to undermine.

Yet Trump seems to think, or is at least pretending, that over the course of their 90 minute meeting, the two miraculously forged a close friendship—so close, in fact, that the Obamas are now “Mr. and Mrs. O.”

We will never know what actually happened during this ostensibly productive meeting, but it probably confirmed what Trump must have realized upon learning he would be our next President: that he is going to have to spend the next four years (barring the possibility of impeachment) working with the same politicians he spent his entire campaign gleefully insulting.

About his meeting with Obama, Trump quipped, “We’ve never met each other before,” an unsurprising revelation considering that Trump prefers to slander his enemies from a safe distance, separated from the real world and its consequences by thick crowds of his supporters.

Hurling Insults

Now, he actually has to face these people, both Democrats and Republicans. He has to go to work with them every day.

Elizabeth Warren, who he called “goofy,” “Pocahontas,” and “the Indian.”

John McCain, a “dummy” who is “incapable of doing anything.”

Cory Booker, a Senator about whom Trump said, “If Cory Booker is the future of the Democratic Party, they have no future!” and “I know more about Cory than he knows about himself.”

Paul Ryan, who is “very weak,” “ineffective” and “disloyal.”

Trump’s bravado and smug rhetoric disappeared when he was stuck in the same room with the man he’s spent the past eight years slandering, so one can only imagine what will happen to his machismo when he is forced to live and work amongst the objects of his ridicule. In a Republican-dominated federal government, this might be our country’s saving grace.

The Art of the Compromise

If Trump can’t even look Obama in the eyes, he will scarcely be able to bully into reality some of the more audacious policies from his plan for his first 100 days in office, such as renegotiating NAFTA, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and, of course, building his infamous wall.

Instead, he will have to learn compromise, which means swallowing his pride and leaving behind many of his proposed policies on the campaign trail.

He has already begun back-pedaling, or is at least trying. In addition to his victory speech’s plea for unity and his newfound respect for Obama, he has also praised his own protestors in a bizarre Tweet.

Watching these awkward attempts at reconciliation with the people he alienated makes me wonder what’s going on in Trump’s head.

The optimist in me likes to think that he is beginning to understand, like so many elementary school students before him, that words have consequences, that every bully eventually has to face his victims and own up to his actions.

Unfortunately, Trump’s searing rhetoric cannot be fixed with a little introspection and apology. He has already turned hate speech into a normal mode of discourse, and whether or not he chooses to abandon this kind of language will not undo two years of damage.

It will, however, at least help our country heal, and if Trump actually wants this healing to begin, he needs to understand that sometimes words are louder than actions. Let’s hope he chooses the right ones.