The Slatest

Obama Takes Long View of History, Offers Hope That Trump Will Respect Democracy

President Barack Obama makes a statement on the election results as Vice President Joe Biden listens in the Rose Garden at the White House on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Harkening back to his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address, President Barack Obama struck a conciliatory tone in remarks given on Wednesday after Donald Trump was elected as his successor in the White House.

Certainly, Obama knew the historic nature of the threat a Trump presidency might pose for the values of progressivism and for our Democratic ideals, but Obama took the long view of history and promised to make the transition of power as smooth as possible:

I am looking forward to doing everything that I can to make sure that the next president is successful in that. I have said before, I think of this job as being a relay runner. You take the baton, you run your best race, and hopefully by the time you hand it off, you’re a little further ahead. You made a little progress. And I can say that we have done that and I want to make sure that handoff is well-executed because ultimately, we’re all in the same team.

Obama made another attempt to put the best face on the new and frightening United States many felt we had woken up in on Wednesday, arguing that this would hopefully be just another presidential campaign ending and just another presidency.

A lot of our fellow Americans are exultant today. A lot of Americans are less so. But that’s the nature of campaigns. That’s the nature of democracy. It is hard. And sometimes contentious and noisy. …. Sometimes you lose an argument. Sometimes you lose an election. You know, the path this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forward and others think is moving back. And that’s OK. I’ve lost elections before. ….

That’s the way politics works sometimes. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right. And then people vote. And then if we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflection. We lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off. We get back in the arena. We go at it. We try even harder the next time. The point, though, is that we all go forward. With the presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens. Because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy.

The sports metaphor was also a recurring theme of Obama’s remarks, and again he offered hopes that President-elect Donald Trump will abide by the rule of law and respect our Democratic norms and institutions:

Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first, we’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first.

We all want what’s best for this country. That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that. That’s what the country needs. A sense of unity, a sense of inclusion, a respect for our institutions. Our way of life. Rule of law. And a respect for each other. I hope that he maintains that spirit throughout this transition. And I certainly hope that’s how his presidency has a chance to begin.

Again, here was Obama taking the long, collected view of history on what is a tragic day for his presidential legacy and everything he has accomplished in the past eight years. At this point, we all have to hope that Obama is right about that spirit of respect for Democracy—which the current president knows Trump openly repudiated throughout his campaign. And if he’s wrong, then those who value that Democracy and those institutions that Obama demonstrated he cherishes so much with these remarks will need to do whatever we can within the boundaries of those institutions to try to protect them.

See more Slate coverage of the election.