TIME President Obama

Life at 1600

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Callie Shell—Aurora for TIME A view of the Oval Office in February 2009.

It's one thing to be elected President of the U.S. Learning how to do the job usually takes longer

A presidential handoff comes with established rites and rituals, some political, others personal, all a measure of the weight bearing down on the rising leader of the free world: a meeting (or meetings) between incoming and outgoing Presidents, a summit for their lieutenants and Cabinet officers, that first glimpse into the secret compartments of national security and the fearsome threats abounding, the tour of the living quarters by the First Ladies, a conversation about the kids. Eight years ago, when George W. Bush hosted a White House welcome lunch for President-elect Barack Obama and all the living former Presidents, some of the talk was about the economy and al-Qaeda, but much was about how you raise a family in the world’s most turbulent fishbowl. These sessions aren’t required by law, but everyone seems to appreciate the help.

Since Donald Trump’s race for the White House was one long, looping detour from convention, it’s natural that the final lap has veered off road as well. Even veterans eager to help him find themselves challenged not just by his unfamiliarity with the ways of Washington but also by his indifference to them. Whether it’s his disdain of intelligence analysts, his distance from his party’s agenda, his Twitter torture of corporations or his defiant and diversionary Jan. 11 press conference, everything about the Trump transition has tested the machinery of power and protocol. This suggests that the weeks to come will involve a steep learning curve not just for the new Commander in Chief but for the rest of us as well.

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This appears in the January 23, 2017 issue of TIME.

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