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The Daily 202: Obama in a state of denial about Trump, as Democrats work through the stages of grief

By James Hohmann,

THE BIG IDEA: Barack Obama has deluded himself with the misguided hope that Donald Trump will not even try to follow through on many of his biggest campaign promises. He is consoling himself with the hope that, if he does, the new president will be measured, self-restrained and respectful of custom. That he will “study … deeply” and “look at the facts.” That logic and reason, not emotion or ideology, will drive him above all else.

The lame-duck president has convinced himself that Republicans probably won’t go through with repealing Obamacare when they realize just how hard it will be. Ditto with the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord. “Reality has a way of asserting itself,” Obama reasoned. “I also think that he is coming to this office with fewer set hard-and-fast policy prescriptions than a lot of other presidents might be arriving with. I don’t think he is ideological. I think ultimately he’s pragmatic in that way.”

–Is Obama really that naïve? Probably not. He is just wallowing in a state of denial and has resorted to wishful thinking as a coping mechanism. It is a natural psychological condition that afflicts most human beings grieving a major loss, at least for a time. Presidents are not immune.

For a little over an hour yesterday afternoon, Americans saw a 55-year-old who has not come to grips with just how big a blow Trump’s victory is to his legacy and his party. He rationalized. He downplayed. He justified. He minimized. With all the trappings of the presidency still his, it hasn’t fully sunk in yet. And it might not for 66 more days, when Trump gets sworn in on the West Front of the Capitol – and Obama begins living as a civilian in Kalorama.

— Trying to project reassurance, circumspection and a sense of continuity, Obama came across at times as both nonchalant and almost ambivalent about the results. He expressed confidence in how hard it is to move the levers of power. “The federal government and our democracy is not a speedboat. It’s an ocean liner,” he said. But with the stroke of a pen Trump could instantly undo much of what Obama has pushed with through executive action during the second term. And the new president will have Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress.

— Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying,” identified the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Obama is clearly still in stage one.

— Other Democrats have already progressed further along in their recovery over the past seven days.

The protesters chanting “not my president” in the streets every night are angry (stage two).

Many more went right into depression (stage three), almost to the point of being inconsolably paralyzed by it. A bunch of Democratic groups and lobbying firms scheduled parties around Washington this week, assuming folks would be in a mood to celebrate. But several events that took place last night were sparsely attended, since so many movers-and-shakers just want to sit in their basements and drink alone.

The liberals who won’t stop talking about how Hillary Clinton won the popular vote are in the bargaining phase (stage four).

Meanwhile, the intensifying debate over who should chair the DNC has forced acceptance (stage five) in some quarters.

— The Republican establishment already had to work through this grieving process vis-à-vis Trump in the spring. Pretty much everyone in the GOP reached the acceptance phase by Election Day.

— Obama is a textbook case of denial right now. The president allowed himself to hear what he wanted to hear during his 90-minute sit-down with Trump last Thursday. His successor somehow managed to both reassure and flatter him. Perhaps Trump privately told him that he was not serious about many of his priorities and stressed that they are merely opening bids in a negotiation.


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