The Increasingly Lonely Hope of Barack Obama

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“You can tell I’m a lame duck,” Barack Obama joked before his farewell address, on Tuesday night, in Chicago, “because nobody’s following instructions.” This was a teasing reference to the unbridled whoop of cheers that had gone up as he’d appeared at the podium; despite his best efforts, the President couldn’t convince the twenty-thousand-person congregation of true believers and long-standing aides to quiet down and take a seat. The quip also worked as a mordant description of the wider atmosphere of chaos and unpredictability that has taken hold during the two months since Donald Trump’s still-shocking election as Obama’s successor. To the extent that there exist “instructions” for a dignified transfer of power in America, they would seem to include the principle of “one President at a time,” a willingness on the part of the President-elect to communicate at reasonable intervals via press conference rather than Twitter outburst, and a general disinclination to comment on the fortunes of once-storied reality shows or the Golden Globes. Trump, in shredding these unwritten rules to ribbons, has made them seem instantly outdated. In the hours before Obama’s speech, a series of news reports and document dumps concerning the role of Russian interference on Trump’s behalf only served to deepen the impression of disorder.

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