President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump met face to face and shook hands for the first time Thursday. First time ever. A worried American public needed badly to witness this moment and be reassured that a peaceful, respectful transfer of power will happen.
The meeting had high potential to be tense and uncomfortable, given their years of animosity. Perhaps because of the possibility of confrontation, schedulers had initially planned for a light, 10-minute get-together. Instead, it turned into a 90-minute discussion delving into substantive national and international issues.
Thursday's meeting was perhaps the most sobering one of Trump's life. No one can enter the Oval Office without being struck by the awesome responsibility of the president's job. Trump now receives the same daily, top-secret briefings that Obama receives from CIA and National Security Agency officials.
This newspaper, like every major metropolitan daily in the country, had strongly opposed the notion of a Trump presidency. When Tuesday's election results came in, our initial reaction was that the nation was headed for disaster. Protesters have taken to the streets threatening violence and insisting that Trump is "not my president."
To them we say: Get over it. The nation cannot continue the kinds of destructive sniping that dominated the campaign — sniping that, yes, this newspaper participated in. Thursday's meeting provided some very necessary reassurance that the world around us isn't going to collapse. Trump can, if he works at it, be presidential.
It truly is time for Americans to set aside the rancor and harsh words. For Obama, the meeting was a chance to show his human face to Trump, an opponent who spent many years treating the president as an object of ridicule and illegitimacy.
It was because of Trump's sustained public campaign challenging Obama's status as an American-born Christian that the president felt compelled to fight back hard, starting with a lengthy roasting of Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner. It endured up to the last day of campaigning this week. Some say it was the humiliation of Obama's roasting that motivated Trump to run for president.
They never had a chance to clear the air until Thursday. And because of Trump's penchant for off-the-cuff, abrasive comments during the campaign, there was little reason for Obama or the American public to see him in any light other than one of callous abrasiveness.
We stand by our criticism of his offensive campaign rhetoric and believe he must repudiate it. He should make certain that his followers don't assume his election signals an open season on insulting and demeaning their fellow citizens, and noncitizens, with reckless abandon.
Now, as president-elect, Trump has shown some recognition that it's time to assume a more dignified and statesmanlike demeanor. We sincerely hope what was on display Thursday marks Trump's new beginning.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST LOUIS POST DISPATCH