The sun is up in the nation's capital as I write these words, but the dark fallout continues from the mob violence wreaked by President Trump's supporters in the hallowed halls of Congress last week. Another member of the U.S. Capitol Police has died, for one thing. Meanwhile, official Washington is wrestling with how to get through the next nine days.
This is not what presidential transitions are supposed to look like. All of Donald Trump's predecessors -- from George Washington through Barack Obama -- realized it had to be done peacefully. Not this guy.
To be sure, others have behaved badly. President Benjamin Harrison sabotaged the economy after losing his rematch with Grover Cleveland. President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt also put partisanship ahead of the people by rebuffing Herbert Hoover's overtures in the winter of 1932-1933, as the Great Depression worsened. Until now, James Buchanan was universally considered in a class by himself for feckless behavior by an outgoing president. As he dithered, the Confederacy took shape, the result being that the 1860-1861 transition is universally ranked as the worst.
In inciting a mob to march on the Capitol, however, Trump may have earned the dubious distinction of eclipsing Buchanan: After all, the 15th U.S. president didn't personally call for Fort Sumter to be shelled.
On this date in 1989, Ronald Wilson Reagan addressed the American people for the last time as president. In contrast to Donald Trump, Reagan was leaving in triumph. In 1984, he'd won a second term in an actual -- not a fictional -- landslide, and in 1988 had seen his loyal vice president succeed him: a third term for "the Gipper," crowed some Reaganites. In his farewell address, Reagan didn't boast about any of this. He did extol what he viewed as the policy successes of his administration, while deflecting credit to the countrymen themselves.
"And in all of that time I won a nickname, ‘The Great Communicator,'" he noted. "But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation -- from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries."
As he ended his speech, Reagan left us with his vision of America -- one nearly diametrically opposed to what we've heard in the past five years.
"I've spoken of ‘the shining city' all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still."
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.