Democrats never gave Trump that chance. They declared themselves the “resistance” and launched a campaign of obstruction against virtually everything Trump tried to do. They challenged his legitimacy from day one and spent the first two years of his presidency pushing the now-disproved narrative that he had colluded with Russia to steal the election. When that failed, they tried to impeach him anyway. Trump was often his own worst enemy, but no president in my lifetime has faced such a relentless campaign aimed at his destruction.
So, when Biden issued his call for unity during his victory speech, declaring that it was “time to put away the harsh rhetoric” and “stop treating our opponents as our enemy,” many on the right said: Oh, now you want unity? After four years of trying to annihilate Trump, now you want us to “lower the temperature” and “give each other a chance”? Thanks, but no thanks.
Here’s the problem with that attitude: It was wrong when Democrats did it to Trump, and it would be wrong for conservatives to do the same to Biden today. Moreover, by his behavior since he lost the election, Trump has ceded any moral high ground he may have once possessed. The assault on the Capitol he incited was a disgrace. Not only did the pro-Trump mob violate the inner sanctum of our democracy, but it also marked a turning point when some on the right became what we all once condemned. That is unacceptable. It needs to stop now.
Watching the presidential transition (if one even dares to call it that) has been horrific. Trump’s refusal to accept the election results, welcome his successor to the White House, attend his inauguration or preside over a peaceful transfer of power has been among the worst abdications of presidential responsibility I have witnessed in my lifetime.
I vividly recall how, just days after Barack Obama’s election in 2008, President George W. Bush held a Cabinet meeting where he gave us all clear marching orders: “Our job is to make sure the next president and his team can do the job and succeed. No one at this table should want them to fail,” he said. That directive applied to all who worked for him, from his secretary of defense all the way down to his chief speechwriter. So, I called Obama’s speechwriter, Jon Favreau, and invited him to the White House. We had lunch in the Navy Mess. I introduced him to our team, walked him through our speechwriting process and later invited his entire staff for a West Wing tour, where they took their first look at the Oval Office. On my last day in the West Wing, I left him a note with a box of White House cigars for his team to smoke on the “speechwriters’ balcony” in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
I did all this not because I supported Obama — I would have many hard things to say about him in the years ahead — but out of respect for the office he held. I remembered the feeling I had when I first arrived at the White House and opened my desk drawer to find the words “Get Out!” carved deep into the wood — a message of contempt left by the departing Clinton team. We conservatives are supposed to be better than that. Unfortunately, many on our side have been far worse in recent days.
Biden has asked for us to “give each other a chance.” So, here is my pledge as he takes his oath of office: I’m going to treat President Biden in this column the same way I treated President Trump. I’m going to call balls and strikes. I will support him when he does the right thing, oppose him when he does the wrong thing. I expect that I will criticize Biden a lot more than I did Trump, because I will disagree with Biden more than I disagreed with Trump. But I will treat him fairly precisely because I was disgusted by how the left treated Donald Trump. And because Joe Biden is not my enemy — he is my president.