When last they saw each other six weeks ago after the ceremonial passing of power, President Trump and former President Barack Obama parted with smiles and handshakes. But it did not take long for the surface bonhomie to degenerate into a fierce and public clash unlike any other in modern times.It's curious that Baker should write this, because in his very next paragraph he tells us:
While Mr. Obama has remained quiet for the most part, some of his closest loyalists moved into opposition mode, leading what some only half-jokingly call “the resistance.” Mr. Trump, convinced that Obama holdovers still in government are trying to sabotage his presidency, took the conflict nuclear over the weekend by accusing his predecessor of bugging his telephones last year.
Mr. Trump provided no proof, and the charge was quickly dismissed by intelligence veterans and, indirectly, the F.B.I., but that did not make it any less sensational or any less historic. Never in recent generations has the natural friction between current and past presidents spilled over into such a public spectacle. If sustained, it could fray the institution of the presidency, further erode the public’s already low confidence in the nation’s leadership and leave both allies and enemies with the impression of an America at war with itself.
During last year’s campaign, Mr. Obama called Mr. Trump a “con artist and a know-nothing” who could not be trusted with the nuclear codes. Mr. Trump called Mr. Obama “the worst president in the history of the United States” after spending years questioning whether he had been born in the United States.You and I might have concluded that that rhetoric "could fray the institution of the presidency, further erode the public’s already low confidence in the nation’s leadership and leave both allies and enemies with the impression of an America at war with itself."
But I guess Baker didn't feel concerned until President Obama and his supporters decided to respond:
Mr. Obama’s camp insisted they are simply defending their legacy. “It takes two people to duel, and only one seems to be aiming his weapon,” said Jennifer Psaki, White House communications director under Mr. Obama. “The uniqueness of the time is the fact that you have one unhinged and misinformed sitting president pointing his gun at a former. That is unprecedented.”It seems clear from that last answer that Baker was asking these Obama backers whether they were, in fact, "seeking out conflict." The fact that Trump has spent every waking hour of his political career "seeking out conflict," from the moment he emerged as a birther, seems of less concern to Baker, as does the fact that Trump's backers are unapologetically looking for a fight:
Denis R. McDonough, Mr. Obama’s last White House chief of staff, said the former president’s team could not remain silent in the face of false assertions. “What I have witnessed in recent days is former colleagues speaking out against untruths when needed,” he said. “That is best characterized as not backing down from attacks; it is not seeking out conflict.”
“We’re in a unique period,” said Newt Gingrich, the Republican former House speaker who has been an outside adviser to the new president. “Trump is a genuinely disruptive figure who threatens everything Obama stands for.”Like The Washington Post's Abby Phillips, Baker seems to be worrying about the tone of our political not because Trump and other Republicans are in permanent attack mode but because Democrats aren't meekly enduring the attacks. How dare they!