A president-elect who handles his transition from his hometown, not Washington. A big city and its residents cursed with traffic snarls and security measures that get in the way of normal life. An incoming first lady who entertains waiting until the end of the school year to move the rest of the family to the White House.
Donald Trump, 2016? Yes. But also Barack Obama, 2008. It may be hard to believe now, but Obama had an adjustment to make when the Oval Office beckoned. In figuring his next moves, Trump could take a page from his predecessor.
Trump lives and works in the 58-story Trump Tower, which is in midtown Manhattan on Fifth Avenue, one of the busiest commercial arteries in America. Since Election Day, the building has been the focus of security efforts that have caused inconveniences for many locals.
Part of 56th Street has been closed to traffic. Two Fifth Avenue lanes are no longer in use. Trump Tower houses Gucci and Nike stores, which shoppers can get to only through the security cordon. In New York Magazine, Justin Davidson said the area has become “the urban equivalent of the security line at JFK.”
A no-fly zone was imposed on the airspace above. In a borough that gave 86 percent of its votes to Hillary Clinton, Trump Tower also has been an irresistible lure for protesters, who create additional tangles.
Presidents normally live full-time in Washington, with occasional weekends at nearby Camp David. But after the election, The New York Times reported, Trump told aides “he would like to do what he is used to, which is spending time in New York when he can.” Coming from someone who preferred to fly back from campaign events every night, this raised fears of permanent disruption. Melania Trump had indicated she had no firm plans to move herself and their 10-year-old son to Washington.
If New Yorkers find this change aggravating, one former New York police detective told CBC Radio of Canada they “haven’t even begun to be inconvenienced yet.”
On Sunday, the president-elect allayed some fears by saying he plans to live in the White House, though anyone familiar with his unpredictable ways will take that statement with a grain of salt. But his wife and son, he said, will stay put until Barron finishes fourth grade. Given modern realities, that means the security misery in Midtown will go on for many months.
Our advice to the Trumps is to move, sooner rather than later, and avoid returning home often. That approach would greatly ease the trouble in Manhattan, simplify the task of protecting the family, minimize costs for the federal government and New York City, and reassure the public that Trump will give the presidency his full attention.
Obama actually moved his family into a Washington hotel before his inauguration so his daughters could get started in their new school.
Maybe Trump will learn that the trip is seldom worth the trouble. The Obamas envisioned returning to their Chicago home “as often as every six to eight weeks,” the Chicago Tribune reported in December 2008. In practice, they’ve rarely made it to Chicago, much less the house.
Bill Clinton once described the White House as “the crown jewel of the federal penal system.” The feeling of imprisonment is mostly a function of the job. The executive mansion is also a place where the president can enjoy security, comfort, privacy, easy access to the people working for (or against) him and a bit more distance from chanting demonstrators.
For a family used to 30,000 square feet of gilded luxury, even the White House may be a step down. But for the next four years, at least, the Trumps ought to be able to rough it.