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Analysis: Contrast Between Obama and Trump Is 'Unprecedented'

President Obama is being replaced by his polar opposite in many ways and that's the kind of change America has voted for in recent decades.
Image: President-elect Donald Trump heads back into the elevator after a meeting at Trump Tower, Jan. 16, 2017 in New York, N.Y.
President-elect Donald Trump heads back into the elevator after a meeting at Trump Tower, Jan. 16, 2017 in New York, N.Y.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

President Barack Obama will be replaced on Friday by a man who is his opposite in many obvious ways — party affiliation, upbringing and ethnicity. But the differences between the two men on tone and temperament are the most polarizing of all.

It continues a familiar pattern in modern times in which the new president presents a clear contrast to the person he’s succeeding.

Think about it: In 1992, the Democrat from Hope, Ark., Bill Clinton, replaced the patrician Republican George H.W. Bush. In 2000, born-again George W. Bush succeeded the famously unfaithful Clinton. And in 2008, Barack Obama – who campaigned for “Hope” and “Change,” as well as against the Iraq war – replaced the brash Bush, who started that war.

But the change from Obama to Trump might be the biggest of all, and it will have a far-reaching impact in domestic policy, foreign relations and even ceremonial functions.

It’s No-Drama Obama vs. Drama-All-The-Time Trump.

Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” vs. Trump’s “Art of The Deal.”

The former community organizer vs. the real-estate mogul.

The nation’s first African-American president vs. the man who led the so-called birther campaign against him.

"Yes We Can” vs. “Make America Great Again.”

“It’s safe to say the contrast between Obama and Trump is the most pronounced we’ve seen in modern times,” says NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “Many presidents are elected as a reproof to the president who preceded them – we’ve never seen one elected who had for years accused his predecessor of having deceived the American people about being born in the United States.”

George C. Edwards III, a political scientist at Texas A&M University, agrees. “The contrast between Trump and Obama is unprecedented.”

Indeed, just consider the contrasts last week between Obama’s farewell address and Trump’s news conference:

On Russia

  • Obama: “Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world – unless we give up what we stand for and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.”
  • Trump: “Well, if, if Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia.”

On Change

  • Obama: “You were the change,” he said to voters and his supporters. “You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”
  • Trump: “I said that I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created, and I mean that. I really, I'm gonna work very hard on that.”

On Democracy and Dissent

  • Obama: “Our founders argued. They quarreled. Eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity — the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together.”
  • Trump: “I’ve been competing with him [GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham] for some time. He’s going to crack that 1 percent barrier someday,” he said, referring to Graham’s poll numbers during the 2016 GOP primary season.

On Institutions

  • Obama: “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.”
  • Trump to one news organization: “You are fake news.”

And given the trend of the next president being a clear contrast to the last one, expect the nation’s 46th president to be someone much different than the 45th, Beschloss says.

“The next President elected, whether in 2020 or 2024, is likely to be someone very different from Trump.”