Following a short speech, former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama waved goodbye and departed from Joint Base Andrews. (The Washington Post)
It will be up to history to render final judgment on Barack Obama’s presidency, but the 44th president got at least one positive assessment Friday as he prepared to leave the White House. Chief Usher Angella Reid jokingly advised Obama that he could have his “security deposit back.”
Reid then joined curator William Allman in presenting the president and Michelle Obama with two American flags: one that had flown over the White House on the first day of his presidency and another from his last. Reid also handed over a tall stack of paper towels from the washroom, complete with the gold presidential seal. Obama always joked with guests that they could have as many paper towels as they wanted.
For a couple who embodied change when they entered the White House, the Obamas’ last day there was one full of age-old conventions.
In a ceremony filled with private references, the Obamas thanked the residence staff for their service over the past eight years. Then they sat down for coffee and tea with the incoming president and first lady on the State Floor before escorting the Trumps to the U.S. Capitol.
These rituals, as former White House social secretary Ann Stock put it, “are as old as the nation.”
A presidency that began with a whistle-stop train trip and massive crowds ended much more quietly.
Before the Trumps pulled up at the White House on Friday, President Obama turned to his wife and kissed her on the cheek. She dusted his shoulders off.
Melania Trump presented a blue Tiffany & Co. gift box tied with a white satin ribbon to Michelle Obama — who had given Laura Bush a present eight years ago — but there was no aide on hand to take it. In a digital age where social media has become a primary avenue for channeling political outrage, even relatively innocuous moments like this quickly become fodder for public debate. Some Democrats took a photo of Michelle Obama, looking confused or uncomfortable with the Tiffany box, and quickly converted it into Internet memes aimed at conveying their own displeasure with the Trump inauguration.
The Obamas quietly navigated the rituals that marked their exit from official Washington. Barack Obama bounded over to shake hands with Supreme Court justices who were also seated on the Capitol steps as they waited for President Trump’s inauguration to begin. And he exchanged pats on the shoulder, and a few words, with the incoming president.
Judging from the social media reaction, some Americans were more unwilling to see the Obamas relinquish the White House than they were themselves.