By: Evan Osnos
On the morning of January 20, 2017, the President-elect is to visit Barack Obama at the White House for coffee, before they share a limousine—Obama seated on the right, his successor on the left—for the ride to the Capitol, where the Inauguration will take place, on the west front terrace, at noon.
Donald Trump will be five months short of seventy-one. If he wins the election, he will be America’s oldest first-term President, seven months older than Ronald Reagan was at his swearing-in. Reagan used humor to deflect attention from his age—in 1984, he promised not to “exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Trump favors a different strategy: for months, his advisers promoted a theory that his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, who is sixty-eight, has a secret brain illness and is unable to climb stairs or sit upright without help, and, in speeches, Trump asked whether she had the “mental and physical stamina” for the Presidency.
The full spectacle of Trump’s campaign—the compulsive feuds and slurs, the detachment from established facts—has demanded so much attention that it is easy to overlook a process with more enduring consequences: his bureaucratic march toward actually assuming power. On August 1st, members of his transition team moved into 1717 Pennsylvania Avenue, a thirteen-story office building a block from the White House. The team is led by Governor Chris Christie, of New Jersey, and includes several of his political confidants, such as his former law partner William Palatucci. As of August, under a new federal program designed to accelerate Presidential transitions, Trump’s staff was eligible to apply for security clearances, so that they could receive classified briefings immediately after Election Day. They began the process of selecting Cabinet officials, charting policy moves, and meeting with current White House officials to plan the handover of the Departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security, and other agencies.