A few hours after President-elect Trump met with outgoing President Obama at the White House last Thursday, another event took place a few blocks away.
That event was the 2016 ceremony for awarding the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding by the Fulbright Association. The Fulbright Prize, first awarded to Nelson Mandela in 1993, honors individuals who have made extraordinary contributions toward bringing peoples, cultures, or nations to greater mutual understanding.
The laureates have included Colin Powell, Jimmy Carter, Bill and Melinda Gates, Doctors Without Borders, Bill Clinton, and leaders from a dozen countries around the world, among them Corazon Aquino (Philippines), Vaclav Havel (Czech Republic), Kofi Annan (Ghana), and Desmond Tutu (South Africa).
This year's recipient was Richard Lugar, former Republican senator from Indiana, who served in the Senate from 1977 until he was defeated in a Republican primary in 2012. His career paralleled that of Arkansas's Fulbright in many respects.
Both served as chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Lugar has been a strong supporter of the Fulbright exchange program, initiated and nurtured by Fulbright when he served in the Senate and thereafter.
Lugar is known as a champion of bipartisanship on such vital issues as nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global food and energy security, and international relations -- and as a strong supporter of the Fulbright Program of educational and cultural exchange, which has been characterized by bipartisan backing, as seen, for example, in the support of current Republican members of Congress from Arkansas, notably Sen. John Boozman and Rep. French Hill, along with strong Democratic backing over the years.
Both Fulbright and Lugar studied at Oxford University in England as Rhodes Scholars and became convinced of the value of international exchange.
Earlier on the day that Lugar was awarded the Fulbright Prize as I was walking toward George Washington University in Washington, I witnessed a fleet of black SUVs hurtling down the street and realized that this was the Trump motorcade headed to the White House for the next president's meeting with President Obama.
It was a first step in a transfer of power that could bring significant change. And there was a slight touch of humility apparent in Trump's White House visit.
Deep divisions in the country were evident in last week's voting (and not voting), with Trump winning in the Electoral College but Hillary Clinton getting a larger popular vote total.
Trump's campaign was marked by trash-talking, leaving a trail of invective and insults across the country. Most Americans want to shake off the residue of a bitter campaign, but Frank Luntz, a prominent Republican political consultant says, "Once you inject hyper-anger into civil society, it is almost impossible to undo."
Many questions obviously remain, and soon comes the time when governing will replace campaigning and we will begin to see how Trump's agenda fares in Congress. The GOP retained a narrow majority in the Senate (51 or 52 if a Republican wins in Louisiana) and controls the House, but by no means does that guarantee everything Trump proposes will sail through. Ours is not a parliamentary system where all members of a party normally follow their leader. Republican solidarity won't be there on every issue. And in some cases, Trump will need bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, something that has been rare in recent years. This is particularly true in the Senate, where in many cases 60 votes are necessary to allow a final vote.
On some actions, he will be able to go around Congress, as most presidents do. But he touts his ability as a dealmaker and that ability will be tested. Can he deliver? Or will he be a destructive force? Will he face an intractable Democratic caucus that turns the table on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose priority has been blocking President Obama at every turn?
Trump vows to undertake a major infrastructure program, rebuilding roads, bridges, airports, and railways, but when Obama tried that he was blocked by Republicans in Congress, many of whom said the plan was a big-government Democratic initiative. It's unlikely a major infrastructure program could be enacted without some bipartisan backing.
As part of his lengthy "to-do" list of campaign promises, Trump pledged to "repeal and replace" Obama care on day one. The House previously voted 60 times to repeal, a symbolic ritual and now repeal may actually occur. However, full repeal and the entire process and future of health care programs is inevitably more complicated than Trump and other critics have acknowledged. Indeed, Trump now says he would favor keeping some elements.
It's useful to remember that President Reagan relied on cooperation and compromise with Democrats to achieve his major goals.
Just as Trump will likely need support and cooperation from both sides of the aisle in Congress on some issues, he will need bilateral and multilateral support and cooperation from other nations to carry out an effective foreign policy -- bipartisanship at home and cooperation internationally, as exemplified by the Fulbright program.
Commentary on 11/16/2016
Print Headline: A bipartisan example?