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Presidential Swearing-In Ceremony Nears; Trump Defies Categorization

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Later this morning, the 45th president of the United States will be sworn into office. Donald Trump arrived in Washington yesterday.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That's right. He kicked off his inauguration weekend with a concert at the Lincoln Memorial, and afterwards he spoke to his supporters.

MARTIN: He said that he and the people who voted for him were all about change. That's what he wants to see happen. NPR's Scott Detrow is here in the studio with us to talk about what we can expect this morning. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So what's the itinerary?

DETROW: Well, it's a packed day, and it's a day that's set with ceremony that's pretty constant from year to year. Donald Trump will take the oath of office around noon, but his day starts much earlier. There's a church service at 8:30 at St. John's Church right near the White House. At 9:30, the Trumps go to the White House, and they meet with the Obamas. They have tea or coffee. They chit chat. They talk. Around this time, according to know - what we know about previous transitions is when Trump will likely be briefed on how to use the nuclear codes, an awesome responsibility that...

GREENE: No small thing.

DETROW: ...His at noon. That's his decision at noon, so he'll get that briefing. A lot of previous presidents had said that's a real reality check moment.

MARTIN: Yeah.

DETROW: And then the Obamas and the Trumps all go to the Capitol around 10:30...

MARTIN: Together.

DETROW: ...Together in a limo and that has been a source of tension in previous years. Herbert Hoover refused to talk to Franklin Roosevelt when they rode to the Capitol together...

GREENE: They just sat there in the car not speaking?

DETROW: Roosevelt waved to the crowd. Hoover was grumpy about losing in a landslide and didn't talk at all the entire way.

GREENE: Wow.

MARTIN: OK. So - and then we will watch history unfold as Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office. Stay with us, Scott. You're going to help us monitor all these events and mark the festivities, but we want to bring another voice into the conversation now, Christopher Buckley. He worked as a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush during his years as vice president to Ronald Reagan. Chris Buckley is the author of several political satires including the novel "Thank You For Smoking." He joins us via Skype from the Bahamas. Mr. Buckley, thanks for being with us.

CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY: Good morning.

GREENE: Where exactly are you, Mr. Buckley? You emailed us last night and said you were very excited to tell us this.

BUCKLEY: (Laughter) Well, I thought it would be worth mentioning that I'm speaking to you from a place called Hope Town...

GREENE: OK.

BUCKLEY: ...Which is a very small island that was founded by - in 1785 by loyalists escape - who had to escape America and come here (laughter).

GREENE: Are you saying there's some symbolism there? Are you trying to escape right now?

BUCKLEY: I will leave (laughter) that to your listeners to decide whether or not there's some embedded symbolism there. It's a very pleasant place, but I'm happy to join you by the marvel...

MARTIN: Of technology.

BUCKLEY: ...Of technology.

MARTIN: So setting your geography aside for the moment, let's talk about - a little bit about your lineage. You are, of course, the son of William F. Buckley tremendously influential conservative intellectual, the founder of The National Review. When you sit from your perch in the Bahamas and think about this moment and where your party is at, where the Republican Party is at, how has it changed since your dad's time?

BUCKLEY: Well, it has changed. It's changed quite a bit. I am frequently asked what my dear old, departed dad would have made of Donald Trump. And it's funny no one asks me what he would have made of Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush or John Kasich so I...

GREENE: Other Republicans - they don't ask you about that?

BUCKLEY: I have to conclude that they are asking me this at wanting to know whether or not that my dear, old dad would have considered him a conservative. And my - it's tricky channeling your dad's ghost. Hamlet tried it. That didn't work out so well. But my best answer is - would be that Donald Trump defies categorization. I think he is - to use the Latin which my dad frequently reverted to - he's sui generis. He is his own type.

MARTIN: Yeah.

BUCKLEY: There is no one like him. I do not - that is not necessarily a compliment, but I think it is true.

GREENE: What about the party today? I mean, George H.W. Bush - obviously on a lot of minds because he is hospitalized right now. And you said in the past that you have an abiding affection for the first President Bush. Do you see his influence in the Republican Party of today?

BUCKLEY: Sadly, I see very little, and I - you're probably now aware of the letter that Mr. Bush sent Donald Trump last week saying we will not be...

GREENE: Yeah - unable to come to the inauguration. Yeah.

BUCKLEY: ...Unable because under doctor's orders - he said that as a 92 year old, if he sits outside in January, he will be - he will soon be six feet under. I thought it was a typical grace note of President Bush, who was, I think, the man after my father I admire most. The mischief - my mischievous side would be tempted to hypothesize whether or not Mr. Bush being in the hospital had decided it was preferable to shuffle off this mortal coil than be alive today, but I am - I rejoice that he is still with us. And I'm sure he is participating in his way by the marvel of modern technology...

GREENE: Of the technology - watching things on television or somehow, we hope, depending on his condition which we're all watching of course.

BUCKLEY: I mean, consider the graciousness of the man. You know, Mr. Trump among other things defeated Mr. Bush's own son during the Republican primaries. George Bush is - he may be the last gentleman. It grieves me to say that, but he embodies virtues that are conspicuously, I think, absent from today.

MARTIN: Let me ask you this, Christopher Buckley. Your dad is often cited as the intellectual father of the modern conservative movement. He was the definition of a conservative elitist to many people, and the election that just happened was in many ways a rejection of that. This was about the outsiders. This was about the every man, the working class that has felt disenfranchised. Do you think this represents a temporary shift? Is it a rejection of what your dad was about?

BUCKLEY: I would point out to that - I mean, you may think of my dad as an elitist. I would point out to you that when he ran for mayor of New York in 1965, he polled best among - in Queens in the borough of Queens - his constituency, the people who awarded him his 13.5 percent vote in the - in that general election were cops and firemen which I think runs a little bit athwart your definition of an - as an elitist. He was - he had patrician manners, but my dad was very much a man of the people.

GREENE: Well, this is one of the things, really, that I'm curious to look for as the Trump presidency begins. I mean, a lot of people, you know, made a big deal out of the fact that you have this rich, you know - this rich man, wealthy man from New York City drawing a lot of appeal from the working class. But there was one study that they did at Harvard saying like, no, if you are working class, if you're hardworking, you care about your families, you admire someone who is wealthy. And it's just going to be interesting to watch where that appeal is as these first days happen.

BUCKLEY: Yes. I think that's true. There's obviously a fascination with wealth. There's always been, I mean - like some years ago, the most - it was under some dreadful television show called "Lifestyles to Rich And Famous" (ph).

GREENE: "To Rich And Famous" (ph) - yeah. Who can forget it?

BUCKLEY: I doubt it was - I doubt its greatest viewership was along Park Avenue in New York. It was probably played a little bit better in what we sometimes refer to as the fly-over states. But I think that fast - I mean, I think - of wealth and especially the variety of flashy wealth that - one might say gaudy wealth that Mr. Trump's (unintelligible) - I think will be interesting up to a point.

MARTIN: Let me ask you this, Chris Buckley, to interrupt you. We have to mention this, though, because in 1999, you wrote a parody address for Donald Trump as if he had won the presidency.

GREENE: Amazing.

MARTIN: And this is how...

BUCKLEY: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...It starts. (Reading) This is a great day for me, personally. You're very smart to have voted for me because I'm going to do positive things for this country starting with this Mall I'm looking out over.

And I'm we're poking fun, and it is a parody, but there is something about the rhetoric that is very true to who he is. Clearly, this is something you saw coming in some form or another.

BUCKLEY: Well, it took 17 years to come true. I would say it seemed funny at the time, but here we are. It's morning in America, as we say, and morning is a word that can be spelled two ways.

GREENE: And (laughter) - nice way to put it. And we have many people arriving in Washington this morning - many of them Donald Trump supporters and many of them who plan to be protesting tomorrow, so might use two different versions of that word. Listen, once we get off the line...

BUCKLEY: I wish them all a good day.

GREENE: Yeah. Well, I would love you to predict my future when we get off the live radio here because it sounds like you have a knack for that.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: That is the novelist Christopher Buckley, who worked as a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush when he was vice president.

Mr. Buckley, thanks so much for taking the time this morning. We appreciate it.

BUCKLEY: All right. Good to be with you.

MARTIN: Thanks.

BUCKLEY: And God bless America. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.