RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and the margin may well grow in the days and weeks ahead as more votes are counted. That won't matter, though, because those many thousands of votes won't alter the Electoral College count. In the end, that's the only count that matters. NPR's Ron Elving has looked at all the numbers and heard all the speeches, but he's thinking about it from a different perspective - from the great height of history.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now, you've written a piece for NPR this morning. In it, you say President-elect Donald Trump might be disruptive, but in one way, he's restoring a tradition. What tradition would that be?
ELVING: It's our tendency to react to one presidency, especially an eight-year presidency, by seeking out someone distinctly different to be the next president, usually someone from the other major party who's been a critic or opponent of the outgoing president, maybe even a nemesis, as in the case of Mr. Trump.
MONTAGNE: But, I mean, Obama - doesn't he have a high level of approval right now? So I mean, why seek out the opposite?
ELVING: You know, it is high relative to where it's been. He's over 50 percent. And it's also high among other presidents in their eighth year as they're leaving office. But that doesn't seem to matter all that much historically. Bill Clinton's approval level was even higher when he had to turn over the keys to George W. Bush 16 years ago.
So it's not just a matter of a president's personal popularity. It's more like we have limits on our national inclinations. We may want to go progressive for several years, maybe most of a decade. And then the national body rhythm seems to want something different - something restorative, if you will - something sometimes very different.
MONTAGNE: And - OK. The parties you could see, understandably, might want to take turns - right? In a sense, voters might want to do that. But there's more to this than that, right?
ELVING: That's right. It's more than just product rotation or a change of scene. But it also seems we want to follow our national journey a certain distance in one direction and then often a distance in quite a different, or even opposite, direction - just seems to be what we have done.
MONTAGNE: So traditionally, Democrats, let's say, come in, push the country down some kind of path of policy, and then Republicans stand by waiting for the country to react. And then they grab it.
ELVING: You know, it's true that they just stand by and then grab it. But they don't just stand by. They take an active role in helping the country react against whatever the Democrats might do, say, Obamacare as an example. Every single Republican in Congress opposed it at the time, and they have been working quite actively to repeal it ever since. And now it would seem they will get that chance.
MONTAGNE: So Donald Trump has four more years - obviously, for sure. Are you suggesting or predicting that we'll have eight years of Donald Trump and then a backlash?
ELVING: You know, Trump is already 70. So he may be content to make America great again in just one term. But he has a Republican Congress and excellent odds of keeping it Republican through the 2018 midterms.
So he can change a lot of things, undo a lot of what Obama has already done. And the more that he does of that - the more he restores things to the way they were before Obama or maybe even well before Obama - maybe back to the 1950s, as he said, was a time when he thinks America was great - the more people are going to notice that change and the more it may energize people on the other side, including those who didn't turn out to vote this week.
MONTAGNE: NPR's senior editor Ron Elving.
Thanks very much.
ELVING: Thank you, Renee.
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