There Is No Room to Mess Up This Presidential Transition

There Is No Room to Mess Up This Presidential Transition

Thousands of appointments will have consequences for the next four years, and beyond.


Seventy-eight: That’s the number of days between the presidential election and the presidential inauguration. Much needs to be accomplished in those days for the peaceful transition of power. The stakes are higher than you think, and there are life-and-death implications for the lives of millions of Americans affected by our system of the transfer of power. On this week’s System Check, your hosts Melissa Harris-Perry and Dorian Warren explain how the next administration will come to be, and the impact it will have on all our lives.

We start with some history: the 1963 Presidential Transition Act, to be exact. This little-known legislation helps smooth over some of the uncertainties and vulnerabilities that comes with the transition of power—but given the threats Trump and his administration pose against the usual transition process, our democracy is in a more fragile state than you might think. In the next couple of weeks, thousands of appointments need to be made, important work needs to take place to prepare for governance, and vital information needs to be passed along to new personnel.

To figure out how this has all worked in years passed—and what makes 2020 different—Melissa and Dorian turn to a few experts and leaders who understand the intricacies of this system. Max Stier, president and CEO of Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan organization that runs the Center for Presidential Transition, discusses why presidential transitions matter to the system of American democracy. John King, CEO of The Education Trust and former secretary of education under President Obama, checks in to talk to System Check about how presidential transitions are vulnerable periods in democracies, and alerts us to the internal and external threats to the nation—and each and every one of us—of an intentionally broken system of transition. 

We then get a final word from Julián Castro, 2020 presidential candidate and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration. He reminds and helps us imagine what a successful system of peaceful transfer of power looks like, especially for those millions of civil servants who do the daily work of governing. 

Transforming analysis into action, our hosts give listeners three action items this week: 

  1. First, educate yourself about the presidential transition process. Read about the 1963 Presidential Transition Act to understand our system of the transfer of executive power. And check out Transition Lab—it’s a whole podcast about presidential transitions, by Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition. They know their stuff.
  2. Get informed about the ways the Trump administration is undermining the usual transition process—The Nation’s Jeet Heer laid out all the ways this transition is not normal
  3. Get active: The presidential transition is just the start. Once Biden and Harris are in office, progressives will still have our work cut out for us fighting for the policies we believe in, and undoing four years of Trump’s reckless administration. Research an issue you care about, find a group that organizes around that issue, and get involved.

As always, we welcome your additions to our Checklist! Use our Twitter and Facebook pages to add your comments, suggested actions, and organizations to support. And if you like the show, Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts for new episodes every Friday.

System Check is a project of The Nation magazine, hosted by Melissa Harris-Perry and Dorian Warren and produced by Sophia Steinert-Evoy. Support for System Check comes from Omidyar Network, a social change venture that is reimagining how capitalism should work. Learn more about their efforts to recenter our economy around individuals, community, and societal well-being at Our executive producer is Frank Reynolds. Our theme music is by Brooklyn-based artist and producer Jachary.

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