Following the death of President George H.W. Bush, a gracious letter Bush wrote for incoming President Clinton is getting a lot of attention and leaving people wondering what kind of letter President Trump would leave for his own successor. Even though Bush had lost the 1992 election to Clinton, in his handwritten letter on the day of Clinton’s inauguration he nonetheless wishes Clinton well, calling Clinton “our President” and saying, according to The Hill, “Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” Indeed it is difficult to imagine the White House’s current occupant showing that degree of focusing on something other than himself, of letting go of an election loss, of taking the high road, of showing the capacity for empathy or concern for the greater good.
The elder Bush and Clinton went on later to become friends, despite their political differences, as a result of their joint efforts in 2005 and 2006 to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the terrible loss of life in the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, which Bill Clinton spoke of today, saying in a statement, according to The Hill, “I will be forever grateful for the friendship we formed”. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss posted a copy of the letter from Bush to Clinton in its entirety on Twitter, which got a lot of comments, many of them comparing Trump’s deficits to qualities most previous presidents appeared to have in abundance. According to The Hill:
A heartfelt note left by President George H.W. Bush to incoming President Bill Clinton as he handed off the presidency in 1993 went viral early Saturday morning after Bush’s death. Bush, the 41st president, died late Friday at the age of 94. The late-night announcement of his death sparked an outpouring of remembrances on social media…
The text of Bush’s full 1993 letter to Clinton is below:
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
Good Luck – George
Beshloss did not editorialize with his post, simply adding, “George H.W. Bush’s letter to Bill Clinton, Inaugural Day 1993:”.
George H.W. Bush’s letter to Bill Clinton, Inaugural Day 1993: pic.twitter.com/DDoObe0Anv
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) September 3, 2017
Responses showed that people had a hard time imagining Trump writing a gracious note to his own eventual successor, including in this exchange where one person wrote, “I just tried to imagine what the current one’ll write. I wonder if it’ll talk about how great he is and how he got the electoral college etc” to which another responded “I was about to say the same thing lol ….*sigh*”
I was about to say the same thing lol …. *sigh*
— modern idealist (@modernidealist) September 3, 2017
This continued with the first person adding that she’d expect Trump’s letter to include “‘Also I broke the remote because CNN was being mean so the TV only shows Fox'”, which got a response of “LOL it will prob(ably) be a cartoon or photo book”.
LOL it will prob be a cartoonor photo book
— frenchfrym (@frenchfrym) September 3, 2017
Another lamented that Trump was unlikely to learn from his predecessors’ examples, writing, “Our past presidents, w/their brilliant, beautiful letters 2 their successors, are showing
@realDonaldTrump how 2 lead. Too bad (Trump) doesn’t read.”
Our past presidents, w/their brilliant, beautiful letters 2 their successors, are showing @realDonaldTrump how 2 lead. Too bad doesn't read.
— Kathleen Stine (@KayStine70) September 3, 2017
Another noted the significance of Bush calling Clinton “our President”, not the President just for one subgroup or just for one political party, writing, “‘You will be OUR President.’ This is one of many reasons why all Americans should mourn him.” Indeed it seems to be lost on President Trump that he is supposed to be representing the interests of everyone in the country, not just his supporters, as he rails against Democrats he imagines to be conspiring against him and dismisses the comments and criticism of anyone he views to support Democrats or to have voted for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
"You will be OUR President." This is one of many reasons why all Americans should mourn him.
— Angus McRockford (@AngusRockford) December 1, 2018
Another expressed the hope that after Trump, we will get back to having Presidents who behave respectfully, writing, “When Presidents were graceful and respectful. Someday this will be restored.”
When President's were graceful and respectful. Someday this will be restored.
— Glen Fettig (@broncoArt) September 3, 2017
Another predicted that “Trump’s will be a misspelled tweet or a page ripped out of one of his colouring books.”
Trumps will be a misspelled tweet or a page ripped out of one of his colouring books.
— MJ (@farleftofright) September 3, 2017
Another summed up these thoughts, writing, “I don’t have to say it – most of us are thinking the same two thoughts: 1) This note shows the thoughtfulness, the decency, and the awareness that the presidency is more than any one person, and that those who hold the office must revere that. 2) We dread what Trump will write.”
I don't have to say it – most of us are thinking the same two thoughts:
1) This note shows the thoughtfulness, the decency, and the awareness that the presidency is more than any one person, and that those who hold the office must revere that.
2) We dread what Trump will write.
— Frankp (@FrankJPaladino) December 1, 2018
This woman responded, “It’s unfortunate that the current one won’t have this sense of duty and pride for the office and/or country.”
It's unfortunate that the current one won't have this sense of duty and pride for the office and/or country
— Denise (@eurodpt) September 3, 2017
And still another said, “Can you imagine Trump writing something similar when he leaves office…… …..no me neither.”
Can you imagine Trump writing something similar when he leaves office……
…..no me neither
— Jeremy Dyson (@mypreciousgolum) December 1, 2018
Many people disagree with the disrespect, bullying, hostile nature of many of President Trump’s communications, and feel that Trump’s behavior is an affront both to American ideals in general and the expected behavior of a President in particular. Hopefully respect, dignity, and considered responses will return to the highest office in the land, although that is very unlikely to happen while Trump remains president. Even the statement from Trump today about the elder Bush’s passing was very clearly written by someone other than Trump, given its tone, its vocabulary, and its sentiment – perhaps it would be best if more of Trump’s communications were written by someone other than him.
Featured image from 2009 of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter by Pete Souza, Obama-Biden Transition Project. (The image is from January 7, 2009, when Barack Obama was President-elect and George W. Bush was still the sitting President.)