Back in October last year, as a letter written from George H. W. Bush to his successor as American president Bill Clinton went viral, we speculated whether Barack Obama would soon be doing the unthinkable and writing a similar letter to Donald J. Trump, should he win the upcoming election.
Well – not sure if you heard – but the unthinkable did indeed happen, with Trump triumphing last November, and being inaugurated as president in January this year.
And, as tradition dictated, Obama hand-wrote a letter for Trump during his final moments in the Oval Office, which was put into an envelope and addressed to ‘Mr. President’.
Unusually for Trump, he’s actually been quite reticent about revealing the contents of the letter; in the week after taking office he said: “It was long. It was complex. It was thoughtful. And it took time to do it, and I appreciated it."
He’s also refused to read it out loud, and is said to cherish the letter – he even attempted to contact Obama to give his thanks, eventually sending a message when his predecessor was unable to take the call.
However, the contents of it have now leaked, with CNN obtaining a copy from someone who was shown the letter – probably a visitor to the Oval Office or his private White House residence.
Dear Mr. President -
Congratulations on a remarkable run. Millions have placed their hopes in you, and all of us, regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure.
This is a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success, so I don't know that any advice from me will be particularly helpful. Still, let me offer a few reflections from the past 8 years.
First, we've both been blessed, in different ways, with great good fortune. Not everyone is so lucky. It's up to us to do everything we can (to) build more ladders of success for every child and family that's willing to work hard.
Second, American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It's up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that's expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.
Third, we are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions -- like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties -- that our forebears fought and bled for. Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it's up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.
And finally, take time, in the rush of events and responsibilities, for friends and family. They'll get you through the inevitable rough patches.
Michelle and I wish you and Melania the very best as you embark on this great adventure, and know that we stand ready to help in any ways which we can.
Good luck and Godspeed,
It’s intriguing to read it in light of the months that followed Trump receiving it.
Despite seeming to value its contents, he has not appeared to take much of its advice.
The first point, urging Trump to appreciate his ‘good fortune’, has not been followed by any sense of humility from Trump.
The second point, imploring him to ‘sustain the international order’ with American leadership, has been undermined by Trump’s constant anti-NATO rhetoric, his bellicose – and seemingly unsuccessful - statements about North Korea and, indirectly, by the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement – one of the few things which Obama has directly criticised Trump for since leaving office.
The third point, asking him to “leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them” has been roundly ignored, with Trump attempting to undermine judges and the legal system with his constant criticism of them in the wake of his failed travel ban.
As for his fourth point – taking time for friends and family, well… it’s commonly believed that Trump doesn’t really have any friends, while most of his allies in the White House have either left or been fired. Still, most of his family work for the administration, so we guess he’s spending a lot time with them. That’s probably not what Obama was getting at though, was he?
Let’s hope at least some of that advice makes its way through to Trump before the end of his tenure. After all, Trump may have to write his own letter before long; in seven years, three years, or maybe even sooner depending on how that Russian investigation pans out.
Meanwhile, it’s worth another look at that letter from George H. W. Bush to Bill Clinton.
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.
Fair play George, fair play.