Under normal circumstances, a letter from one president of the United States to his successor wouldn’t seem to be worthy of much attention.
These aren’t normal times. For starters, Donald J. Trump isn’t your “normal” president. He spoke kindly of his immediate predecessor, Barack H. Obama, when the two men met face to face for the first time in the Oval Office right after Trump’s election as president.
It went downhill from there. Rapidly. Angrily.
So, when CNN released the contents of the traditional note that presidents leave behind, it’s worth noting the outreach that President Obama extended to his successor.
The note ends with this: 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.
I do not doubt the former president’s good wishes for the Trumps. I’d like to throw away my doubt about how the new president felt about the former president upon visiting him in the Oval Office. But I cannot.
If only the president hadn’t defamed the former president with that scurrilous and baseless claim about wiretapping the Trump campaign’s offices in Trump Tower. Or if only he would resist the temptation to say again and again about the “mess” he inherited from the 44th president, which I happen to believe is another lie.
Trump’s loud mouth and his boisterous criticism of All Things Obama appear aimed at pleasing only the base within his own Republican Party while ignoring the support that the former president enjoyed among millions of other Americans.
So now we know what the former president wrote to the man who took his place in the Oval Office. To me, the most poignant passage in the note deals with the transitory nature of the office.
It reads: (W)e 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.
There’s no need to elaborate on whether I believe Donald Trump — to date — has kept faith with that bit of advice.