When A Former President Breaks Precedent

The Letters of the Past

On January 20th, 2009 two things happened simultaneously. One of them was that George W. Bush stopped being President of the United States and the other was that Barack Obama became the President of the United States. On this day when Barack Obama arrived in what would be his home for the next eight years although his next one wasn’t too far away (Martin) when he entered the Oval office he found a letter written by someone who had just become a former President, George W. Bush (Seipel). As the Hill reported the letter that the new President Barack Obama found said:

“Dear Barack,

Congratulations on becoming our President. You have just begun a fantastic chapter in your life.

Very few have had the honor of knowing the responsibility you now feel. Very few know the excitement of the moment and the challenges you will face.

There will be trying moments. The critics will rage. Your ‘friends’ will disappoint you. But, you will have an Almighty God to comfort you, a family who loves you, and a country that is pulling for you, including me. No matter what comes, you will be inspired by the character and compassion of the people you now lead.

God bless you.”

At the Hill in the very same article, they reported that when President George W Bush walked into the Oval office, he found a letter from President Bill Clinton that said:

“Dear George,

Today you embark on the greatest venture, with the greatest honor, that can come to an American citizen.

Like me, you are especially fortunate to lead our country in a time of profound and largely positive change, when old questions, not just about the role of government, but about the very nature of our nation, must be answered anew.

You lead a proud, decent, good people. And from this day you are President of all of us. I salute you and wish you success and much happiness.

The burdens you now shoulder are great but often exaggerated. The sheer joy of doing what you believe is right is inexpressible.

My prayers are with you and your family. Godspeed.

Sincerely, Bill”


Through going through other news reports, one can find a similar letter from George HW Bush to Bill Clinton and a much funnier and longer one from Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush. These letters are a tradition demonstrating how former Presidents have respect for their successors and know that it is already hard enough to lead a country without having the previous president attacking you on every move you make because often a president’s successor is of a different party and has different ideas.

The Respect Shown By George W. Bush

This has repeatedly been shown from a historical reluctance from presidents to attack their successors. This was demonstrated very nobly by President George W. Bush who did not have any harsh criticisms of Obama during Obama’s first six years as President, and even then his comments where he was critical of Obama’s foreign policy with regards to the Iran deal  at the Republican Jewish Coalition were made behind closed doors (Rogin). This meant it wasn’t even a public criticism of Obama. Although as recent events have begun to suggest Obama does not care very much about the example his predecessors have set for him with regards to how to be a former President.

The Disrespect Shown By Barack Obama

Donald Trump was inaugurated just five months ago, but Barack Obama has already attacked him multiple times. According to People magazine sources close to Barack Obama have told them that he has called Donald Trump a bulls***er. Although if applying similar standards as done above for George W. Bush, since this was done privately it is not as significant as if done publicly, although it is important to note that there are three big differences between the two events.

One is that it took six years for George W Bush to utter that criticism of Obama while it only took days for Obama to say that about Donald Trump. The second thing to note is that Bush attacked Obama’s policy while Obama directly attacked Trump, and third that Bush did not use curse words when referring to Obama while Obama did when he referred to Trump. Obama again went after President Trump when Trump decided to exit from the Paris climate deal by saying that he “joins a small handful of nations that reject the future” and he referred to the decision in the same public statement as an “absence of American Leadership.”

His most recent criticism came only a few days ago when he released a statement on Facebook about the Better Care Reconciliation Act saying in two parts of his Facebook post which was a post mostly filled with misleading self-aggrandizement:

“The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America.”…

“Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.”

This is not how a former President should act! If Donald Trump does this in 2025 to President Zuckerberg, I will attack him just as brutally, but the idea that former Presidents should be attacking the person that succeeds them this viciously is foolhardy. The President has a job that involves being the leader of a country, and that job becomes extraordinarily difficult when his successor is constantly looking over his shoulder and attacking him every time he attempts to implement a new policy.

Perhaps I should have known better than to expect someone as egotistical as Barack Obama to be a respectful former President, but what he is doing is wrong, it sets a dangerous precedent, and adds fuel to the fire of what has already become a toxic state of political discourse.

Overall Obama just needs to learn that he is not driving the car that is America anymore (which is a good thing seeing as he was driving it at 100 miles per hour towards a cliff) and that Trump is the driver and he doesn’t need Obama as a back seat driver.


Martin, Emmie. “The Obamas Just Bought an $8.1 Million Mansion in Washington, D.C. — Take a Look Inside.” CNBC, CNBC, 2 June 2017, www.cnbc.com/2017/06/02/photos-of-the-obamas-8-point-1-million-washington-d-c-house.html. Accessed 24 June 2017.

Obama, Barack. “Our politics are divided. They have been for a long time. And while I know that division makes it difficult to listen to Americans with whom we disagree, that’s what we need to do today…” 22 June 2017, 3:35 p.m. Facebook Post.

Pappas, Alex. “Obama Says Trump ‘Joins a Small Handful of Nations That Reject the Future’ by Withdrawing from Paris Agreement.” Washington Examiner, Washington Examiner, 1 June 2017, www.washingtonexaminer.com/obama-says-trump-joins-a-small-handful-of-nations-that-reject-the-future-by-withdrawing-from-paris-agreement/article/2624718. Accessed 24 June 2017.

Rogin, Josh. “George W. Bush Bashes Obama on Middle East.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 26 Apr. 2015. Web. 24 June 2017.

Seipel, Brooke. “Bush Letter to Obama Made Public for the First Time.” TheHill, Capital Hill Publishing Corp., 19 Jan. 2017, thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/315174-bush-letter-to-obama-made-public-for-the-first-time. Accessed 24 June 2017.

Westfall, Sandra Sobieraj. “What Does Barack Obama Really Think of Donald Trump? ‘He’s Nothing But a Bullsh–Ter.’” PEOPLE.com, Time Inc, 17 May 2017, people.com/politics/what-does-barack-obama-really-think-of-donald-trump-hes-nothing-but-a-bullsh-ter/. Accessed 24 June 2017.

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