'We are just temporary occupants of this office.'
It’s a long-standing American tradition that on inauguration day, the former president leaves a handwritten note for his replacement. There aren’t many people who truly understand what it’s like occupying the highest office in the world and for the first time, Barack Obama’s letter to President Donald Trump has been revealed and it’s full of meaningful advice.
Obama’s letter was markedly longer than his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, however he touched on similar themes: mentioning how humbling it was to serve the American people, the importance of family and the incredible weight of the decisions that a president must make in office. CNN received a full copy of the letter written on White House stationery, which has been reprinted below:
‘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,
Barack Obama strongly endorsed Hillary Clinton for the presidency back in 2016, saying at the Democratic National Convention, ‘No matter how much people try to knock [Hillary Clinton] down, she never, ever quits. That is the Hillary I know.’
However, it wasn’t meant to be as we all now know. While Hillary may have won the popular vote, Donald Trump won the electoral college which secured his role as the 45th President of the United States. However, Obama (as ever) was a class act and his beautiful letter is hopeful yet incredibly firm in making Trump understand the significance of his actions to come.
George W. Bush’s 2009 letter to Obama in contrast was much shorter, signed off with the initials GW. He wrote to a much younger Obama, ‘Very few have had the honour 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.’
While you could arguably question whether Trump has actually followed Obama’s advice to ‘sustain the international order’ or ‘leave [the] instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them’, according to CNN Trump is incredibly proud of the letter. He has reportedly shown visitors Obama’s farewell letter and even reached out to Obama to personally thank him for it.
‘It was long. It was complex. It was thoughtful. And it took time to do it, and I appreciated it,’ Trump told ABC News.
Even though only a handful of people ever get to be president, Obama’s reminders to work towards public good, treasure your loved ones and to leave the world better than you found it resonate deeply. BO, please be our life coach.