“Our culture has made it harder to be good.” – David Brooks, The Road to Character
With the news that former president George H.W. Bush is in ICU and the worldwide attention on today’s presidential inauguration, I found this worth sharing today.
In one sense, today is simply a Republican president succeeding a Democrat president, something that has occurred three times in my lifetime (and three times vice-versa, too). But everyone knows that this inauguration is almost indescribably different. Donald Trump won the presidency by brazenly declaring that he is indescribably different. And today is the day he moves into the White House.
President Obama will cede center stage today. I have watched him navigate the post-election drama, and I may not be objective enough to comment, but it seems that he has been consistently gracious in what must be an awkward time. Today will be particularly scrutinized.
A couple of months ago at the height of the election drama, a handwritten letter that outgoing president George H.W. Bush left in the White House for incoming president Bill Clinton in 1993 made the rounds, and given the campaign histrionics this go around, it was almost shocking to read.
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.
In President (George H.W.) Bush’s autobiography, he describes that day: “And so time goes on and I’m sitting here now alone, the desk is clear and the pictures are gone. I leave a note on the desk for Bill Clinton. It looks a little lonely sitting there. I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but I did want him to know that I would be rooting for him.”
I don’t want to be overly dramatic either, but the graciousness offered by President (George H.W.) Bush to President Clinton is something that in my opinion does more than transcend politics—it transcends life. And it displays a depth of character not rewarded in our culture today.
I want to highlight it. Especially today.