President Joe Biden said Wednesday that outgoing president Donald Trump had left him a “very generous” letter in the Oval Office, in keeping with tradition.
The tradition started three decades ago with a silly illustration from a children’s book author. It was Jan. 20, 1989, and Ronald Reagan was passing the presidential baton to his vice president, George H.W. Bush. Before leaving the Oval Office, Reagan wrote a note on some stationery illustrated by Sandra K. Boynton, showing a cartoon elephant covered in turkeys, with the caption, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.”
Exactly four years later, Bush found himself in a very different position. Unlike Reagan, who retired in glory after two terms, Bush had been voted out after one. He was being replaced by an opponent, not a friend. Still, in one of his last acts as president, Bush wrote a generous, graceful letter to incoming President Bill Clinton.
In 2018 after Bush’s death, Clinton recalled the letter as they both became friends when they worked together on tsunami relief in 2005. By that time, Bush’s son, George W. Bush, had become president and won a second term. Just as had been done for him, Clinton left the younger Bush a welcome note in the Oval Office.
Obama administration officials have cited the Bush administration for an exceptionally smooth transition in 2009, despite it happening across party lines. On Inauguration Day, Bush left the by-then obligatory note for incoming President Barack Obama.
Things were a little different eight years later when Obama left his handwritten note for Trump. The first names — “Dear Bill,” “Dear George” — were gone; Obama addressed Trump as “Mr. President.” And the letter was more than twice the length of the others.
(With inputs from AFP)