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Dear Joe? Farewell note tradition in peril as sulky Trump clears out his desk


Mr Trump will be staying away

Mr Trump will be staying away

Mr Trump will be staying away

President Donald Trump and president-elect Joe Biden are already breaking with tradition in failing to travel to the Capitol together for tomorrow's inauguration.

And after a tumultous and bitter election battle it also remains to be seen whether the outgoing president will leave the traditional friendly note of advice for his successor in the Oval Office.

Previous presidential transitions have often been characterised by courtesy and sometimes humour, commodities in short supply during the 2020 White House tussle.

The farewell note tradition as we know it is believed to have begun as President Ronald Reagan was preparing to leave the White House in January 1989 to mak way for his successor, George HW Bush.

He reached for a pad emblazoned with a cartoon under the phrase, Don't Let the Turkeys Get You Down on which featured a collection of turkeys scaling a prone elephant, the symbol of both men's Republican Party.

"Dear George, You'll have moments when you'll want to use this particular stationary. Well, go to it," Mr Reagan scrawled.

He said he would be praying for the new president before concluding: "I'll miss our Thursday lunches. Ron."

The missives' contents start off as confidential, but are often eventually made public by archivists, references in presidential memoirs or after journalists and others filed requests to obtain them.

But the 32-year tradition is in peril this year.

Mr Trump has refused to accept the results of November's election and vowed not to attend Mr Biden's inauguration with Mr Biden saying he agreed with that decision.

That makes it doubtful Mr Trump will leave behind any handwritten, friendly advice.

Presidents often write reflectively at the end of their time in office, including George Washington, who stated that he was "tired of public life" in recording why he was not seeking a third term.

But historians say Mr Reagan's is likely the first instance of a personal letter being passed between presidents.

Mark K Updegrove, a historian and chief executive of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, who has written about the Bush family, said: "Though he had been soundly defeated by Bill Clinton, George HW Bush, as a good American, was wishing the new president well."

In his letter to Mr Clinton, Bush senior wrote: "I'm not a very good one to give advice; but just don't let the critics discourage you or push you off course," before concluding: "Your success now is our country's success. I am rooting hard for you. Good luck - George."

Writing to that president's son, incoming President George W Bush in 2000, Mr Clinton noted that the "burdens you now shoulder are great but often exaggerated" and that the "sheer joy of doing what you believe is right is inexpressible".

In his own letter to President Barack Obama eight years later, the younger Mr Bush advised that "critics will rage. Your 'friends' will disappoint you", but "no matter what comes, you will be inspired by the character and compassion of the people you now lead".


In his letter to Mr Trump in 2017, Mr Obama wrote: "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."

But he did offer some words that now appear prophetic given Mr Trump's impeachment for inciting the deadly violence at the US Capitol.

"We are just temporary occupants of this office," he wrote.

"That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions - like rule of law, separation of powers, that our forebears fought and bled for."

"It's up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them."