The Rushmore Report: Obama’s Surprising Letter to President Trump


In a letter left on Inauguration Day for President Trump that was both congratulatory and cautionary, Barack Obama urged the incoming president to guard democratic institutions and traditions, and to “sustain the international order.” “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,” Mr. Obama wrote in the letter.

Obama continued, “Still, let me offer a few reflections from the past eight years.”

The letter was written in longhand on White House stationery and left in the top drawer of the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. The letter highlighted the concerns of a departing president who acknowledged the enormous responsibility of the job domestically and on the world stage.

Mr. Obama wrote Mr. Trump, a billionaire who had family wealth and made fortunes in real estate, that “we’ve both been blessed in different ways, with great good fortune,” adding, “Not everyone is so lucky.”

It is important to “build more ladders of success for every child and family that’s willing to work hard,” he wrote. He emphasized that “our wealth and safety” depend on maintaining “the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War.”

He also made a case for preserving “instruments of democracy” regardless of what the “push and pull of daily politics” may bring.

It is a tradition for presidents who are leaving office to write letters to their successors offering advice and well wishes.

When George W. Bush left the Oval Office, he wrote to Mr. Obama: “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.”

Mr. Obama advised Mr. Trump to spend time with friends and family, and wrote, “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.”

Obama wished Mr. Trump “Good luck and Godspeed,” and signed it “BO.”

About the Author

Christina Caron is a correspondent for CNN.


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