This week, a letter from president George Bush to President Bill Clinton has gone viral. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but I found myself moved by it. Bush wrote the letter in January 1993, after losing the presidential election to Clinton. Apparently, in keeping with tradition, the outgoing president often writes a note to their successor. The twitter user who re-posted the letter this week captioned it ‘magnanimous, bipartisan & dignified’. Say what you will about the first Bush and Clinton as Presidents (and there’s plenty to say)—but I had to agree: that letter has real integrity.
What struck me most was the last line: “Your success is now our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”
It’s such a simple statement. And yet it serves as a reminder that the highest office in the land calls for a sense of duty–not of ego. And while no one has embodied this truth more gracefully than Barack Obama, the ugliness of our current presidential election has dominated national (and international) consciousness for the past year.
In the last presidential debate, Donald Trump said he would keep us ‘in suspense’ over whether or not he’d recognise Hillary Clinton as President should she win the election. His new soundbite is to claim, like a petulant child, that everyone and everything is to blame for his swelling unpopularity—except, of course, himself. During the debates, he has called Clinton a ‘nasty woman’, questioned her mental health, tried to physically intimidate her onstage, and blamed her for her husband’s alleged scandals.
Just as the last two elections brought deep-seated racism to the surface during the candidacy of Barack Obama, a woman now running for president has brought gender inequality to the fore. Right now it looks like dehumanising over half of the American population may have finally been a step too far for Trump to actually be elected (knock on wood), but what has been said and done during this election will cause lasting damage. His violent lack of respect for any institution or individual not bending in his favour is not presidential–it’s dictatorial.
Were this man to be a television host or reality TV star, his words would be a national embarrassment. As he’s running for the highest office in the land, his words– and actions– are to our national shame.
This election has unearthed such violence in both language and behaviour around what makes America America and towards its highest institutions and its positions of greatest power, that in its aftermath there will need to be serious reconciliation. Is there enough common ground to be able to deem something ‘American’ or still talk of American values? So long as disagreement and discourse aren’t met with hatred, violence, and fear mongering— I think so. Things have been taken to such extremes my hope is that we will have to pull back. Trump seems to have finally destroyed himself over the last 6 weeks. But his rise has been terrifying, and the forces that have put him there are far deeper and more widespread than just one monstrous orange billionaire with bad blonde hair.
Many of us have lost sight of or become disillusioned with any kind of American ‘unity’— but it’s never too late to heal. Refusing to respect the results of the election, should Clinton win, is refusing to respect our democracy. As things currently stand, to threaten Clinton’s safety, as Trump has done many times, is to threaten our safety. And to wish her ‘success’ is currently our country’s greatest hope.]