Trump has announced
he will not attend the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Not a surprise. The outgoing president isn't exactly known for his class, grace or humility in accepting loss. Given Trump's role in inciting a crowd to attack the Capitol in a bid to stop Biden's victory from being certified, if he chose to attend, it would certainly make for an awkward occasion.
But even for a president who is not a sore loser, surrendering power to the man who defeated you is tough. Hoover refused
to speak to former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the chilly ride from the White House to the inaugural stand at the Capitol in 1933. And though Carter was more gracious, he later confessed
he found former President Ronald Reagan's small talk about his Hollywood days "remarkably pointless," especially since his 1981 Inauguration Day was also the day the American hostages in Iran were freed.
Former President George H.W. Bush, on the other hand, was dignity personified. The campaign was spirited. Republicans accused former President Bill Clinton
of somehow being politically compromised because of a student trip he took to the Soviet Union in 1969. Bush himself, in a campaign speech, called Clinton
a "bozo," a comment he said later he hadn't thought was all that offensive.
And, as a strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign, I can tell you we launched our fair share of attacks as well, taunting
Bush for pledging "read my lips, no new taxes" and mocking Bush's seeming inaction in the face of a recession. Tame stuff compared to today, to be sure. But the potential for a deep and lasting rupture was real, and both men made a special point to unite the country.
This is where Bush's amazing grace came in. He was a wounded politician, but more than that he was a patriot. "Among the many memories from my first inauguration that I'll cherish for the rest of my life," Clinton recalled to me, "is the extraordinary graciousness that President and Mrs. Bush showed to Hillary, Chelsea and me on what had to have been an incredibly difficult day for them."
The outgoing president and incoming President-elect meet for coffee at the White House before the swearing-in, and one can imagine that the coffee comes with a quite a bit of tension -- especially when you must depart the White House for the last time in the company of the guy who kicked you out. But the Bushes cut through it, Clinton told me. "They treated us with genuine kindness, and expressed a real hope that our country would be successful over the next four years, and that our family would be happy in the White House."
Former first lady Barbara Bush, herself a fierce competitor, shifted into loving grandmother mode. "I'll never forget Mrs. Bush praising Chelsea, who was 12 at the time," Clinton told me, "