Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan

It seems to be an expectation at this point. Every time a new president delivers his first inaugural address, he thanks his predecessor. It has become a necessary formality, a routine part of the Inauguration Day festivities.

Donald Trump carried on that tradition Friday when, a minute into his inaugural speech, he thanked the Obamas for their role in the presidential transition process.

“Every four years we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power,” the new president said. “And we are grateful to President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent. Thank you.”

But while Trump thanked Obama for his help during the transition, he did not thank his predecessor for his service to America. In that respect, Trump departed from his three immediate predecessors, all of whom, like Trump, succeeded a president of the opposite party.

On Jan. 20, 2009, a mere 25 seconds into his first inaugural address, the newly sworn-in Obama declared, “I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.”

Obama notably did not thank George W. Bush for anything he had accomplished; the new president planned to repudiate Bush’s policies and move the country in a radically different direction.

Obama would go on to proclaim, later in his address: “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.”

Likewise, Donald Trump clearly plans to repudiate Obama’s policies. In his inaugural address, he scolded the Washington establishment for enriching foreign industry at the expense of American industry and defending other nations’ borders while refusing to defend American borders.

In a rejection of the globalist Obama, Trump declared, “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”

So, for Trump and Obama, a polite “thank you” for the predecessor’s service and/or cooperation in the transition process seemed most appropriate. The same was true of George W. Bush, who, within the first 30 seconds of his 2001 inaugural address, said simply, “As I begin, I thank President Clinton for his service to our nation.”

Then, in a nod to the long, exhausting 2000 Florida recount controversy, Bush added, “And I thank Vice President Gore for a contest conducted with spirit and ended with grace.”

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Eight years earlier, in 1993, Bill Clinton took a similarly straightforward tack when he stated, more than a minute into his first inaugural address: “On behalf of our nation, I salute my predecessor, President Bush, for his half-century of service to America.”

George H.W. Bush was the last president to succeed a president from the same party, so he was much more effusive than his successors. The elder Bush declared, at the beginning of his 1989 inaugural address, “There is a man here who has earned a lasting place in our hearts and in our history. President Reagan, on behalf of our nation, I thank you for the wonderful things that you have done for America.”

Eight years earlier, before he did wonderful things for America, Reagan took a similar approach to Trump by only thanking his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, for his role in the transition. Reagan began his 1981 inaugural address by commenting on the uniqueness of the peaceful transfer of authority in the United States, which is far from routine in many other countries.

Then, addressing Carter, he said: “Mr. President, I want our fellow citizens to know how much you did to carry on this tradition. By your gracious cooperation in the transition process, you have shown a watching world that we are a united people pledged to maintaining a political system which guarantees individual liberty to a greater degree than any other, and I thank you and your people for all your help in maintaining the continuity which is the bulwark of our republic.”

Like Obama and Trump after him, Reagan intended to move the country in a radically different direction. He signaled this new direction later in his speech when he asserted, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Thus, there was no praise for any “wonderful things” Carter had done for America.

It was Carter who began the modern custom of presidents thanking their predecessors. In his 1977 inaugural address, the very first words out of Carter’s mouth were, “For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”

Carter’s predecessor, Gerald Ford, had assumed the presidency after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. Carter was thanking Ford for effectively ending the national nightmare of the Watergate scandal by pardoning Nixon.

Before Carter, it was rare for an incoming president to directly thank his predecessor during his inaugural address. In fact, the only president who did so in the 20th century before Carter was Herbert Hoover, who succeeded fellow Republican Calvin Coolidge in 1929.

Hoover boasted early in his address about the progress the U.S. had made since World War I, and he chalked it up to his predecessor.

“We have emerged from the losses of the Great War and the reconstruction following it with increased virility and strength,” Hoover said.

“From this strength we have contributed to the recovery and progress of the world. What America has done has given renewed hope and courage to all who have faith in government by the people. In the large view, we have reached a higher degree of comfort and security than ever existed before in the history of the world. … For wise guidance in this great period of recovery, the nation is deeply indebted to Calvin Coolidge.”

It seems likely the tradition of the presidential “thank you” will continue, whether it’s a heartfelt thanks or merely a polite one.

Want to know why Trump won, what he represents and where he’s going to take the country from here? Get the answers from a Trump campaign adviser in Theodore Roosevelt Malloch’s “Hired: An Insider’s Look at the Trump Victory,” available now in the WND Superstore.

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