(CNN) — We now know what outgoing President Barack Obama told incoming President Donald Trump.
In a brief note, Obama offered both congratulations and several pieces of advice. So, did — and is — Trump listening?
Let’s go to the letter!
In it, Obama offers congratulations to Trump on a “remarkable run,” but, in the same sentence, notes the gravity of the office: “Millions have placed their hopes in you, and all of us, regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure.”
While noting that the presidency lacks a “clear blueprint for success,” Obama offers four specific recommendations for Trump.
- “It’s up to us to do every thing we can [to] build more ladders of success for every child and family that’s willing work hard.”
That this letter went public — thanks to CNN’s Kevin Liptak — on the same day that sources indicated that Trump apparently has decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program (after a six-month delay to allow Congress to try to find a solution) speaks to how differently Obama and Trump see that ladder to success. Undoing DACA would be a direct rebuttal of an Obama-era program that was of intimate importance to the last president. It would also put 800,000 children brought into the US illegally — but with no agency of their own — in very serious legal peril.
That’s only one area of a much broader conversation about the right ways to give people the tools to succeed, of course. Trump, in his early days in office, has very clearly embraced the idea that the federal government doesn’t need to — and shouldn’t be — involved in that process, which is much better left to states or private citizens.
- “It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the Cold War.”
Trump has taken a very different approach to the US role in the world since taking office. He’s had contentious relations with a number of longtime allies and, unlike many of his Cabinet officials, refused to denounce Russian aggression. He has insisted that the United States operated from a position of weakness in the world community prior to his election — footing the bill for the United Nations (among other things) and demanding very little in return from our allies.
On North Korea, the most pressing foreign policy problem on his plate as of right now, Trump has used bellicose language — promising “fire and fury” if North Korea keeps up its missile testing program — but has yet to act on that rhetoric.
What’s clear — in the broadest sense — is that Trump has very little interest in “sustain[ing] the international order” as envisioned by Obama. Trump views that order as deleterious to the United States and a core reason why “we never win anymore.”
- “We are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions — like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties … it’s up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.”
Trump has formed an election integrity commission aimed primarily at sniffing out whether historically non-existent voter fraud was a widespread issue in the 2016 election. He seems to have no sense for separation of powers, repeatedly wondering aloud why the Republican-controlled House and Senate don’t do as he asks them to. He fired the FBI director amid an ongoing investigation being led by the Justice Department into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and whether Russians colluded with members of the Trump campaign. He has issued a ban on transgender people serving in the military. He has urged the police to use rough treatment when arresting potential criminals. He has pushed a so-called “travel ban” to keep people from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
There’s more. But you get the idea. Trump doesn’t see himself as a guardian of democratic institutions. He sees himself as a disrupter of them.
- “Take time, in the rush of events and responsibilities, for friends and family.”
Earlier this summer, first lady Melania Trump moved into the White House with the couple’s son, Barron. Trump has his daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, around him as formal White House advisers. He’s purportedly walled off from talking about the family business with his two elder sons — Don Jr. and Eric — but they remain very much in his orbit.
As for friends, Trump has never been all that big on them. He kept his inner circle in the business world to family and a few other employees; he’s done much the same in the White House.
In short, Trump has not closely heeded Obama’s advice. At all. Which Obama almost certainly knew would be the case when he wrote his letter to Trump.