It would not surprise me if Donald Trump doesn’t attend Joe Biden’s inauguration.
I will be proud of him if he does, but if he doesn’t, it won’t be the first time a sitting president who lost an election decided he had better things to do than to watch his opponent take the oath of office.
John Adams famously skipped town in the middle of the night before Thomas Jefferson was to be sworn in. Only the second and third presidents of the United States, the bitter campaign between these two was symbolic of an already deeply divided country, where wild conspiracy theories and stupid rumblings of civil war were floated about, like now.
And – like father, like son – John Quincy Adams refused to attend Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829. The two had already been through one nasty election in 1824, in which Jackson had won the popular vote, but the U.S. House gave Adams the presidency. It’s said that when the 1828 election results were announced, Jackson supporters stormed the White House and Adams had to sneak out through a back way. Even as a U.S. Congressman later, Adams did not attend Jackson’s second inauguration in 1833.
Shortly after a real civil war, Ulysses S. Grant so despised Andrew Johnson that he refused to ride in the same carriage with the outgoing president to his inauguration in 1869. So, Johnson refused to go to the ceremony. He stayed in the White House until noon when Grant had been sworn in.
The last Republican president to lose election was George H.W. Bush in 1992. He supposedly took it pretty hard, but participated in the inauguration, the peaceful transfer of power, and graciously welcomed the new president, Bill Clinton, to the office with a customary hand-written note left from one chief executive to the next:
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
The two would form a close friendship, which came about after President George W. Bush put them together as representatives of our government to figure out the best way to administer aid in response to a devastating tsunami that hit Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand in 2004. The senior Bush and Clinton would work together on several other projects for years to come.
According to the 2012 book “The President’s Club,” by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, after Clinton had surgery in 2005 to remove scar tissue and drain fluid that had built up after his heart bypass operation the year before, George W. Bush told those attending the Gridiron Club Dinner he hosted in Washington D.C. that Clinton had recovered, and: “He woke up surrounded by his loved ones: Hillary, Chelsea … and my dad.”
The last Democratic president to lose election was Jimmy Carter in 1980. He took the loss hard as well. Not only was he fighting Republicans including Ronald Reagan, who would defeat him, he had been challenged for the nomination within his own party by U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who also had been fighting him in Congress.
And although he was tirelessly working on getting 52 American hostages released from Iran, where they had been held for 444 days, he managed to be there when Reagan was sworn in, knowing the Iranians were deliberately waiting until that time to let the hostages go in an attempt to humiliate Carter.
In his book “White House Diary,” Carter said he was so happy to know the hostages were being released that he wasn’t worried about who got credit for it. He also said: “Reagan was very generous, in my opinion, in asking me if I would go to Wiesbaden, Germany to meet the hostages and to greet them when they finally reached freedom.”
It was generous. Carter had hoped he would have the chance to do just that as president.
I think we should celebrate the times our political adversaries have worked together and shown some class, rather than encourage them when they gin up the divisions between themselves, and us.