In 1992, President George Herbert Walker Bush lost a tough election to Bill Clinton. Two years earlier, President Bush led the nation through Operation Desert Storm after building a coalition of global powers to stop Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Poised on Iraq’s border he wisely refused to push further, knowing invasion of Iraq would destabilize the balance of Arab powers in the Middle East.
The 1992 campaign was hard-fought. His opportunity to serve a second term was lost to the young Arkansas Governor. When he walked out of the Oval Office on January 20, 1993, he left a hand-written letter on the President’s desk addressed to his successor. This is what he wrote:
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.
It is refreshing to remember that we have had statesmen serve in our nation’s highest office. Bush’s letter to Clinton embodies the American values I learned as a boy, beginning with the legends of George Washington who refused to be called “Your Highness,” “Your Excellency” or “Your Majesty” and chose the simple title, “Mr. President.”
Bush’s letter echoes the words of another letter penned two thousand years ago by the Apostle Paul:
“ Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
This year’s election has been filled with venom and vitriol, not just between the candidates, but between private citizens with opposing views. Friends and family members have wounded each other with harsh words and accusations. Strangers stare at one another with suspicion across great chasms of distrust.
We will make America great again when we demonstrate in our homes, our streets and our highest offices the greatness of character that overcomes anger, resentment, retaliation, prejudice and fear. Like George H. W. Bush in 1993, we need to rise to a higher plane of character and conduct. In all places and in all things we need to apply the exhortations of 1 Corinthians 13.