Donald Trump is, putting it mildly, a different kind of President. And when he was first elected in 2016 there were many people wondering how the mastermind behind the historic tweet; “I have never seen a thin person drinking Diet Coke” would carry himself in one of the most prestigious offices in the world. The time he spent in office was indeed unlike any president ever seen before, and at times it seemed a personal mission of his to ignore presidential tradition and forge his own path, and forge his own path, he did. Trampling on traditions and presidential precedent that stretch back decades, even centuries.
While this isn’t a tradition per se, throwing insults at your closest allies isn’t considered the done thing for a President to do. While multiple countries that are considered an ally to the United States have been caught in Trump’s firing line, few have been as bewildering as his attacks on the Prime Ministers of Denmark, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Canada is geographically and arguably politically the United States’ closest ally, with a long history of collaboration, shared values and increasingly similar cultures. Former US Presidents and Canadian Prime Ministers have been known to hold close personal ties, most notably Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney, who went as far to sing a duet together when Reagan visited Canada. Then along comes Donald Trump, who lambasted current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “two-faced” after a video had surfaced of foreign leaders supposedly mocking the President, although they denied this was the case. This whole event seems to be resembling a playground insult more so than trying to preserve friendly diplomacy.
Like Canada, the United Kingdom is one the United States’ nearest and dearest allies, “The Special Relationship” between the two nations is made up of economic, cultural and economic ties as well as incredibly close relations between leaders, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher would spring to mind as well as, perhaps surprisingly, Barack Obama and David Cameron. With the latter once revealing that Obama sometimes addressed him as “bro”. The relationship between Trump and former prime minister Theresa May was reportedly not so friendly. Though Theresa May was often photographed holding his hand, she revealed in 2018 it was in fact to help him make his way up and down stairs or slopes, Trump was unlikely to be appreciative of this revelation. Trump was not so keen on returning any favours, he reportedly held no punches in discussions on the phone with May about Brexit, often barraging her with insults such as “weak”, “spineless” and a “fool”. It seems doubtful Trump will be getting called bro anytime soon.
His spat with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was yet another example of Trump’s hurt feelings obstructing his foreign diplomacy. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark had invited President Trump on a state visit, an invite he accepted and then later cancelled due to a disagreement with Frederiksen. Trump had declared his interest in buying the territory of Greenland from Denmark, an idea dubbed “absurd” by Frederiksen. What followed was a Trumpian rant of how mean the Danish Prime Minister was. He said her use of the term ‘absurd’ was “nasty” before adding “I thought it was a very not nice way of saying something, they could’ve just told me no”.
Election time traditions
When an election has ran its course and a new president-elect has been declared, there are certain activities the sitting President tends to partake in, these are not legally binding by any means, but traditions. Some of these traditions date back many decades, while a rather notable tradition is much more modern. Trump has either stated he won’t partake in these traditions, or we can safely assume he won’t.
The notable tradition of recent times is the letter an outgoing President has left to his successor on the desk of the Oval Office. This was started by Ronald Reagan who left a small note to his Vice President George H.W. Bush just before Bush became president, but was brought into the limelight by Bush as he famously left a letter to the man who beat him; Bill Clinton. The letter was profoundly endearing and supportive, wishing him luck and great happiness. Kickstarting the trend of outgoing presidents leaving a letter in the Oval Office, Clinton left one to Bush Jr, Bush Jr to Obama, and even Obama to Trump. It’s probably safe to say Trump will not be leaving Joe Biden a thoughtful letter of well wishes.
Attending the inauguration of your successor is a much longer standing tradition. Only 4 Presidents have ever boycotted their successor’s inauguration and Trump will be the first in 152 years, when in 1869 Andrew Johnson refused to go to Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration. Trump confirmed in his final tweet before getting banned he will not attend the inauguration on January 20th. While no one is particularly surprised that Trump decided against attending an event which would have included a particularly awkward car ride for Donald and Joe Biden, it’s still historically important and bucks the trend that was carried out by 31 other presidents since 1797 (overall 14 have not attended; 4 chose to not attend, 2 could not due to ill health, 8 had died while president).
Peaceful transition of power
For centuries the United States has prided itself on the peaceful transfer of power. No matter the person or party, the sitting president has always willingly moved aside and welcomed their successor, but not this time. For months and months Donald Trump cast doubt over the legitimacy of the 2020 Presidential election, hammering away at supposedly fraudulent mail-in ballots. So, when the time came for him to honour his constitutional duty and concede the election, step aside and begin the transition to democratically elected Biden administration, he said no.
There may be Trump supporters and Republicans who would object, saying Trump has conceded and committed to a transition of power. The President did in fact release a video on January 8th where he stated that come January 20th a new administration will be taking office and he’s now working on a “smooth transition”. But the events of January 6th, the storming of the US capitol building by Trump supporters, are actions that speak far louder than a video released two days later as a means of damage control.
In the days building up to January 6th when the election results were to be certified, which would hammer the final nail into the ‘TRUMP2020’ coffin, Trump and his allies used pretty combative language when describing their intentions to contest the certification. Telling Trump supporters to “fight like hell” and to “have trial by combat”. And what followed was said supporters storming the US capitol building, smashing windows, breaking into offices, occupying the House and Senate Floor, forcing the elected officials of the US into a secret hidden location, the death of 4 pro-trump rioters and the death of Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who was reportedly struck on the head by a fire extinguisher while trying to engage with the rioters.
So, to recap, Donald Trump casts doubt over the legitimacy of the election, Trump loses the following election (time to concede), Trump fails to provide any evidence of voter fraud (definitely time to concede), Trump tells his supporters to “fight like hell to keep the White House”, Trump supporters storm the capitol building causing hundreds of injuries and the death of a police officer, Trump concedes and commits to a “smooth transition”. It was too late, the transition was not smooth, and certainly not peaceful, another tradition shattered at the hands of Donald Trump.
While we could laugh at Trump’s bizarre tweets about diet coke, use of sharpies to alter geographic forecasts to avoid being wrong, incredible reliance on podiums and general unpresidential manner which led him to ignore certain traditions, his presidency ended with him as less of a trailblazer but more of a power hungry, sore loser. His 4 year term of trying to forge a new path and be a different kind of president has ended with many Americans just wanting a normal person as president, someone who knows how things work in government, someone who isn’t on TV every night for the wrong reasons. Arise, Joe Biden.