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Former presidents should not be critical of Trump

April 1, 2017 GMT

Former President George H.W Bush and Ronald Reagan set a standard for how former presidents should conduct themselves in retirement. Make lots of money by writing books and giving speeches, travel the world as a trusted diplomat and speak no evil regarding your successor, no matter how hard it may be. Keep quiet, and give the new president space to do their job.

Former presidents have stated that the job is hard enough and having a former president criticize makes the job even harder. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton learned this when former President Jimmy Carter critiqued their political and policy proposals and Franklin Roosevelt learned when Herbert Hoover did the same.

Barack Obama benefited from the silence George W. Bush gave him for eight years, where Bush repeatedly was asked about the policies of the Obama Administration and steadfastly refused to enter into the fray.

Trump deserves the same silence — from all of our former presidents — to define the presidency in his vision and to make policy decisions that he thinks are best for the country. To be clear, that does not mean that the American citizenry should be silent. In fact, it’s our patriotic duty to make sure that our voices our heard through our representatives and through our freedom of speech. The cornerstone of a healthy democracy is the debate of ideas in the public square without fear of punishment or any type of retribution. But I think former presidents have the opportunity and responsibility to rise above the fray. We can only have one president at a time and when the current president makes policy and former presidents comment on it, it can be confusing and send mixed messages to our allies around the world.

Former presidents can serve the cause better by doing what Bush 41 did and what Reagan taught him, and subsequently what 43 learned from his father: offer your advice and critique in private. Give the current president your best reason why his approach is off base and then quickly offer a solution. As a former president it’s hard to give up the limelight, but as a patriot it’s in the best interest of the country. President Obama is off to a dignified and gracious start by keeping his innermost thoughts to himself and, from what’s being reported, privately coaching the new president through a cadre of staff that is career civil servants.

If President Obama continues down this path, President Trump will not only benefit greatly from this relationship, but the country will as well. We won’t hear President Trump praising President Obama for this now, but I suspect we will in years to come.

From 2009 until the president, President Obama has comported himself with dignity and class. With a very thin political resume, I was skeptical of his ability to assume the levers of powers, but serving eight years in the White House without any political or personal scandal has turned my thinking upside down. There is a lot President Trump can learn from his predecessor — what worked and what didn’t work and why? How can a president manage the bureaucracy and persuade millions of federal workers to enact their vision? How do you make decisions when imperfect data is being presented to you?

These are the questions that only a president can ask and only a former president can answer without fear of leaks and misinformation.