Prompted by reports that Barack Obama has no intention of attending his official portrait unveiling while President Trump is in office, sources told NBC News that Trump has decided not to hold the ceremony at the White House. This marks a break from a 40-year tradition honored by presidents from both parties.
The tradition of previous presidents returning to the White House to meet with their successor to unveil their portraits spans back to the 1970s and has provided some rare moments of praise and bipartisanship; however, the tense air between Obama and President Trump is too thick, and neither of them reportedly wants it to happen. Their public war-of-words has heightened over the past few days, with Trump frequently mentioning “Obamagate” and Obama telling graduating college students last weekend that Trump has mishandled the country’s approach to the coronavirus.
Unlike most prior presidents, Obama has continued to thrust himself into the limelight since leaving the White House. Most recently, he excoriated President Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in a virtual commencement address he gave for 2020 high school and college graduates. Though he didn’t specifically mention President Trump by name, Obama stated, “More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”
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Sources familiar with the portrait unveiling matter reportedly told NBC News that Obama has no interest in participating in the post-presidency tradition as long as Trump is in office—and Trump has no qualms about halting the presidential custom. If Trump wins a second term in November, Obama may have to wait until 2025 to have his portrait revealed and displayed in the White House among every U.S. president before him. The White House and a representative for Obama did not immediately respond to requests for comments on the matter from various media sources.
These types of events are critical parts of our culture—who we are as a people and a nation. In participating in these rituals, presidents are not only a part of the culture, they help mold, shape, and evolve it. Considering Obama hasn’t upheld the long-standing tradition American presidents have espoused of leaving office quietly, it isn’t shocking that he refuses to break yet another historical convention.