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Trump snubs White House tradition as he refuses to hang Barack Obama portrait

The ceremony is usually seen as a rare moment of praise and bipartisanship in deeply divided American politics

By Josie Ensor, US Correspondent, The Telegraph, 19 May 2020

It is a White House tradition that dates back half a century. The president hangs the portrait of his predecessor up on the wall for prosperity.

Not one for rituals, however, Donald Trump is reported to have decided against it this time around. And Barack Obama is understood not to be too upset by the apparent shunning.

Every president since the 1970s has unveiled a painting of the man in office before him. The ceremony is seen as a rare moment of praise and bipartisanship in deeply divided American politics.

“We may have our differences politically,” Mr Obama said when he hosted former President George W. Bush for his portrait unveiling in 2012, “but the presidency transcends those differences.”

Jimmy Carter welcomed Gerald Ford and his wife Betty back to the White House just four years after Mr Carter had defeated Mr Ford in his reelection bid for the first formal East Room ceremony in 1980.

Official White House portraits are separate from the presidential portraits that hang in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, where the Obamas’ were unveiled in February 2018.

The process for the White House portraits begins near the end of a president’s term or soon after, and it takes a few years to complete.

If Mr Trump wins a second term in November, Mr Obama may have to wait until 2025 to have his portrait revealed and displayed among every US president before him.

According to sources close to Mr Obama, he has no interest in participating in the post-presidency rite of passage so long as Mr Trump is in office, NBC News reports.

There is no love lost between presidents 44 and 45. 

Mr Trump has issued unprecedented criticism of Mr Obama and has dedicated much of his first term to undoing his rival’s key policies.

Most recently, Mr Trump began making accusations that Mr Obama and Joe Biden, former Vice President and presumed Democratic nominee, committed a crime in relation to the investigation and prosecution of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Mr Obama has mostly held his tongue, preferring to “go high” while others go low, as his wife, Michelle, puts it.

He did, however, refer to Mr Trump as a “little kid” during a televised commencement address last week, without mentioning his name.

Political experts say the snub sums up the state of politics in 2020 America.

“You’ve got a president who’s talking about putting the previous one in legal jeopardy, to put it nicely. We have not seen a situation like that in history,” Michael Beschloss, presidential historian, told NBC News. “It takes antipathy of a new president for a predecessor to a new level.”

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