October 29, 2020


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I photographed Obama and Reagan. Here’s why Trump’s White House is a national disgrace.

That scene repeated itself throughout the day. I tried my best to buck people up. “It’ll be okay,” I repeated. Yet I wondered myself how much damage a Trump presidency could do, and how long it would eventually take for the country to recover.

Trump eventually arrived at the White House and met up with the Obama’s in the Diplomatic Reception Room. With him was Melania, Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks and a handful of others. Obama escorted Trump along the colonnade to the Oval Office. Michelle escorted Melania upstairs to the residence.

In the Oval Office, Obama showed Trump the private study and private dining room that are part of the Oval suite. As they were about to sit down for their private meeting, Obama said to Trump, “this is my White House photographer Pete Souza.”

I reached out to shake his hand and said, “Congratulations sir.” I was following the president’s lead to be respectful.

“You’re famous,” Trump said back to me. Which puzzled me so much that I just let his reply hang in the air.

President Reagan working in Oval Office on Oct. 26, 1988.Pete Souza / The White House
President Barack Obama reflects during a budget meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Jan. 29, 2009.Pete Souza / White House Photo

Thinking about that comment almost four years later, I still think it was such an odd thing for him to say. First, I wasn’t really that well known outside the building (yes, that’s changed a bit in the past few years). So how could he possibly know who I was? But more telling, why would the next president of the United States choose those words, and only those words, upon me congratulating him?

But watching the reality show nature of his presidency the last four years, maybe it makes perfect sense. I guess he thought I had good ratings.

Many people are aware that I began throwing shade at Trump and his administration in the early days following his inauguration. What began as subtle and humorous jabs has morphed into much more direct commentary, bolstered mostly by my Obama photographs as a comparison.

There are some who believe that I, as a former photojournalist and a former official White House photographer, should keep my mouth shut and not criticize the current president.

I disagree.

I worked for arguably the most iconic Republican president of my generation (yes, I worked as an official photographer for Reagan) and for arguably the most iconic Democratic president of my generation. So I feel I have a unique vantage point, having observed two presidents from two different political parties as an insider.

The presidency deserves someone who is competent and honest. Someone who has empathy and compassion. Someone who upholds the dignity, and shows respect to, the office. Someone who has character and knows ultimately the presidency isn’t about him (or someday her), but about us.

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