Dear Mr. President-Elect:
I suppose it’ll be Mr. President in a couple of months. The people spoke, the rules have been followed, and this is where we are. It’s just you, me, and the half-a-million people or so who’ve taken to the streets, to the airwaves, and to the Internet to express their feelings about what happened on Tuesday.
The post-mortem is a somewhat pointless exercise. Past is prologue, but dice don’t have a memory, and there’s really not much to be learned unless we’re planning on doing this same thing in four years. Quite frankly, that would be foolish – the pace of our modern life dictates that in four years, we will be a completely different world.
That’s what I’m here to talk about.
See, I like to think that I might have a little influence on the world to come. I’m a writer, and sometimes people read what I have to say, and somewhat fewer times they take it to heart. Once in a great while, I have an effect on how people think. That’s a huge responsibility, Mr. President. I take it pretty seriously. But you – sir, you have the ear of every American. Every man, woman, child and domesticated pet from sea to shining sea is waiting to see what you say and do next.
It’s been said that the President is the National Father-Figure. Despite the influence of Congress, the courts, various lobbyists and the rest of the world, you will receive the credit and/or the blame for everything from health insurance to school lunch to rain in the national parks. Just ask your predecessor. It’s a lot to get used to, and I’d imagine you quickly grow a thick skin in the job. If not, I’d imagine it eats you alive. You didn’t get there by being okay with mistakes, didn’t get to be a success by doing things wrong. But no matter what you do, half of America is going to think you’re the greatest thing ever, and the other half will think you’re intentionally sabotaging their lives.
Oh yeah, there’s that. All that talk during your campaign – that was just talk, right? Sir, you can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, and the truth is that it only takes fooling fifty-one percent of the people on a Tuesday in November. And that’s about what you got – whether they were fooled or not, you got just enough to put you in the chair. It may behoove you to listen to more than that half-plus-one about their concerns, their fears, their hopes and dreams and aspirations.
You may find that this is a very rewarding part of being the President.
Despite all the vitriol to the contrary, you seem to have a decent heart. I’d expect this. I’m a big believer that a man always retains a little of where he came from. I hear you’re from Queens. Your dad built a couple of hospitals there for sick kids. Your mom arrived there from Scotland with $50 in her purse, and no visa. I’d bet the farm that there are some peasant values deep inside you, things that still shape the man you wish to be.
Those were different days, I guess – my in-laws are about your age, and Lutheran, like your dad was when he came from Germany, and they and their friends often talk about how life was simpler then, that people were different in those days. But deep down inside, they know that’s misleading – I know this from talking to them, wise folk that they are. People aren’t different today. They’re just not hiding anymore. And I guess that’s scary to people who were brought up to believe that straight, white and Christian is ‘normal’ and that everything else is to be kept quiet. You know, I guess it’s normal to be white, straight and Christian. But to others, it’s normal to be black, or gay, or Muslim or Jewish or Baha’i or bisexual or transgender or Latin or any of the amazing blend of cultures and faiths and shades of melanin we see on our streets every day.
What’s changed is how we see other people – there’s a large part of the world who still sees themselves as normal, and different folks as ‘them.’ But I’d ask you to take a look back with eyes opened by our modern time. America has always taken our biggest steps forward as a nation when we’ve allowed our national consciousness to see a group as ‘us,’ where they had formerly been ‘them.’ And it’s never been that ‘they’ have become acceptable to us, or met some sort of requirement to earn a status – it’s always been America who changed our point of view, to right what we had previously gotten wrong.
The more enlightened we become as a society, the more we recognize that ‘they’ are part of us, and the more we are confronted with the choices we make – to continue to treat other American souls as other, or to embrace our own otherness to create a stronger us.
“One day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was.” ~ Alice Walker
This is what I would ask of you, Mr. President: to make policy as if black and brown lives matter, not just crime statistics and gun lobbyists and police unions. To respect that gay and bisexual and queer love is just as real and valid and deserving of respect as straight love. To see that transgender people are among the bravest and strongest you’ll ever know. To recognize that LGBTQ+ people love their country enough to fight and die for America in our military, and that women are as capable and valuable as men in the workplace, in the military, and in government, as well as at home.
To make decisions that create more Us, not more Them.
Being the President means being the face of the franchise. That’s something you certainly know about – you’ve never shied away from the spotlight. You’ve built a brand as much as a career, and, for better or worse, your name stands for something in that world.
But this new world of yours is bigger than Manhattan, bigger than New York, and bigger than America. The world looks to America for so much, and now that you’re the President, you’re the face of America to so many – you ARE America to many who don’t understand that the foundation of America is an idea bigger than any man. The President is all they know. The American President is Einstein and Superman and Mr. Rogers all in one – a sort of smart-strong-kind three-in-one that ranks just below the Holy Trinity, and only just. They don’t believe that because they know you. They believe in you because you’re the American President. People inside and outside our borders – from our soldiers to our families to their huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.
They trust you to make smart decisions, because your words move mountains and minds and aircraft carriers.
They trust you to keep a cool head, to avoid spite and anger and vengeance in favor of practicality and results-oriented focus. It’s not easy to be the bigger man, but they trust you to do it because it’s the right thing for the 350 million people who don’t live on Pennsylvania Avenue. And you certainly don’t need me to tell you that the power of life and death is in your hands – there’s a man with a leather briefcase who will stand outside your office and remind you of that every single day.
These decisions aren’t always about violence. Sometimes they’re about generosity – about starving children and dying cultures and concerns that require a man of your responsibility to recognize that there is a worthy, important world that isn’t stamped “Made in USA” and that being a part of that world makes us stronger and makes our world a better place to live.
Sometimes they’re about loyalty. There was a time when America was weak and wobbly, unable to defend herself, fighting for survival against our very motherland, and losing. Our soldiers starved and froze in the winter of 1777, and only the belief of a few benefactors sustained our cause into the spring – times were so desperate that Martha Washington herself organized a sewing circle to make socks for the soldiers. The story is familiar – our boys made it through, and in the spring, reinforcements and good leadership arrived to help General Washington trap Cornwallis at Yorktown, and the world was turned upside down.
But that’s not the end of the story. America was unable to repay her debt to France, not for many years. America could not repay the supplies or the funding, nor certainly could we ever repay the debt we owed to the French leadership that taught our army to fight. But we were a good friend to France, an ally. Eventually we patched things up with England, and built a ‘special relationship’ by which we protect each other with all our ability. Time passed, and war came again, and this time France was on the brink – their capitol taken, their army all-but-defeated. So we came to their rescue, and fought our way to Paris, to cheers of “Vivé l’Amerique!”from the crowds of Frenchmen as our soldiers paraded through the city. Their destination could only be one place. The command party arrived at the grave of Gilbert du Motier, to pay respect, and Lt. Col. Charles Stanton said what the entire party was thinking: “Nous voila – Lafayette, we are here!” A debt of honor repaid.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
This is what I would ask of you, Mr. President: to make decisions as if the honor of America were at stake. I often hear people ask “Why doesn’t America respond in-kind when other countries do horrible things? Why are we always courteous of other countries and cultures, even when they’re not respectful of ours?” And the answer is honor. Responsibility. Even maturity. America behaves the way she does because our name is on every action we take, around the world. Just like you – your name is on every building, every golf course, every casino you own. When you make the decision to punish the wicked or to protect the innocent, to bomb the hell out of someone or to belay and allow diplomacy to work, to be compassionate or cold to those in need, make that decision as if your name, and the name of America, will forever be etched into the result.
There are two kinds of people who put their name on everything they touch – two-year-olds whose only understanding is possession, and men of honor who take responsibility for their actions.
America is many things. Mostly a creed, a set of shared ideals that encompasses much of what we’ve discussed over the last two-thousand-ish words. But it’s also a place, and a way of life. Those things are shared as well – by over 330 million people who expect their government to be good stewards of our living space, our natural resources, our jobs, our food and water supply, our recreation spaces, our right to travel to and live where we choose, and nearly everything that really matters to our daily lives. We deserve clean air, clean water, safe food and to share in the greatest wealth of our nation – the very place in which it exists.
America isn’t for one group at the expense of the others. Too often in the recent past we’ve had leaders that made decisions about our country without considering their effect on people and groups who should be important to the process. We build oil pipelines on land promised to our native population, without involving them in the process. We manage land in our Western states without consulting the farmers and ranchers who have husbanded those resources for generations. Of course it’s complicated. Coal towns desperately need jobs, but don’t particularly care to have their mountains leveled and their water poisoned.
One subject you understand particularly well is real-estate. People – ALL people – need and deserve to purchase homes and land and property. Property is the key to generational wealth, the kind of well-off that ensures that a person’s children and grandchildren can build upon that wealth to ensure that they will thrive independent of environmental circumstances.
Education is the reason I’m able to make this appeal to you today. Mr. President, I’m a truck driver’s son from Kentucky. My parents couldn’t afford private schools run as a for-profit business. Without quality public schools, I would have had almost no chance in life to compete with those whose parents were well-off enough to afford more than a basic home education. But with the education I received through the maintenance of our common interest, I was able to enlist in the US Navy and graduate from Nuclear Power School, then serve aboard USS Enterprise as a powerplant operator. That story is really pretty remarkable. It becomes entirely impossible without public schools. Education is part of the public trust that allows kids like me to meet our potential and provide the greatest contribution to our society, and the greatest security for our generational future. America needs schools with quality standards, and schools that teach the truth, not what the local church believes, and not limited to what the local business needs for their next generation of drones.
There are people who will tell you that doing business and protecting our habitat are mutually exclusive. Those people are the worst kind of liars, people who are willing to exploit the well-being of others for their own greed.
I feel very strongly about this. America’s resources belong to all of us, not to a privileged class of wealthy men best positioned to exploit them. For too many years, Americans have not shared in our common wealth. Our land was sold for money our government kept, and today our oil, our minerals and even our water are exploited by large corporations that sell our own wealth back to us, and receive a tax break to do so. They drill and mine on public land under leases that are just bad business for the American public, while they ask for more access, fewer regulations – less protection for that which belongs to all of us. They build pipelines across land promised to people who had everything else taken away.
“One distinguishing characteristic of really civilized men is foresight; we have to, as a nation, exercise foresight for this nation in the future; and if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future!” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
This is what I would ask of you, Mr. President: be a responsible steward of that which is ours. Keep our house in order, because the first requirement to breathe free is the ability to breathe. Recognize the balance between profit and stewardship, and insist that the people share in the spoils to which they are entitled. Invest in the future – not just of our businesses and institutions but by recognizing foremost that those business interests and institutions consist of real people whose lives and dreams depend on the quality of the future our nation sees for them. Understand that when the last tree is felled, the last fish is caught, and the last of the land is poisoned, we will discover that money will not buy back what we have lost. Acknowledge that sometimes a dream that benefits our nation can start in a public school or a national park, that the value of these assets isn’t always in what we can drill from the ground or harvest from the land.
Really, truly believe that it took 330 million people and every ounce of effort and resources they could muster to make 540 billionaires. It would be really nice if you could see how out-of-balance that ratio is, and why.
“All should be laid open to you without reserve, for there is not a truth existing which I fear, or would wish unknown to the whole world.” – Thomas Jefferson
Hey, I’m sure you’re a busy man. You have a staff to hire and a government to build, and a lot to learn. If I can impress anything upon you, Mr. President, it’s that the people deserve a fair shake. They deserve a fair chance to vote. A fair chance at a future that includes the education and the skills to earn more than just a living, but a life and a leg-up for their children in return for their hard work. A clean, safe, decent place to live, in their homes and in their neighborhoods, and on the planet at large. A fair share of our national promise. A FAIR share, regardless of race, creed or national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity. A police force that protects them equally, that nobody except actual criminals need fear. A nation that behaves like a respected leader abroad, and shows with our actions that we’re a friend and ally, not a mafia protection racket.
One nation, protecting our citizens’ right to worship any God to whom they are called, indivisible by our own earthly prejudices, with liberty and justice for all.
With utmost sincerity,