An Open Letter to Donald Trump
Dear Mr. Trump,
I am writing to you ten days before you take the oath of office to serve as President of the United States to beg you–to implore you–to consider making yourself (for the first time in your life) truly great.
I am sure many people will think it is ludicrous to hope (or to ask) for such a thing from you. Let’s face it, Mr. Trump, you don’t have the best reputation to date, not among decent people: Democrats, Republicans, independents alike.
But I don’t care about that. I believe that one of the best attributes that we possess as Americans is our ability to dream, and to hope, even when all the odds are stacked against something, to dare to hope and to dream for even what seems to be impossible. Europeans tend to call this aspect of our national character “naive.” We call it optimistic. It is perhaps both.
But to the point of my letter: I believe that you have before you an extraordinary opportunity: that is, you have the opportunity to decide how you will go down in history. What your legacy will be. And I am challenging you to consider taking the high road. That would make all the difference in the world not just to you, but to millions of people, in our country, and around the world. It is that kind of power you now possess.
I suppose anyone who runs for president of the United States is at least somewhat interested in power. But I believe you are looking for something more, and more important, than power. I believe you are actually looking for respect, and that you have been for a very long time. And you will not get that, you will never get that, if you continue to proceed the way you have been.
Your constant tweeting of falsehoods and blind attacks on those you perceive as your enemies is just one example of how far you are at this moment in time from behaving in a way that could gain you the respect you are so desperately seeking. It seems perfectly obvious to me–and I would think it is perfectly obvious to anyone who has even a fundamental understanding of human psychology and a sliver of compassion for the pain of others–that behind all the bluster and bravado is a scared, damaged human being who is trying hard –and failing miserably–to gain what all human beings deserve–just simple, fundamental, human respect.
I don’t know what caused you to be so damaged: I suspect it happened very early in your life. What is clear to me is that no one who had even an ounce of self-respect would behave the way you have been behaving in recent weeks, or for that matter, the way you have behaved for most of your life and career. For this reason, and this reason only, I feel sorry for you.
The campaign you ran was one marked by hateful speech, divisiveness, scorn for others, and all kinds of other bad things. But for a brief moment in the first couple of days after you won the election, some of us saw a glimmer of hope that you could be a very different kind of president than the kind you had suggested in your campaign rhetoric. In fact you said to some of your supporters recently that the hateful discourse you encouraged and directed toward Hillary Clinton was “good for the campaign…but we don’t need that anymore.” You even praised her, the day after the election, for her excellent service to our country, one of the few moments of truth-telling you have engaged in over the past year.
I believe–I really, truly believe–that you have the opportunity before you to decide whether to be absolutely the worst president in our history, the one who presided over the destruction of our republic, and the boldest experiment in democracy the world has thus far known.
Or the one who seemed like he was going to do that, but then did not.
I believe this is the choice you have before you.
I know it is not easy to change, especially late in life. But difficult is not the same as impossible, and frankly I believe it is unAmerican to not believe in the possibility of change for the better. America has sometimes been referred as the “land of second chances.” My God, what an amazing second chance you have before you, now in your 70th year.
I saw a glimmer of hope the day you and Melania met with the Obamas at the White House. I believe that the rare–and unusual–humbleness and graciousness you showed on that day was sincere, and real. Unfortunately in the days that followed you reverted all too quickly to the old Donald Trump, the blustering, bullying, proudly ignorant man no one respects. Not those who are opposed to your proposed policies. And not the ones who are supposedly pushing for them either. (I am talking about the Mitch McConnells and Paul Ryans, those who are now trying to ram their cynical, selfish, evil, nefarious, ugly agenda through Congress. I have no idea what motivates them to be the scoundrels they are, but history will record them too, and it is pretty clear that they will not come out well.)
I believe with you it is different. I truly believe that your reasons for presenting yourself for President were much more simple, more naive, and more human, really. I believe that more than anything else it was one last desperate attempt to gain the respect of others, and that part of the reason you are acting like such a scared little boy is that you don’t know how to handle the fact that you won. (I don’t blame you for this: you should be scared. Nobody should approach this office without some reasonable fear and trepidation. But you also are called upon to have the courage to step up to it. Now. You just have to. That’s part of the job.)
So now my question to you, is what are you going to do with this opportunity? Are you going to seize it, and late in life, against all the odds, gain the respect you are seeking?
Or are you going to betray all those people who voted for you and for the Republicans in Congress–for example, the coal miners in West Virginia, who now fear losing the health benefits they so desperately need? And so many others, who believed you when you said you wanted to “drain the swamp” in Washington of corrupt politicians?
So far you are not doing very well, Mr. Trump. So far the decisions you have made suggest that you will make the swamp in Washington 100 times more foul than it was before you took office.
It is not too late to change course. You could start by rescinding pretty much all of your nominations for your Cabinet, your advisors, and by replacing them with people–Democrats, Republicans, I don’t care, and I’ll bet most of us at this point don’t care–who are competent, who are experienced, and who truly care about the matters they will be assigned with overseeing–the health, the education, the safety and security of the American people, and of our environment.
Who would these people be? I don’t know. I have some thoughts about that, but if I were you I would start by asking President Obama, who has offered to help you, and who has done such a good job of shepherding us through the last eight years.
If you were to do this–to change course, and start taking advice from people who are competent, and who care, instead of from those who are only interested in their own selfish personal or political agendas–you would find yourself in a world very different than the one you have been living in for most of your life.
Most of all, you would begin to gain what you have not had until now: the respect of others, for work well done. And a reputation to be proud of, not ashamed of. For now and for the future.
Mr. Trump, it seems to me that you have in Melania a nice wife, who also seems to be a good mom. The two of you are parents to an innocent little boy who is watching you, who will be watching your every move. What lessons will you teach him in the way you approach the heavy responsibility now on your shoulders?
What will you do with this opportunity? Will you take this opportunity to prove the skeptics and the realists of this world wrong, and show that in fact you can take the heavy responsibility now in your hands seriously, and responsibly? Will you take this opportunity to lead the people who, during the course of your campaign you encouraged to express and engage in acts of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance in also changing course? To remind them that of all of the Christian values that are supposedly so important to them, the most powerful one can be (and is) summed up in three words, to “love one another”? Will you write one of the most amazing chapters in American history, by showing that you can be a decent person who truly cares about the American people?
Or will you go down in history as the president who had to rely on paid supporters to applaud and cheer your speech and actions, because no decent person, rich or poor, would do so? And who was responsible for accelerating the pace of our destruction as we went the way all empires before us have gone?
The choice is up to you.
The world is watching, Mr. Trump. And so is Barron.
Our fate is in your hands.
One of your fellow Americans, still hoping, against all odds, for the best.
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She leads book groups at the American Library in Paris, writing workshops in Essoyes, a village in the Champagne region, and teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” each summer in Paris for Queens College, CUNY.