I believe in second chances. Even third and fourth chances – more even– if they’re earned from a place of sincerity, honest effort, and facing the appropriate consequences.
If not for opportunities for redemption, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I don’t doubt that at some point in the future, I’ll screw up and need another chance to prove myself.
It’s part of the human experience.
I approached the oncoming Trump presidency that way a little over four years ago. Some will say I was naive for doing so, and I won’t argue the point much. Looking back on it now, it was at best an attempt on my part to keep an ember of hope burning in my heart. At worst, I was just plain stupid. (Hence the need for second chances.)
Anyway, On Nov. 12, 2016, after spending a few days having a lengthy anxiety attack over the outcome of the presidential election, I decided to shift my focus and be aspirational, rather than nihilistic. So I sat down and wrote an open letter to Trump and published it on medium.com, an excellent online platform for writers of all stripes.
The piece I ended up with is included here after this bit of rambling.
The idea behind the letter was to offer Trump a chance to prove me wrong about my expectations. Of course, it didn’t happen.
Re-reading it just now, I was disappointed to discover how blind I was to the impact Trump’s presidency would have on American minorities. I knew of the danger he presented to refugees and immigrants, but I didn’t give much thought to non-white U.S. citizens. I regret that.
Again, I’m hopeful that another chance will be afforded to me as I educate myself about the importance of being anti-racist and working out how I can best serve the very worthy cause of racial justice.
As for Trump, he’s pretty much run out of opportunities for a decent redemption arc. At least one that doesn’t involve paying off his tremendous debt to society via massive fines, extensive prison time, and (I still hope) even the smallest inkling of contrition.
I expect I’ll wind up feeling just plain stupid again, though.
My plan is to follow this previously written open letter up with another open letter to Trump, followed by one to President-Elect Biden. So keep an eye out for those.
Now here’s that letter I wrote over four years ago. Don’t be too hard on me.
Dear President-Elect Trump,
Congratulations on winning the election. I am sure that you, like the rest of us, feel a great sense of relief now that it’s over. Of course, now the really hard work begins, and I get the sense that you, like many of us, are pretty freaked out.
I’ll make no bones about it. I was (and still am) with her. Early on, I was a Bernie Sanders supporter. I’ve met the man, shook his hand, interviewed him a couple of times, and walked away from those experiences with the sense that I was talking to someone who actually listened. I am politically independent, and when he didn’t get the Democratic nomination, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do: write Bernie in, vote for a third-party candidate, or support Hillary Clinton. The one thing I knew was that I would not and could not support you. Back in 2000, I was high on my moral horse, and I cast a vote for Nader. I learned an important lesson when the fallout from that election hit. Like the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And those good intentions had a very real and unintended impact. With that in mind, I went with Hillary. And I stand by that decision.
Here we are, though, and you are the President-Elect of the United States of America. Does it sound as weird to you as it does to me to hear that in your head, and even weirder still to say it out loud? It’s certainly not a series of words I wanted to hear, but it’s where we are.
So I’ve been thinking a lot since the night of Nov. 8, 2016. Thinking because there’s a lot that I want to say to you, but it’s all stuff that’s been said a million times over, and in many cases, in a far more eloquent way than I could say it. Still, I have a voice, I’m fairly decent at putting my thoughts on the page, and I am compelled to do this. In an attempt to avoid repetition, here’s what I’ll offer: a challenge.
I want you, President-Elect Trump, to make me look like a fool. (Easy joke: I already look like a fool. Ha ha. Nice try, but it’s something I think every day. Work harder, I guess.)
See, I’m like a lot of other Americans at the end of an incredibly stressful week. I’m scared. Not so much for myself. I’m an American-born white dude with a fairly established spot in the middle-middle class. I hate to say it, but I will: I’m boringly average. Which is to say, I’m probably in the safest place to be in your America. But I’m concerned for people in my life who don’t fit that demographic. Relatives, friends, acquaintances, complete strangers who fall into marginalized categories that were becoming less marginalized. Female, LGBQ, immigrants, refugees, people of color, disabled, Latinx. Or more simply put, people with legitimate reasons to worry now that you’re President.
Sidebar: I learned the term Latinx (pronounced La-teen-ex) this week. It’s a genderless way to refer to individuals of Latin American descent, which is pretty nifty. I imagine that you and your pals will call it another example of political correctness. Frankly, I think it’s a nice way to make language less of a pain in the ass.
Anyway, you said a lot of things — A LOT — that gave marginalized groups and those who stand in solidarity with them reasons to be scared. So did many of your supporters, and that has continued since the conclusion of the election. I’m not going to summarize the things that you and your supporters said and continue to say. You know what they are, and even if I listed them out, you wouldn’t take responsibility for them. And that’s where my challenge comes in.
Make me look like a fool. Don’t meet my expectations. Be the President (and the man) that I don’t think you have ever been or are capable of being. Four years from now, make it so that I can’t walk down the street without people pointing at me and saying, “There he goes. The guy who challenged President Trump to make him look like a fool, and the President did it.”
How do you do this? Here are some suggestions.
Don’t be the regressive President that I think you will be. Don’t be the leader that causes or allows our government to rescind the hard-earned and justifiably deserved rights of people of color, the LGBQ community, and women. Don’t turn the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights into a gutted document that serves only one point of view.
Don’t turn “The New Colossus,” the sonnet at the base of the Statue of Liberty, into a hollow set of words that sound nice but lack meaning. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Don’t deny the continuation of our amazing country’s legacy of accepting immigrants.
Address the problems at the root of illegal immigration: poverty, violence, corruption. Understand that today’s illegal immigrants, once forcefully deported back to what they wanted to escape, will only add to the cycle of poverty, violence, and corruption. Realize that these are the true seeds that sprout terrorism, and that the best way to pour salt on that field is by breaking the cycle.
Don’t build a wall. Just don’t. It’s a stupid idea. I can’t say much more on that topic. Just don’t.
Avoid a wholesale repeal of Obamacare. I’ll say it clearly: Obamacare is not perfect. But it’s something. It’s a start. I get that you don’t want to carry on the legacy of your predecessor. You’re a petty dude. I don’t think that anything can change that part of your nature. But wouldn’t it be great to say, “I took this thing that Obama created, with all of its flaws, and I made it better.” Well, actually, you’d probably say that you made it “great,” but either way. Don’t just scrap it all like I think you will. Cherry pick the stuff that’s working and make it better.
Don’t put Hillary Clinton on trial. The outcome will only make you look foolish. (Remember, we’re trying to make me look like a fool. Not you, silly.) And I don’t think you’re the guy who should be the standard-bearer when it comes to putting people on trial, if you catch my meaning.
Respect women. View them as — at the very least — your equals. My daughter is 14. She will become a young woman during your time as President. Based on what I know of you, going way back to the 1980s, this terrifies me. I am equally terrified of the example you have set and will likely continue to set for boys and young men, including my sons, one nearly 18 and the other 12. The things I have heard teenage boys — self-professed Trump supporters — say about women this week is blood curdling.
Which reminds me … your supporters. I’m seeing two groups of them.
There are those who voted for you because they see their racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and probably several other phobias reflected in you. This is the group that voted to make an impact.
And there are those who voted for you because you are allegedly an “outsider,” whatever that means. They say that you’re “going to shake things up in Washington.” No one seems to be able to give specifics on that, other than that you won’t cater to special interests (not sure which ones), you won’t be influenced by big money (what?), and that you are going to “drain the swamp” (cute). This group seems to be blissfully unaware that most politicians make this claim, and someone always falls for it. These supporters are the people who voted for you based on intent.
Right out of the gate Wednesday morning, based on conversations at gas stations, on sidewalks, and in school, it was obvious who will end up more satisfied. And as of my writing of this letter on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 12, and seeing who you have begun to gather around you in your inner circle, you have no intent on pleasing those who voted based on intent. It would be ironic if it wasn’t so obvious.
So you’ve already displeased one group of your supporters. Why not displease the other group by addressing them and telling them to chill out? Maybe tell them not to scream at women about grabbing them by the pussy. Insist that hijabs not be grabbed and threats of deportation made. And tell your graffiti-loving followers to lay off with the swastika painting already. Remember, saying these things will not make you look foolish. It will make me look foolish.
Oh! Speaking of swastikas, please take some time and consider the patterns of history. Connect some dots and see why people are freaking out about your rise to power. Again, do this to make me look like a fool. Because I don’t think you will crack the spine of a history book in the next four years, and I don’t think you have in the previous four or 40.
Historical patterns are important. Since Tuesday night, I’ve heard plenty of times from people on both sides of the political spectrum utter the familiar and tragic refrain of history: It can’t happen here. Which is weird, based on our country’s history. If you are unaware, genocide played a big role in claiming the land that is now the United States of America, and for quite some time, we had a thing called slavery that still has significant repercussions to this very day. You should look into it. At any rate, it has already happened here, so I’m not sure why the idea of it happening here again is so far beyond some people’s understanding.
People say, “Don’t compare Trump to Hitler. It’s not the same thing. Trump followed the democratic process to become President.” To which I agree that, yeah, you did. But so did Hitler, and so did many other great tyrants of history. And you don’t have to be the second coming of Hitler to be the waking nightmare of Earth in the 21st century. You just have to be a small-minded person with too much power. Which I think you are. Again, prove me wrong. Make me a fool.
There’s a ton more stuff I could touch on here: climate change, nukes, Russia, ISIS, education, the need to embrace science, understanding the general concept of personal responsibility, etc … You have SO MANY ways to make me into a complete and total fool. But this letter is already pretty long, and quite frankly, I worry about your attention span. This is a good start. Let’s see where things go. You already seem to be changing your tune on building the wall and gutting Obamacare. It’s almost like I gave you a head start.
One last time, President Elect-Trump, please, I beg of you, make a fool out of me.
(This piece originally appeared on medium.com and can be found here.