Dear President Trump,
As I write this, you have a little less than two days left in office. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I feel a great sense of relief, knowing that your time in the White House is drawing to a close. Sadly, the damage you and yours have inflicted on our country and world will take a lot of repairing, so my relief isn’t as great as it could be.
But I don’t want to focus on that. There’s enough thoughtful criticism and analysis pointed in your direction already. Anything I write in that regard will only get lost in the churn. Instead, I’ve decided to spend a bit of time looking back at your term in office from a different perspective. And this begins with two words I never imagined I’d say to you.
That’s right. This is a sincere thank-you letter.
Thank you, President Trump, for reminding me of the power inherit in untruths.
“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it,” as Jonathan Swift wrote back in the early 18th century. I’d forgotten just how true that is, taken for granted that in general, people digest what they see and hear on the news, through social media, and so on with a few grains of salt. Over the past four years, I’ve been slapped in the face daily with reminders of how willing people are to be spoon-fed bastardized versions of reality, only to regurgitate it into the mouths of others who stand hungry at a buffet of falsehoods.
Thanks also for demonstrating how tight a grip the power of myth still has on us, even two decades into the 21st century.
Look back at the myths of Ancient Greece, and you’re looking at a form of conspiracy theory. Those myths explained the secret reasons why things were the way they were. Earthquakes? That’s Poseidon striking his trident into the ocean floor. The changing seasons? Of course that’s because of Persephone’s descent into the underworld. Sunrise and sunset? Just Helios moving across the sky. Don’t look deeper into any of it. That’s just how it works. No need for evidence or further explanation.
Those myths were also a great way to excuse bad human behavior. Of course we do terrible things. So do the gods. It’s not a stretch to follow that train of thought through to modern times and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where the gathered masses felt justified ransacking the halls of democracy. After all, they saw you, their glorious leader, doing the exact same thing.
Mr. President, I’d also like to thank you for demonstrating the importance of history and its repeating patterns.
Once I stirred myself from the shock of your election in 2016, I realized I wasn’t well-enough educated to mentally cope with you as President for the next four (and quite possibly eight) years. So I bought The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. Despite the difficult subject matter, it was nice to know that folks like you have a play book you tend to follow, and I took comfort in the knowledge that while you and your ilk might have a bit of time in the sun, it never lasts. I feel the same way following this month’s attempted coup. History tells us that this isn’t over. In fact, worse is quite likely to follow, based on what Germany went through leading up to WWII. But armed with knowledge and understanding (those aren’t the same thing), I feel better about being able to navigate the mess.
I’ve also learned firsthand how others throughout history have fallen for the ugly siren song of ignorance and hatred. I’ve seen people I thought I knew fall prey to your manipulations. Best as I can tell, many are lured in by a desire to stay in their comfort zones and the hollow sense of comfort they’ve built around themselves. They want to keep the rest of the world out. This was made even more obvious as the COVID-19 pandemic grew to rage out of control in the United States, and still some couldn’t bring themselves to do something as simple and thoughtful as wear a protective face mask.
Thank you for making me uncomfortable with my own white privilege and the role I play in a system that is deeply entrenched in white supremacy.
I bought into the overly simplistic idea that electing a black President to two terms was proof enough that America’s racism problem was becoming a thing of the past. It didn’t take long to realize – even while you were a presidential candidate – that there are still plenty of people who hold a deep and abiding hatred for non-white skin color.
Because of you and yours, I’ve been able to come to grips with my own complicity in this, and I’ve learned that it’s not enough to just be “not racist.” I’ve realized that there’s no call for action in that position, that I need to be actively anti-racist to affect change and be an ally. During your term in office, I’ve come to understand that when I am comfortable with where this country is at in terms of race, it’s time to look deeper, shake up whatever privilege I’ve allowed to gather on and around me, and use it to the benefit of those who don’t share it.
Thank you as well for making me a better father to my daughter.
During your first summer as President, my daughter came out to my wife and I, as well as to her mother, siblings, and others. I admired her bravery, self-confidence, and openness. I was also worried about how the actions of you and your ilk would impact her and other LGBTQ+ people. I’m still deeply concerned about the consequences of your actions, but I’m also devoted to making sure she has the happiest life possible while being true to herself.
One of the greatest moments of pride that I’ve had as a father was when she marched in the Pride parade in Burlington, VT, in 2019. Not just proud of her, but proud of her older brother for being there to support her, along with her step-sister, my wife, and several friends. I would’ve felt this way regardless, but it was punctuated by the knowledge that we were doing it in the face of your heartlessness and ignorance.
I also want to thank you as a writer, for you have reaffirmed for me the importance of each and every word I use and to be mindful of each word’s meaning.
I’ll leave that one at that.
Thanks too for helping me to better understand hatred. Not yours, but my own.
I’ve always held close the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who once preached from his sermon, Loving Your Enemies, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I consider myself blessed to be someone who has not felt hate much in my life. Not of the sort that King spoke of. Not for another person.
But I have hated you, sir. Many times these past few years. And I’ve struggled with it. I don’t want to hold hate in my heart. And you helped me to figure out the answer. I don’t have to hold hate in my heart. Not for you or anyone else. I can process it just like any other emotion and then let it pass on by. I can turn that hate into action, using that energy to build others up instead of focusing on how much I’d like to tear you down.
Even now, after all that’s happened, I do not hate you. I hate things you have done, and I’m working to use that hate productively. I do pity you, though. And I hope that you reach a place in your heart where you’re able to reach even a little bit beyond yourself, past the hate that’s found such deep purchase within you, to experience even a taste of empathy. I hope this in part because it’s really the only way you can have a meaningful opportunity to atone for all you’ve done. Otherwise you’ll be little more than a petulant toddler sent to the corner without understanding why.
And finally, Mr. President, one last thank you for reminding me of just how much I love this country.
I love the United States of America not for what it is, but for what it can be.
Despite all the ugliness, denial, and willful ignorance that has endured over the centuries – nearly 250 years since the country’s founding, 400 years since the landing at Plymouth Rock, the more than 600 years since Columbus sailed the ocean blue – there is an undeniable and uniquely American spirit that keeps on keeping on.
It’s heard in the progressive values that push us ever forward, encouraging us to be better and do better. It’s in the people who make their home here – whether born on this land, traveled here as immigrants and refugees, or brought against their wills – and decide to get out of bed every day and try to make things a little better. And it’s in the process, warts and all, that perseveres and evolves through struggle, strife, and heartbreak.
America can and will do better and be better, Mr. President, with or without you. Despite you. And in spite of you.
Once again, thank you. And good riddance.