Like a clear majority of the voting electorate I’ve watched the pre-presidential developments around the Trump White House with trepidation, interest, and a bit of raw fear. The president-elect somehow didn’t get the memo I sent him. He hasn’t made any real governance decisions as yet– even the recent lightning round of cabinet appointments is still subject to Mr. Trump’s whims and/or mood swings, and I’d be a fool to think that anything is set in stone.
Encouraged by recent developments or not, I still maintain that a positive public face is still superior to ideological name calling or hair pulling. So, I’m going to continue my little game of make believe and continue to publicly advise the presumed next president of the United States. A letter every week or two– delivered also to his inbox, though its been widely reported that neither presidential candidate knew how to use a computer, maybe an intern will occasionally print something out for him thrust his lower lip out at in a simulation of consideration?
Since I’m not an actual wizard
I don’t think this will influence policy or change any minds. However, giving the president-elect some pre-impeachment civility and constructive criticism– does he really think that not reading the daily briefings will insulate him?– for a year or so is bound to result in an interesting record. I promise not to cry in public where you can see me.
Dear Mister President-elect:
This is an open letter, the first– well second I’ve sent you, but the first one in a planned series– of many. You’ve got a presidency of unknowable length ahead of you, and I plan to use these to comment on the year or so. I hope you find them entertaining if not instructive; I know that it’s pretty unlikely you’ll see them at all. This is more of a record of my own thoughts than a missive for you, but if somehow someone prints it out so you can read it, if somehow any one of these letters moves you, then I’ll figure I hit the jackpot. And then I’ll keep writing. It’s the only thing I know to do.
Congratulations are in order. Regardless of recounts, Russia, and the popular vote you are headed into the White House. The Rule of Law basically guarantees this; it is one of the traditions that has marked the United States’ hundred years or so of uninterrupted imperfect greatness. I hope you will enjoy your new home even if it has remarkably little gold leaf on its furniture. I know you have standards. In preparation for your time in the White House, my wife purchased pocket copies of the Constitution for all of her students. Our local combination gun shop/toy store distributes American flag pins, and we wear ours unironically.
Going into office you have some considerable challenges ahead of you– more than most American presidents, more than most world leaders. You are entering office with a clear victory in the Electoral College, but nearly a 2% deficit in the popular vote; you have the highest unfavorability rating of any incoming president in decades.The decisions you make now are going to impact your entire presidency– its efficiency, its legitimacy, and eventually its legacy.
I’m a presumptuous person. That’s the only explanation for my decision to send you unsolicited advice. Admittedly, I’ve never felt like any other U.S. president could use my help, but I’m intelligent and educated and a political outsider. I also have no foreign or domestic policy experience. Based on your staffing decisions thus far, only my education stands as a strike against me, so I’ll presume to continue but I’m going to have to set some rules for myself.
Rule 1: I’m only going to address your actions– I can’t know your reasons, and that’s okay. The actual things you do are going to matter more than your intentions, so no guesses on my part, no insinuations.
Rule 2: No name calling. Name calling is the surest way to undermine civil discussion. Be it Fuckface von Clownstick, “Crooked Hilary,” or even “deplorable” it makes it hard to engage the other side. Democracy needs multiple sides. I get that the point of an election or a Twitter war is not engagement so I’m not going to worry about other people’s histories as name callers. It is an action, though, and as the Philippines’ President Duterte has demonstrated, it can have consequences. So I won’t call you or your friends names, but any time a world leader or political rival acquires an unflattering nickname I will have to notice.
Rule 3: Constructive criticism. I’m not just going to tell you “you’re bad.” I’ll probably disagree with you a lot, but I won’t lie to you, and I won’t offer a criticism without also offering a solution.
I’m not delusional. I don’t think you’re going to read these letters. If you do read them, I don’t think you’ll see them, slap your forehead, and suddenly appoint someone with actual human experience in urban planning in charge of HUD. Sincere or not, brilliant or not, advice from strangers has less influence on our decisions than advice from trusted advisers. You’ve got advisers, trusted and otherwise, crawling all over you now. I can only hope that they’ll give you the best advice and, when the time comes, you’ll listen.
Therefore, you’re going to need better advisers. I’m not exaggerating when I say your lack of political experience is historic, and the fact that you are already having to abandon many of your pre-election promises as unworkable should clue you in to the fact that your going to need some new ideas. Ideas that could, you know, work.
You like to point out that you are a smart person. Here’s my advice to smart people, by way of 90s television. It’s at the end of the clip.
You catch that? Surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you. You still make the decisions, and you free yourself from the burden of toadies, echo chambers, and transparent manipulators. You stand a chance of being the president for all Americans you’ve said you want to be and– let’s face it– you’ll end up making decisions that are based on facts instead of guesses and opinions. Also, you might hear the word ‘kleptocrat’ a bit less often. Since it’s becoming a major vocabulary word for the American public– is 171,000 results ‘major’ enough?– I’d imagine that would be a relief.
I know you feel personal loyalty to Steven Bannon, for example. He’s a part of your victory. His ties to white supremacists are undeniable, though. People like Bannon are not going to make your presidency easier or better. Neither is Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry, Ben Carson. Experienced people who care about their work are what you need. Otherwise you get a team of people each driven only by their particular prejudices and assumptions, unwilling to look at facts. People who are only looking to get something for themselves out of their newfound power. That’s how people– Americans– get hurt by their government.
You can’t make American great(er) by making it worse.
See you after Christmas
Matthew Z. Wood