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Day 76 – We See the Value in Our Libraries, Mr. President, Even If You Don’t.

Day 76 – We See the Value in Our Libraries, Mr. President, Even If You Don’t.

Photograph by Don Shall

Dear Mr. President,

You never needed libraries, I gather. Perhaps it pains some to admit it, but it’s true. Anything libraries had that you might have wanted, you already had. Perhaps you could have been somewhat more proactive about acquiring well-sourced, documented information, but the fact is, had you made its acquisition a priority, you would have been able to obtain it at any point in your life.

This is not true for many Americans. Yes, even and especially those waiting (and waiting…and waiting…) for you to make America great again. Some of these Americans, like you, may never make acquiring knowledge a priority. But neither you nor your cronies have the right to deny them the chance at doing so. That’s where the Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS) comes in.

This is probably not an acronym familiar to you. You probably think of pinched-faced women with gray buns (no doubt accompanied by a sordid critique of their physical appearance) when you think of librarians. But these people – and they are rather more varied than your vision of them, I assure you – are responsible for making America accessible to those for whom access is a constant barrier. They help people acquire tax forms, apply to jobs, learn to code…all these things you never had to do, but which your voters do. The people who granted you the power you so dearly covet? They need these services. They may not like it or admit to it, but they do. Their children do. For many, it’s their only way out and up, to the America you keep saying is there waiting for them.

That bad taste you felt in your mouth at the idea of people needing public services? That’s the reaction of most people with money. That’s why libraries are so dependent on money from places like IMLS. Because so few others care. About libraries, yes, but especially about those who need them most. Like you, those rolling in dough don’t much fancy enabling other people to pursue even the dream of economic stability, if not mobility.

Libraries do. Libraries have been making America greater, and better, long before you made your hat. Don’t gut the funding of one of the few places left that funds libraries. The people who gave you the presidency will fight back. That, at least, I know you care about.

Sincerely,

Letters2Trump

 

 

Day 31 – “I Don’t Read” Does Not Make You Sound Cool, Mr. President

Day 31 – “I Don’t Read” Does Not Make You Sound Cool, Mr. President

Photograph by Pimthida

Dear Mr. President,

I understand you aren’t a reader, and this worries me.

I’ve done a good deal of research into the value of reading — particularly fiction. It turns out that people who read fiction happen to be more empathetic humans. And it’s not surprising, really –it has to do, I believe, with the vicarious way a reader experiences lives that are not her own. In reality, none of us can jump inside the head of another to see what the world looks like from in there. But in reading fiction, we almost can. In books, we can get as close as it is possible to experiencing the world – its joys and its vagaries, its troubles and its wonders – from another human being’s perspective.

I don’t think that it’s too much to ask of our leaders that they work on their empathy. You represent, after all, a nation of hundreds of millions of people, all of them unique, all of them with their own set of experiences – their own individual stories, if you will. To lead people, you owe it to them to at least try to understand them better– what makes them tick, what they desire, what they value, what they’ll stand up and fight for. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” That’s how Atticus Finch (and Harper Lee) put it in To Kill A Mockingbird, and the fact that it is much-quoted or taught in many high school classrooms across our land does not make it any less powerful.

I imagine it is hard to do this as President – there are likely good reasons, largely borne out of security concerns, why you cannot mingle with ordinary folks as much as many of us would like our President to. But that’s where books come in. They are your key to empathetic understanding of people you cannot meet.

Please don’t think that the echo chamber of a boardroom, a campaign rally, or an oval office – where people repeat what you say and think to please you and gain your favor – gives you insight into the many. It is only the few, at best. A narrow band of wealthy, powerful people who are beholden to you for their own benefit.

And please don’t think that because you won this election you already know Americans and what drives us. Over three million Americans who voted last November chose another candidate (inconvenient but true), and many more millions did not vote at all– and all of them are relevant to your Presidency. All of their stories should matter deeply to you.

Oh, and all of this doesn’t even begin to consider the stories of people outside our borders. Given your travel ban and the recent ICE raids, you might even want to begin with those first . . . .

Read, Mr. President. Read a lot. Pick diverse titles with stories that span as wide an array of human experience as you can. There is a whole, wide world out there — most of it reflected in books – so move beyond your comfort zone of 140 characters and pick up a novel.

Get to know us.

You might learn something.

Signed,

Letters2Trump

Day 17

Day 17

Photograph by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

Dear Mr. President,

We don’t know each other and that makes it hard to write a meaningful letter, so let me tell you a bit about myself. All four of my grandparents came to this country about 100 years ago as young, orphan immigrants, escaping the genocide of Armenians by the Turkish government. My life is essentially the fulfillment of the new life of freedom and opportunity for which they hoped. My parents and grandparents taught me, through example, to work hard, to love others, and to learn as much as I could learn.  Since I have always been a curious person, their lessons led me to be a teacher. Learning, both as a teacher and as a student, is the bedrock of who I am as a person.

I am concerned about your foundations as a president. My hope is that you can begin to embrace learning as a core attribute as you move ahead.

Being president of the United States is obviously a formidable undertaking — especially in your first year. When I began teaching, I accepted all the help I could get from colleagues, from my mentors, from books, and even from many students. It put me in a position of humbly asking for assistance (which I can see is hard for you), but much of my success was based on being open to needing help along the way. I’m a tad jealous of all the ways you can get information, including the following: your large staff, the vice president and other cabinet members (including daily CIA and FBI briefings), your other key advisers, President Obama and other past presidents, the Library of Congress, and all the ways that the rest of us get information from books, from friends, and from the internet. Please use all of your resources as you make life-changing decisions that will affect millions of Americans and that impact the whole world.

Even when I started to think I knew what I was doing, people pointed out holes in my understanding, so I found ways to learn more about those areas. Your recent attempt at honoring Black History Month exposed your need to know more. I would suggest walking through the National Museum of African American History and Culture just down the road from your new residence.  Another informed source who you could speak with is Congressman John Lewis. You could either seek him out or listen to his “Love in Action” interview with Krista Tippett from On Being.

You seem to take issue with what a fact is and how the media uses facts; being an open-minded learner sometimes means altering your view of the world due to new information. As a teacher, I emphasize using facts and citing them as a norm, not creating “alternative facts” to prove one’s point. Please have your spokespersons get their facts correct before speaking; we don’t want anymore “Bowling Green Massacres” made up by your staff. Another example out of many was when your possible secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, plagiarized part of her comments during her questioning. The citizens of this country are watching, and the blatant disregard for facts displayed by you and your staff is alarmingly wrong. What kind of role models for learning are you promoting?

I challenge you to take time to think before you tweet, to pause, to read over what you’ve written, to consider the words you choose, to reflect, to ask questions, and to listen to and consider the opinions of others before acting. My niece has two elementary-age daughters who love to read and one of their interests is presidential facts. Keep in mind that you are a model for these children and for all of us — a model of behavior, but also a model of a thinking, learning being.

Our second President, John Adams, said “I read my eyes out and can’t read half enough. The more one reads the more one sees we have to read.” What will the presidential fact books say about you?

Sincerely,

Letters2Trump

 

Day 12

Day 12

Image by Morris Armstrong

Dear Mr. President,

You receive a lot of criticism for using Twitter. That is unfair. Blaming Twitter is like blaming a pencil and a piece of paper—Twitter is just a mode of communication. It can be used for just about any sort of discourse. I’ve seen a novelist write a short story one sentence at a time on Twitter, and I’ve also seen base attempts at “conversations” that are really just bullying. You are welcome to use Twitter, Mr. Trump—it could even prove an innovative way for a president to maintain contact with the American people—but I have a serious suggestion for how you use it.

Most people would assume I will, at this point, criticize your own tweets. Rest assured, I, like most Americans, would love to see more reasoned and reasonable commentary from you, but that is not my concern in this letter.

On November 30, 2016, journalist Robert Mackey posted a list on Twitter wherein he recreated your timeline. That is to say, he replicated what you see when you log onto Twitter. It represents a troubling lack of balance or even factual reporting. It is rife with propaganda from the likes of the Drudge Report, and on the days I have checked it, the majority of the tweets are from your own camp (Official Team Trump and Transition 2017 especially).

Given that you do tweet often and have demonstrated that you spend a decent chunk of time on Twitter, this means you’re being subjected to an echo chamber of extreme proportions. Reading and writing are thinking made visible, Mr. Trump, and if you are only reading words from one severely constricted point of view, you are not going to develop the means to assess the world objectively. This is not a personal attack on you–none of us could understand what’s happening at any given moment if we only read hot takes from one slanted point of view. I suppose it goes without saying, but an ability to see matters objectively is an essential element for any leader, whether that’s president of the sixth-grade or president of the USA.

You have stated explicitly in interviews that you’re “too busy to read,” but we know you’re on Twitter. This means it is entirely possible that the only news you receive on a regular basis is from the propaganda machine that is your Twitter timeline.

Mr. Trump, I mean this sincerely: If you were merely a friend or relative, I would implore you to curate a more balanced Twitter timeline. (Heck, I’d suggest ditching all of the “news” sources and just following stand-up comedians before encouraging you to keep your follow list as it is now.) You are not a friend or relative, though. You are the sitting president of the United States of America. You have unparalleled power and reach. Obviously, you must add a balanced range of sources to your Twitter feed, but I also ask that you subscribe to a range of newspapers. Spend even ten minutes per morning skimming the headlines. That alone will give you better coverage than your Twitter timeline.

Also, watching Fox News on television is not broadening the range of news sources. At least four of the forty-one accounts you follow on Twitter are directly from Fox News. You recently tweeted about Chicago and gun violence, but your tweets were almost verbatim from Bill O’Reilly’s show that broadcast an hour before you clicked tweet on your statements. Thirty seconds of independent research would have disproved your tweet. Chicago doesn’t even crack the top ten most violent cities in America, Mr. Trump. If you had a wider range of news sources, you might have seen or read that. I did.

Yes, you are a busy man, but you must be informed. We all are busy, and we all must be informed. If you refuse to spend time reading in depth, at least gather a wider range of headlines to skim. This is, quite literally, the least we can ask of you regarding your relationship with the news. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Letters2Trump

Day 6

Day 6

Photograph by Nicole Kelleher

Dear Mr. President,

A Catholic, an Agnostic, a Lutheran and a Muslim walk into a coffee bar… Alright, that’s not quite how it went, but I’ll come back to the punch line later.

Last November, when asked if I wanted to join a letter writing campaign, one that would address your actions for all 1,460 days of your presidency, I jumped at the opportunity. You see, I’m a lover of words and their power. I feel strongly that you, too, are a lover of words. I know this because I read your tweets every day. I watch how much weight you pack into your 140 character limit, and then I watch the media, both traditional and social, blow up. I watch the pinball machine that is the stock market tilt and ding and flash, all due to your praise or your criticism. I also watch as the hype dies down, and the market levels off, as steadier minds prevail.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been making copious notes, taking screenshots of your tweets, jotting down ideas for my letter to you. And now, as I type, I realize that there is simply too much from which to choose.

So, I went back to my notes. I crossed out key points of contention and still had a surfeit of inventory. I held a fire sale and rid myself of extraneous stock. I followed up by slashing my budgeted words. That is when I had my epiphany: words.

In the end, it’s all just words—I think that you may have said this already, but here’s the rub:

Words are important.

Your words, my words, everyone’s words.

By now, you may be wondering what happened to the four people at Starbucks? We talked, and we respected one another’s views, and we learned from each other: a conservative white female sociologist and clinical psychologist-cum-government worker; a white conservative male businessman with an adopted baby from China (said baby has, incidentally, been here five years and still cannot get his citizenship—a legally adopted baby?); a high level male sales executive; and a former upper-level manager in a luxury hotel company, now stay-at-home mom and fledgling author. A Catholic, a Lutheran, a Muslim, and an Agnostic. Disparate people coming together and talking about immigration and border control, Muslim registration, the dedicated teachers doing the best they can in a struggling education system, your recent executive orders, the Women’s March, and more. There were both moments of vehement dissention and open-minded accord. In the end, we were all better for the debate. The common thread: we focused not only on our words, but on the words of each other. We were respectful, and without rancor or bias. And in the end, we left Starbucks, having learned a little about someone else’s struggle, and feeling just a bit more hopeful for the world.

And now, I ask you to please study the image attached to this letter. Try to see past the posters, and the pink hats, and the melting pot of marchers. Try to see the words. Because they are powerful. They are crying out to you to understand that making America great again is not about hearkening back to days of old, but embracing the infinite diversity of this country’s populace.

I challenge you, Mr. President, to take more care with your words. Use them wisely; use them kindly. For indeed, they are powerful, and perhaps more so than you could ever imagine. Fix the problems in this country, but never lose sight of how your actions, like your words, have the power to drastically affect the lives of your constituents.

Sincerely,

Letters2Trump

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4

Day 4

Photograph by Jo Naylor

Dear Mr. President,

Here in Washington, DC, where you and I both live, it has been raining on and off for four straight days – the downpour commencing almost the instant you began your inaugural address on Friday at noon.  I’d be lying if I did not say it brings Noah to mind – the flooding of the earth to wash unclean corruption from the land – though in truth, I’ve never been one to go in much for those Old Testament horror tales.

And yet, there’s something ominous afoot.

It’s got me thinking instead about Shakespeare.  About Macbeth.

When Macbeth –already possessing most everything a man might want – ascends to the throne by evil means, unseating a good and honest king, the kingdom of Scotland is enveloped in a darkness not unlike the gloom I see outside my window now.

But the weather alone is not what’s got me thinking of Macbeth.  It’s more some parallels the play offers, parallels to what I’m reading each day in the news and seeing on the televised coverage of your brand new term.  Parallels like these:

Macbeth lies.  To his friends and enemies alike.  He lies to cover up his betrayals, his transgressions, and his crimes.  And the more he lies, the easier it becomes for him to tell more lies.  Untruths – or are they “alternative facts?” – become his entire diet, and then a corrosive acid that eats away at the kingdom’s core.

Macbeth cannot sleep.  He is plagued by the guilt of his misdeeds.  And though he does not fill his sleepless nights with vindictive, nasty tweets, the lack of rest whittles away at his sanity, at his very soul.

Macbeth is driven by a lust for power.  An insatiable greed that blinds him to his moral and ethical duties as the king.  He is spurred only by hollow ambition and has a complete disinterest in the day-to-day, hard work of governance.  The space inside him where leadership should be is filled instead with suspicion, arrogance, and plotting for revenge against enemies both real and imagined.

Macbeth surrounds himself with sycophants and “yes-men.”  They are advisers so beholden to him and cowed by his bullying that they can offer only “mouth-honor.”  “Those he commands move only in command, nothing in love.”  The slightest genuine words spoken in contradiction of his own sense of self, of destiny, of greatness, are considered treasonous and worthy of rebuke; they are rendered useless by the man who needs their honest counsel most.

Macbeth is imperially alone.  As he puffs himself up more and more, convinced inside the echo chamber of his own skull that he is invincible and beyond reproach, his subjects desert him.  Though they do not protest by the millions, they join with forces set upon overthrowing the illegitimate king from his perch.  They aim to take back the rotten government to heal it by deposing the tyrant.

No, Mr. President, things do not end well for Macbeth.

I don’t mean to start things off by seeing in such a negative light – but so far, in the infancy of your presidency, you have: made it harder for new homeowners to afford their mortgages (though just by inaction you could have helped these people); pledged to undo a health care system (largely conceived of by conservative think-tanks and insurance companies) that will likely throw 25 million Americans off their coverage; re-instituted a Reagan-era global gag rule that prohibits Federal funds to international NGOs who provide counseling on women’s reproductive health issues (even if there are no public dollars spent on abortion-related services); and complained about the media’s (honest) characterizations about the relatively small size of your inauguration crowds, threatening a retaliatory ban on the independent press from your White House that jeopardizes all of our First Amendment rights.  These are not hopeful actions.  These are not ways of bringing Americans together.

These, I’m sorry to say, evoke in my mind the paranoid, short-sighted, delusional Macbeth.

The good news, Mr. President, is that it’s still early.  You don’t have to keep going like this.

I know you do not fancy yourself a reader but, still, you might want to pick up a copy of the play.  After all, the rain is sheeting outside, blowing sideways in its fury, and it’s a good time to curl up inside with a good book.

Sunny days are on the way, however.  Watching the women and families all across the country on Saturday, standing up against misogyny, selfishness, and greed, I’m sure of it.

Until then, why not come in from the storm and take solace in being sheltered from that wild, Scottish heath.  Pick up a copy of Macbeth. It might prove to be an invaluable education.

Sincerely,

Letters2Trump

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