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Day 5

Day 5

Photograph by Sherry Main

Dear Mr. President:

Because “I believe the children are our future,” as Whitney Houston once said, I asked my 8 year old son what he would tell you if he could write you a letter.

“Mom, we already did that, in school,” he said.

“Oh. Well, what did you say?” I asked.

“I told him to shut up.”

Once I managed to regain my mom voice, I said, “Fair enough, Sam. But, that’s not super helpful. We want to be helpful to Donald Trump, not insulting. So, think about how you could help him. If you had any advice for him what could you give him? If you wanted to tell him anything about his job what would you want to tell him?”

And my Sam thought for a long minute.

Then he said, “I would say to Donald Trump that you wanted to be president. And then you won the election. So now you’re president, just like you wanted. But now that you got what you wanted you need to think about being president. You need to think about helping out the government, and not just helping out yourself.”

And that, sir, is a brilliant summation from a second grader. You see, you may not have realized that being President is not about being popular, and it’s not about winning. The election may have been a game to you, but the job is the most important job in the country.  Being President is a service job. The entire purpose is to serve the country and her people. In order to be President, you must sacrifice your self and your pride and your time and your energy and many of the things you hold dear every damn day in order to meet the needs of all of the people you serve.

Frankly, I’m not sure how much service you have done in your life, sir. Have you served in the military? Have you served in the police force? Have you served in the firefighting industry? Have you served in our schools? Have you served in a soup kitchen? Sir, have you served? What volunteer work have you done to make the world a safer place for others? What have you given of yourself in order to give hope to others? What selfless things have you done so that others can maintain their own autonomy and integrity? And please don’t be confused, sir. I am not asking what charities you have donated to. I am not asking about money. Although giving to charity is noble work, it is not actually serving. Giving is still focused on the giver. Serving is focused on the ones being served.

Sir, you are in the unique position to be able to serve those in need. You can help them be less hungry, less afraid, less bullied, less distraught. You can help them be more successful, more aware of the needs of others, more giving, more hopeful. But the primary point here is that You must help Them. You —> Them. This is not about what they will do for you or even how they will feel about you. Those things are irrelevant. The point of serving is not to measure how it benefits you. The point of serving is to serve.

So, sir, I ask you to consider the words of an 8 year old boy, who is wiser than his years. Because he knows, in his heart, that JFK said it right, so many years ago.

You must “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

And that, sir, is our advice to you.


Letters2Trump (and an 8 year old boy)



Day 1

Day 1

Image by Lars Hasselblad Torres

Dear Mr. President,

It’s official: you are our president. You’re taking office as the leader of a deeply divided and deeply frightened populace. You’re taking office in a time of tremendous income inequality, in a time in which many of us have questioned just exactly what our country stands for at this point, in which many have wondered whether we’re ever going to fulfill the promises made in our declaration of independence and the preamble to our constitution. What are you going to do? Will you honor the potential of our country and its citizens? Will you serve as a model of integrity and humanity, dignity and grace?

I hope so. I truly do.

You claimed in your inaugural address that your election signified a transfer of power away from Washington D.C., that your inauguration marked an opportunity to give that power “back to you, the people.” Do you mean this? I’ve struggled in the last several weeks to reconcile your rhetoric about “draining the swamp” and returning government to “the American people” with your appointment of billionaire after billionaire to cabinet positions, seemingly without true regard for their qualifications.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been a teacher. Whether on the trails of Montana or in a suburban classroom, I’ve spent almost two decades teaching. This is the profession to which I’ve dedicated my life. As a teacher, I believe in the power and potential of education to open doors, to encourage curiosity and thoughtfulness, and to help people not only learn but also discover how to learn for themselves. I’m also a citizen, an American. And, as a citizen, I believe in the power of government to be a force for good in people’s lives – to educate openly and equally, to promote opportunity and possibility, to encourage dreams and to teach hope. I also believe that government can and should help shelter those who are homeless, feed those who are hungry, and heal those who are ill – not because those people have “earned it” somehow, but simply because they are the living, breathing infrastructure of our country.  Because they are human. Like me. Like you. And I recognize, as I sincerely hope you do as well, that I am healthy, clothed, and safe not solely because I’ve worked hard, but also because I’ve been fortunate.

I have dedicated myself to teaching because it’s what I feel most called to do. Teaching is what has allowed me to live and fight most powerfully for what I believe to be valuable, for what I believe truly matters. I have dedicated myself to this country because it’s founded on beautiful ideas and a truly amazing dream: that all of us, regardless of religion or race or anything else that might otherwise divide us, are equal; that all of us, no matter what else might be different, share – in the most powerful and significant ways – a common humanity.

My question: is this why you have sought the presidency? Is this what truly matters to you?

Our leaders set an example for us, adults and children alike. What sort of an example will you set? What will you call us to honor? What will you encourage us to hold sacred? What will you teach our children to love about themselves and each other and their world? The older I get, the more I believe that what is most important is community, feeling and being connected to other people. At its best, this is what a country can be: a community in which each individual cares about every other member and constantly strives to extend that caring outward through times of joy and loss, confidence and doubt, and growth and change. A community in which we take responsibility for one another, uplifting all of us by uplifting each other, not so that we can “win” (as you seemed to say in your inaugural address) but so that we can lead and serve as a shining example of democracy, equality, and opportunity.

Is this the example you will set? Will you “put America first” by ensuring that all of us have equal access to education, that all of us can afford college, that all of us are clothed and fed and sheltered, and that those who wish – as our parents and grandparents did – to be a part of the continued construction of “a more perfect union” can seek greatness within our borders?

Will you teach our children through your words and actions that it is not the acquisition of wealth that is sacred but the sharing of love? Will you remind us of our fundamental, human responsibilities to one another? Will you encourage us to be curious about one another rather than simply afraid? Will you lead us toward empathy and equality rather than judgement and division?

I hope so. As an American and as a father, I truly hope so.



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