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Day 35 – Listen to All of the People. Especially the Ones That Did Not Vote for You.

Day 35 – Listen to All of the People. Especially the Ones That Did Not Vote for You.

Photograph by Anne Ruthmann

Dear Mr. President,

This week representatives returned to their communities to hold town meetings.  Many ducked this responsibility afraid of their constituents’ anger. Several of these public servants (including The White House spokesman) marginalized constituents in patronizing tones as “paid organizers” and “outsiders” and delegitimized sincere anxiety.

You sometimes state that you want to unite the country.  I hope you can.  I’d like to talk with my cousins and relatives again.  A friend once mused that the demise of a great organization began when the leaders cared more about “looking good” than “being good.”

You could go a long way toward being good and healing this nation if you tried the following three strategies:

  1. Adopt the Rotarian Four-Way Test;
  2. Stop framing the world as “winner” and “losers”; and at least pretend to
  3. Be kind and empathetic.

In case you aren’t aware, here is a synopsis of The Four-Way Test. Before speaking, or tweeting, or writing, or even in managing your thinking, hold your idea to the following standards:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

You could place a card with these ideas in your pocket next to the nuclear codes, or tape it to the “red phone.”

You ridicule those who aren’t your cheerleaders as a “losers.” You frame dissent as “sore losers.” You espouse “winner takes all” and vanquish fellow citizens with the phrase “we won.”  You seem to interpret that phrase as permission to ignore the interests, ideas, and concerns of everyone except your voters.  You use phrases laced with violence and disdain. Then you seem surprised that people don’t like you. Here are some questions to ponder.

When you say “we,” do you mean everyone in the United States, or only those who voted for you?  Or do you actually mean only white, rich, “born again” Christian, protestant, heterosexual, men whose values and vision reflect the 1930s?

You can’t expect people to support you when you enjoy calling them names, deny their humanity, insult their race/religion/ethnic group/sexual orientation/gender/religious heritage and birthright, and continuously cast their opinions as lies without merit.  When you belittle the free press and attempt to substitute propaganda for news, people care. When you idolize a tyrant and dismiss our nation’s friends, people will show up at public meetings – unpaid and angry – and they will object!

Finally, Americans expect their president to be wise and kind. Not a cruel game master prone to wild accusations and relentless punishment.  While empathy and kindness may be difficult to truly acquire at this point in your life – you could pretend.

When you see families beaten down by war and violence and struggling to simply survive, you could greet them with a warm, safe, shelter, instead of slamming the door. They are victims of war – not the perpetrators.

When you strive to make the country feel secure, you could start by providing paths to become citizens for the 11+ million people cowering in terror tonight because of your policies. You could assure people of color that their children can look to the police for safety – and lift up the police to their own ideals to “protect and serve” their communities. You can swiftly, loudly, and vigorously denounce anti-Semitism, racism, and set the tone that bigotry won’t be served in your presidency.

You could embrace the great aspirational values expressed in America’s founding documents.  You’ll find them on the walls of many public schools. You could use these values to reframe your presidency…freedom, justice, rule of law, due process, an independent judiciary, freedom from a state religion – to practice religion – or to ignore religion, honoring assembly, and a free press. Living these values…that would make you a great president.

We want to join you and bring this country together.  But, until you decide to BE a good president, the dismissed, patronized, majority of voters will show up and we will object.



Day 34 – Napoleon Is Not a Good Role Model. Take a Do-Over.

Day 34 – Napoleon Is Not a Good Role Model. Take a Do-Over.

Photograph by wackystuff

Dear Mr. President,

I did not vote for you, but you are my president, and I am an optimist. So when you were elected and inaugurated as our 45th president, I hoped you would approach the presidency with the respect and grace that office demands. (I believe you have done your best.)

You have not. (Your staff has let you down.)

I obsessively check the news every day, just like I did when my spouse was serving in Iraq. This week across the nation, there are hundreds of town hall meetings where thousands of citizens are voicing their concerns to their congressional representatives.  Today, during the White House briefing, Mr. Spicer again made references to “paid protesters” and “manufactured anger.” To date, no one but your staff alleges the presence of paid protestors.  No persons or organization has the ability to coordinate an effort like that. Such an assertion is pure nonsense as any reasonable person can see.  Comments like Mr. Spicer’s damage your administration’s credibility and erode your ability to champion truly progressive changes that really would make this country great (though I think it’s pretty great already, and I’ve noticed it’s been pretty good to you). I must admit it’s been entertaining. Not since 2008 have I been so addicted to the news to see “what will the administration say and do next?” This is not good, Mr. President.

There is good news, though. I believe in do-overs. It’s not too late for a Trump administration do-over, and you really need one. Badly.

This is totally feasible.  Because you’re an experienced business man, my steps should sound familiar as they are simple axioms found throughout current business literature.  And I know you like simple (I’ve read a couple of your books by the way).

Steps for a Do Over.

  1. Recognize that what got you here won’t get you there. Stop campaigning and start governing. Stop holding rallies where you are the rock star.  It’s self-indulgent and a waste of time.  You got elected.  Good.  You are still campaigning instead of governing.  That is bad.  “Make America Great Again” was a great campaign slogan.    But now that you’ve been elected, no one knows what this means, except you apparently have a real negative vibe about immigrants and refugees.  Expand your tool box.
  1. Establish a vision. And no, you don’t have one. You need a vision we can all understand and can get behind. If you had that, you would have won the popular vote. I really don’t know what your goals are for our country.  Napoleon, too, didn’t have a deep-rooted philosophical belief; he only aspired to elevate himself and relentlessly win wars that many times resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths, bankrupted France, and seriously inflicted domestic injury on their people. His end game was merely to win glory for himself.  I see this in you, and it’s scary.  (Napoleon also liked to put his initials on buildings, loved all things gold, had a thing for beautiful women, bestowed riches on his family, objectified women, etc.  Sound familiar? No, being like Napoleon is not a good thing. We can talk about that later).
  1. Align your actions to the vision. Sounds easy, but you may have to eat some humble pie.  Or in other terms, exercise diplomacy.  You are now getting spanked by some pretty hard hitting Republicans.  Only yesterday, many bedrock Republicans to include McCain, Graham, and O’Connell, reminded you that Congress has significant power. They will serve as obstacles to you until you show a willingness to work with them. You need to work with them.  You have to work with the judicial branch, too.  You must recognize that you are not a king but rather an elected official representing the third branch of government.
  1. Get the right people on the bus. No one, not even you, can be good at everything but everyone can be good at something.  Bannon is not your guy.  Move him on out of government and to his future, whatever that may be.  There are some pretty smart people out there who would dedicate themselves to serving America and serving you.  Stop appointing white billionaires.    There are so many more qualified people that can help you retain your rock star status while tackling the real issues facing our country.  Put the pen down.  Stop signing thoughtless executive orders like a kid with a new toy.  Get new advisors. It’s not too late.  This do-over needs to happen fast.

I’m still an optimist.  I believe in the beauty and kindness of people.  All people.  Today, it was announced that Muslim Americans raised $75K for a vandalized Jewish cemetery. Now, you tell me that isn’t a beautiful thing.

You have a do-over.  Use it.





Day 33 – Our Nod to Fake News. Enjoy.

Day 33 – Our Nod to Fake News. Enjoy.

Image by Free Press/Free Press Action Fund

Dear Mr. President,

Here is today’s fake – “I’m changing it to VERY fake” – news report for Feb. 21, 2017.

  • A right whale was harpooned in Great Salt Lake. The ban on whaling was lifted in this case by a federal judge as it was too dangerous for morning swimmers. No protesters were visible.
  • A cell phone ban was imposed by the White House. Huge lines formed outside Verizon and Sprint stores. Trump Towers, however, seemed to have cell phone service and was soon inundated by visitors. The Secret Service is not amused.
  • Congress agreed to work together in a bipartisan effort to draft legislation that is good for the country and the American working class. Congress vows to listen to their constituents.
  • The terrorist attack in Sweden was purposely not covered by the U.S. media. However, the President reported it in his press conference – where he’d like most Americans to get their news.
  • Providing quality health care to all Americans is a priority of the Republican Congress. This includes full funding of the Medicare system. “All our citizens deserve quality health care from birth to death, and we will ensure this happens for many years to come,” a congresswoman said.
  • There has been a ban on Chinese restaurants in effect since Jan. 1, but a host of Russian restaurants are now springing up in major cities to fill the gap.
  • The president is concerned with winning the 2020 election and is now holding rallies in the South to help him feel in touch with his supporters. (Wait…this might be true.)
  • A dog was caught swimming across Lake Huron to Canada. It was returned by Canadian immigration authorities who no longer grant refugees asylum.
  • Betsy DeVos stepped down today as secretary of education when she learned that PUBLIC education means that she can’t divert taxpayer dollars to private schools for privileged white kids. She also was annoyed when she learned she had to pay for her own pencils.
  • Michael Flynn has recovered from amnesia and admitted that he is Czar Nickolas II’s grandson and heir.
  • Syrian President Assad admits to torture and making war on his own people. He is still denying that this has created a refugee problem, and wishes that all his happy citizens remain in Syria.
  • A wall is being constructed around the White House to provide relief from raging tweets. The president is fighting back, but his cell phone quit working – due to the ban on cell phones.
  • Environmental issues are being addressed by Congress by calling in experts and seeking solutions to our energy and pollution problems that do not involve building more pipelines over fragile ecosystems.
  • Congress closes all tax loopholes, not without some irony noted at their highly paid positions with far-reaching benefits. Tax reform could be next.
  • A world-wide book club has been started. Avery Publishing has made available to every human being on the planet The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by two people who have known many hardships, The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.
  • The president listens to the American people, forges policies that protect minorities, unites the country,  and is on the way to becoming a respected world leader.

Mr. President, the media is not the enemy of the American people. Quit saying it is.

Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy. Read the Constitution. 

Your ludicrous claims and boasts are just as unbelievable as the news items above.

Be the President of the United States of America, where we have freedoms and believe in the value of journalism and a free press. Stop these ridiculous claims of fake news when people don’t agree with whatever you’re trying to do or whatever you’re trying to say. It is childish and unbecoming of the leader of a nation as great and diverse as the United States.

You may find useful information in The Economist, a magazine that covers world issues. It will give you a global perspective when dealing with other world leaders. You will look smart, without having to call other people dumb.






Day 32 – The Turning of the Screw

Day 32 – The Turning of the Screw

Photograph by John Griffiths

Dear Mr. President,

Today, throngs of your constituents gave up their day off to exercise their First Amendment right to protest.  The movement is called the  “Not My President” rally and the sentiment within the participants is strong. Some citizens felt so fiercely about the events of the past few weeks of your administration that they even staged a “Death of the American Presidency” tableau of sorts, complete with pallbearers carrying a coffin with the date of your inauguration written across the side.

That’s gotta hurt.

Even if your advisors try to reassure you with tales of professional agitators bankrolled by Mark Cuban, exaggerated tallies of crowd sizes by vengeful New York Times bean-counters, and malcontented HRC supporters emboldened by “fake news” touted by Rachel Maddow, the enormity of this problem has to garner some of your attention.  It must. Certainly a man as savvy as you can recognize that great swaths of people are upset, concerned, angry, scared and hold very little hope that you will do anything to assuage their distress.  As the head of several corporations, you know that this kind of insecurity can topple even the most successful institution. (Remember Enron?) Given your declaration “I alone can fix it…” at the GOP convention, this seems like the time to take out the old toolbox.

There is no denying that every administration has its detractors, and I imagine any president has a myriad of people that feel that they can do that job better.  Indeed, that is the whole reason that people run for the office in the first place, the very reason you yourself sought this office.  But you have a full-blown crisis on your hands, and you cannot simply fire all of your critics.  You can, however, investigate some of the larger issues and see if some Trump tweaking might cut down on street protests, maybe from every weekend to every other weekend.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of larger issues.  The travel ban and how it was implemented has caused consternation, as has the confirmation of Secretary Pruitt to head the EPA.  Many of your citizens are alarmed at the redefinition of facts that you and members of your staff have adopted, and still others are worried about several conflicts of interest that have arisen between your new office and your business pursuits.  And then there’s the question of Russian influence in your campaign and among the early quests of your staff, a hornets’ nest of a matter that “ridiculous” or not, is not going to go away.  These are difficulties, Mr. Trump, for which I have no advice, at least none that is supported with more than common sense.  These are hacksaw, winch, or blowtorch issues, and these tools don’t tend to fit in the average toolbox; very hard for you alone to fix.  But I could counsel you about one area, the curious case of Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education.

You see, Mr. Trump, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a public school teacher, and I have watched Ms. DeVos’ ascendency with great trepidation.  Her lack of knowledge about the nature and inner workings of the very concept of school makes the prospect of her leadership disconcerting. Her previous assertions about the uselessness of public education have many teachers, parents and students up in arms. Her first forays into the nuts and bolts of her tenure have been less than successful: the misspelling of the name of one of the nation’s foremost scholars, W.E.B. Du Bois, and her later confusion over the conjugation of “apology” to rectify the first mistake, did not strike us with confidence. But recently, Ms. DeVos raised a potential issue that might possibly lend itself to a little tinkering from the presidential toolbox.

This past Friday afternoon, after a visit to a Washington DC elementary school, Ms. DeVos tweeted that the teachers that she met were passionate about their vocation and yet “were waiting on direction from above on how to proceed with instruction.”  Mr. Trump, if you have ever spent time with school children, you know that’s an improbable attitude to strike when faced with a roomful of kids.  She later clarified her statement, declaring that she wanted to give teachers “more freedom” in instructing their charges.  Most of us in the trenches welcome this idea.

Mr. Trump, if you could suggest to Ms. DeVos that she look at how Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia, Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts, and the whole of the Cambridge, Massachusetts Public School System succeed in both serving their populations well while giving parents choice and students a high bar to attain, it could nullify some of ire you undoubtedly feel from us. These institutions thrive because their supervisors respect their missions, the training and experience of their teachers, their use of their funds to enrich and enhance their students’ instruction with proven innovations and pedagogical methods, and the idea of what education should mean.

Please admonish the new secretary of education to cease musing about the abolishing of her agency, which has been crucial to the funding of schools in general (as well as those languishing in impoverished communities, including inner cities and in rural regions within your beloved red states) and in giving direction and support to schools for students with special needs. This simple step on your part might make the members of the National Education Association more willing to work with you, rather than take to the streets.  These are mere turn of the screw actions that you alone can take.

Finally, Mr. Trump, if you could explain to Ms. DeVos the importance of investing sufficient capital in a venture in order to turn a profit (in this case, an educated populace), and backing that teaching up by example, you may find that we will once again have a public school system that other nations around the world will envy. The constant marches must be as annoying as a squeaky hinge. Seriously…I get it.  No one likes to see crowds of people rising up against every stroke of one’s pen, but if you truly want to lower the frequency of demonstrations, and cut down on those pesky memes, this is one way to do it without running afoul of the constitution.

And, not that I wish you any ill will, but if one day you or a loved one would need the attentions of an EMT, you will have no way of knowing whether or not your paramedic went to a private, charter, or public school ravaged by the policies of an administrator who doesn’t believe in the value of education.  Wouldn’t it be better to use a trusty leveler to make sure that rescue worker was well-grounded in fractions?




Day 31 – The Press Is Not My Enemy, Mr. President

Day 31 – The Press Is Not My Enemy, Mr. President

Photograph by Sam Chills

Dear Mr. President,

I imagine you are still buoyed by the thousands of enthusiastic taxpayers and supporters who turned out over the weekend for your Florida rally organized by your campaign organization.  I wonder whether those same taxpayers would be equally enthusiastic if they were aware that, according to Mike Rosenberg, taxpayer cost for travel for President Obama was a total of $97 million over his 8 years.  However, in one year, just to guard Trump Tower, Mr. President, the cost to those taxpayers is $183 million!  They might begin to realize that in so many ways, yours is turning into an expensive presidency.

Among those many ways are some that are less easy to tally, such as the cost of your attacks on the press, most recently your tweet that multiple outlets, including the New York Times, are the “enemy of the people.”  In response, Senator McCain rightly pointed out that the existence of a free press is essential to democracy. Other than the fact that you don’t like being criticized or corrected, it’s not clear why you object to the press. It’s true that you seem to rely mostly on sound bites and tweet-sized bits of communication to inform your views (such as your assertion at your rally of a mysterious incident in Sweden, an incident that no one else seems to know anything about).

But Senator McCain is right: the press has the critical role of informing the public.  Thus I recommend to you a piece written by Susan Glasser in the Sunday, February 19, 2017 New York Times.  The article just might be of interest to you because it deals with Vladimir Putin — and also because it deals prominently with you.  Glasser’s article points out striking similarities between you and Mr. Putin. Interestingly, Mr. President, like you, Mr. Putin spent his early days bashing the press. But there’s more: “The media-bashing and outrageous statements. The attacks on rival power centers, whether stubborn federal judges or corporations refusing to get in line. The warnings, some of them downright panic-inducing, that the country is not safe — and we must go to war with Islamic extremists because they are threatening our way of life. These are the techniques that Mr. Putin used to great effect in his first years in power, and they are very much the same tactics and clash-of-civilizations ideology being deployed by Mr. Trump today.”  Glasser also observes that whereas Putin’s personality is “controlled,” yours is “impulsive.”

Your seeming admiration of Putin, your presumably unconscious use of his techniques, your unconcern about the Russian cyberhacking, the conversations between Mr. Flynn and Russians all make it look more and more as though your presidency may be more expensive — and dangerous — than our democracy can afford.  Recent history (Syria, for example), on the one hand, shows Putin to be deceitful and ruthless: please approach him with caution.  Attacking the press, on the other hand, is both petty and dangerous to our democracy: please cease and desist.



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