Photograph by Matthew Roth of art by Banksy
Dear Mr. President,
Every president over time, act by act, begins to build his reputation and his legacy; history judges every president by both. Even though it has not yet been 70 days since you took office, it is not too soon for you to consider what kind of legacy you will leave as the 45th President of the United States. First impressions are hard to shake, and many people have already begun to form their first impressions of you. Unfortunately, the impressions are mostly negative, and worse, they are the kinds of impressions that will be very difficult to change.
I read somewhere that your father instilled in you the importance of winning. I don’t know how you understand the term. But certainly winning does not mean blaming others when things don’t go your way (for example, blaming the congressional Democrats for not helping to pass your health care bill when the Republicans hold a 44 seat majority and should have been able to do it without help; it does not mean accusing your predecessor of wiretapping; it does not mean disrespecting the judicial branch – or your nominee for the Supreme Court; it does not mean finger pointing; nor does it mean always having to get the last word (or Tweet). But your understanding of winning thus far has involved all of those tactics. And those tactics are building your legacy.
Back to those first impressions: so far, you’re being labeled a liar for falsely accusing former President Obama of wiretapping; you’ve been labeled insensitive (and worse) for your proposal of the immigration ban; you’ve been called incompetent for your rush to present a health plan that had a 17% approval rating and lazy for not knowing what was in the bill; people have the impression that you are a very petty man for not shaking hands with German Chancellor Merkel; and people are saying you’re not a leader but a person who refuses to take responsibility and points fingers at others (first, amazingly, at the democrats, then Speaker Ryan, then the Freedom Caucus).
First impressions are difficult to shake. Is there enough time left to change? There may well be if you are willing to admit to yourself that you need to change. What would be required of you? You would need to begin to tell the truth, to show some discipline, to admit to failure, to rein in that sophomoric impulse to Tweet, to treat the office of President with respect, and to treat all others with respect and dignity. It seems none of those things come easily to you. But if you do not change, your reputation as our 45th President will be as a shallow, vindictive incompetent person. Your legacy will be that of an interesting candidate who promised much but a president who delivered nothing of consequence.