Select Page
Day 158 – What Are You Proud of, Mr. President?

Day 158 – What Are You Proud of, Mr. President?

Photograph by Allie

Dear Mr. President,

Last week, I watched over six hundred high school seniors graduate.  Along with a little bit of fear at the world they’re entering, a world facing climate change and a growing surge of anti-democratic sentiment in countless nations, I felt tremendous pride.  I was, and am, proud of what they’ve accomplished.  I am proud of how much they’ve learned.  I am proud of the work they did discovering and pursuing their passions.  I am proud of the empathetic, caring, creative individuals they have shown themselves to be.  And I am proud of the commitment, intelligence, and professionalism of my colleagues in education, those who have dedicated themselves to teaching, at the highest standards, successive generations of students.

Here’s what I’m wondering, though: what are you proud of?  As so many schools across the country celebrate elementary school, high school, and university graduations, what is the President of the United States proud of?

I’m not asking what you’ve survived, politically, or what you reacted to on Twitter at three in the morning, but, rather, what are you proud of?  When you look at your campaign and your presidency, how much can you claim as a source of pride?

If you’re proud that you’re president, are you also proud that your grandchildren will see you on a screen arguing that you can sexually assault women with impunity?  Will you be proud if one of your grandsons assaults a woman in a similar fashion, fully believing that he has a right to her body merely because he’s rich or famous?

If you’re proud of your own education, are you also proud that the university you started was sued for fraud and had to settle out of court for 25 million dollars?  Are you proud of the message that sends future generations about the value of higher education?

If you’re proud of our nation’s public schools and the equal access to education they provide, are you also proud that the woman you chose for Secretary of Education will not commit to withholding federal money from private schools that discriminate?

If you’re proud of your time in office so far, are you also proud that during that time, almost two thousand children and teens in this country were killed or injured by guns?

If you’re proud of your ability to run large organizations, are you also proud that your leadership style is driving talented, experienced people out of the very government they’ve committed their lives to serving?

These are not idle questions I ask of you.  I mean each one sincerely.  Every year, I ask my students to seek out opportunities for genuine accomplishment and to reflect on those accomplishments with pride.  I encourage them, as they graduate, to consider what it is that they’re truly proud of in their lives.  I extend to you the same advice and the same question, in all seriousness: what are you proud of?

I await your answer.







Day 157 – As You Erode Our Ideals, You Lose Some of the Best People Working For Our Nation.

Day 157 – As You Erode Our Ideals, You Lose Some of the Best People Working For Our Nation.

Photograph by Austin Kirk

Dear Mr. President,

I was struck by a particularly powerful letter from one of your employees, David Rank, a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service.  Here is his description of why he chose to leave your administration:

“This month, I resigned from the State Department’s Foreign Service, stepping down as the senior U.S. diplomat in China and ending a 27-year career. I served five presidents — three Republicans and two Democrats — and, like my colleagues throughout the Foreign Service, took pride in the tradition of loyal, nonpartisan service…When the administration decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change, however, I concluded that, as a parent, patriot and Christian, I could not in good conscience be involved in any way, no matter how small, with the implementation of that decision…Many of [my] colleagues, some with decades of contributions ahead of them, share my dismay not just at the decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement but also at the unraveling of 70 years of bipartisan foreign policy that has made the world and the United States safer and more prosperous.”

 Mr. Rank represents perhaps your greatest challenge as well as someone who could’ve been one of your most powerful allies.  He, and those countless thousands like him who serve our country, were not hired because they are Democrats or Republicans; they were hired because of their desire to engage in “loyal, nonpartisan service.”  They love our country.  Even Mr. Rank, who has strong feelings about your eroding of our partnerships around the world, leaves with nothing but love for our country.

“Some people have asked if I am upset or angry about how my career came to an end. But the primary emotion I feel in leaving is gratitude. Gratitude to the colleagues who served with me and who went through similar experiences…Gratitude to partners from around the world who have worked with the United States for so many years to advance our common goals. And primarily, gratitude to the people of the United States, who gave me the honor to serve them and the country I love for so many years.”

These are the people you want to alienate, fire and/or force out?  Those who have given their lives to our country?

“Over my career, I had close calls with bullets and rocket-propelled grenades, but also knew colleagues who were less fortunate. I watched from my window as a crowd surrounding our embassy howled for vengeance after an accidental U.S. airstrike. My father died while I was in Taiwan, my mother while I was in Afghanistan. I missed the birth of my first child and my only son’s senior year in high school.”

Many have decried your efforts for treating our country as a business.  While this may be true for policy discussions, you are in fact the boss-in-chief for the millions of employees of the federal government.  And here’s the problem.  Your leadership style is completely de-motivating.  How does losing Mr. Rank make business sense? 

These employees are potential allies because they are bound to the administration through their career. They can’t choose to only work when the president they voted for is in office.

But now I ask you: Why would the David Ranks, those who so wholeheartedly love this country, work hard to support your efforts?  Because they believe in your vision?  It changes every week!  Because of their job security?  You want to slash budgets and are willing to fire at will.

Now you may be thinking – good riddance Rank!  Resign so we can thin the ranks.  Here’s the problem with that strategy: who resigns when leadership goes to pieces?  The high performers.  They are the best positioned to go get other jobs outside of government.  So you’ll be left with agencies that are under-performing across the board.  Is that the legacy you want to leave behind?  As a bad CEO?

We can look, though, to Mr. Rank for a path forward.

“Rather than encourage [my colleagues] to follow my example, I hope my departure will send a message on their behalf so that they can continue to work within the system to make things a little bit better, a little bit at a time. That work will always be honorable work and, I suspect, will be more important than ever in the coming years.”

Try supporting instead of chastising.  Listen instead of tweeting.  Take the long-time high performers out for a round of golf!  Learn what our government does well instead of falling victim to the dogma that big government is universally bad.  You might regain those allies yet.






Day 156 – Nabra Hassanen, Mr. President.

Day 156 – Nabra Hassanen, Mr. President.

Photograph from Huffington Post Canada

Dear Mr. President,

I am exhausted.  I am a high school English teacher and it’s the end of the school year, so I imagine this is to be expected.  I am also the mother of three grown children, the youngest of which has just finished his freshman year at a state university.  This has been a 25-year vocation with no retirement date, so this also probably explains by exhaustion. But I suspect my fatigue is due to something more.

Many of my students are practicing Muslims, Mr. President.  Some of the young women I have taught wear hijab.  Last weekend, such a young woman was brutally murdered after she left her house of worship with a group of friends to break fast after a night of prayer.  By all accounts of her, this young woman was bright, empathetic, and had a promising future ahead of her. This happened a few miles from where I teach, a few miles from where you now live, in Fairfax County, Virginia, so you can see how I might be rattled. Further, in Nabra’s pictures, her name was Nabra Hassanen by the way, I saw the light and beauty that I see in all of my students. She could have very well been one of my students. I teach seniors and Nabra was 17 when she was beaten and thrown into a pond, and the fact that we live in a world, in a country, in a community where this can happen, drains me.

It is more than her murder though, sir.  It is how it is now termed, and the attention or inattention this tragedy is given.  The Fairfax County Police Department does not want to term it a hate crime, but as one of my fellow teachers said to me as we discussed it, “How is approaching ten girls in hijab with a baseball bat not a hate crime?”  Do you have an answer for her?  Later, many people, pundits and your supporters, wanted it made clear that the suspect in Nabra’s murder was under surveillance by ICE, as if to make the point that he was in the country illegally and that this should change how we interpret this tragedy, as though anyone is immune to internalizing the way specific groups are portrayed in the media or subjected to executive order.  And, another indignity: Nabra’s memorial in DuPont Circle, a stone’s throw from where you now live Mr. Trump, was deliberately burned.  The suspect was apprehended but again not charged with a hate crime because… frankly, I’m too tired to speculate about the because…

I’m also exhausted, Mr. Trump, from crying.  Today I drove my son to a doctor’s appointment and on the way we listened to a friend of Philando Castile talk about his late friend on a radio show, specifically about the love Mr. Castile fostered in his community.  Mr. Castile lived, before he was shot 7 times during a traffic stop, in Minnesota. (You might have heard that the police officer who shot Mr. Castile in front of his 4 year-old daughter and girlfriend was acquitted of all charges). That’s a bit further from us, Mr. Trump, in an area one of your supporters once called “real America.” As we listened to this man try and fail to maintain his composure, my son and I dissolved into sobs ourselves, Mr. Trump.  I believe we did so because we share an empathetic nature, but I know part of my distress came from the fact that I cannot protect my son and his brother and sister from the same fate as Mr. Castile, and Mr. Trump, my children are far more likely than Barron, Eric, Ivanka, Tiffany, and Donald Jr. to suffer the same fate because they, we, are black, like Philando.  And the national “stop and frisk laws” you proposed a few months back, may cause a police officer to regard my children as the police officer regarded Mr. Phil, as the children at the school where he worked called Mr. Castile.  Every night before I fall asleep, I ponder this.  It is wearying.

I didn’t ask my 19 year-old son why he was crying.  I was too afraid to hear his pain, even though I’m relatively sure of what he would have said.  He may have told me that his pain was the main source of his reluctance to take his driver’s test and get his license. He may have told me that he has a visceral response when he sees an officer of the law because of what happened to Mr. Castile, Mr. Garner, Ms. Bland, Mr. Stewart, Mr. Edwards and Master Rice.  He may have asked me why these things keep happening to people like Nabra, and Richard Collins III, and the 8 members of Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston.  I don’t have a tweetable answer for any of those situations, Mr. Trump, and I’m not sure I’m strong enough to reassure him.  I’m just so tired.

No doubt, Mr. Trump, you are tired too, what with your rallies, and cabinet meetings, and…golf.  Certainly, it must be grueling to send out so many tweets as well.  Lately you’ve tweeted about the Obama administration’s failure to stop Russian interference in the last election, your approval numbers, your appearance on Fox and Friends, and all the legislation you’ve passed (you might want to check on that definition) without the support of Democrats.  I could have missed it, I’ve been so tired, but I didn’t see anything about Nabra, or Philando or how we navigate a country that allows for them to be taken from us.  Take your time though, figuring that out will take a lot out of you.



Day 155 – Let Us Tell You Why We Keep Fighting, Mr. President. We Fight the Good Fight.

Day 155 – Let Us Tell You Why We Keep Fighting, Mr. President. We Fight the Good Fight.

Photograph by A Brewer

Dear Mr. President,

Did you know that on June 24, I am going to a summit in Virginia, where more than 350 women and men are getting together to Flip Virginia Blue?

With just the events of this past week, any of that activism fatigue is being washed away, replaced with new vigor. Do you know why?

Because we have so much to fight for.

We are fighting for the lives of our fellow Americans. The Senate introduced the new Trump-Ryan health bill yesterday that even YOU yourself called mean. 23 million people kicked off of insurance, cuts $834 billion from Medicaid, and defunds Planned Parenthood, and at the same time, gives huge tax breaks to multinational corporations and the rich. It rips Medicaid benefits away from the very people who need it the most…like my friend whose babies were born way too early. Her daughter already died. But she still has her son, who, without the benefits of Medicaid, couldn’t have the equipment and teachers he has at school. He is a caring, loving, little boy who has opportunities to succeed in life, thanks to the Medicaid provisions that will most likely be ripped away.

We are fighting for transparency. What is with the Senate crafting the new healthcare bill behind closed doors? We heard so many complaints about the Dems doing the same for Obamacare, yet it’s simply not true. Clearly there were some secretive actions – but compared with the current Republican secrecy, the Dems were practically shouting details about the Affordable Care Act from the rooftops.

And speaking of secrecy, why did you all tell reporters not to report on instructions about not reporting on a press conference? Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday’s press conference would not include video affair and then said the announcement itself was “NOT REPORTABLE.” What?!?

We are fighting for truth. The American people have a right to know what is going on. We rely on you and your fellow leaders to lead with honesty. We need to know what happened with Russia. We need to know who in your group were involved. Why is everyone around you lying? What the hell are you hiding?

And while we are at it, why did you lie about taping your conversation with Comey? You warned Comey, suggesting there were “tapes” of their private conversations. Soon after reports surfaced of memos Comey had written detailing your effort to shut down the Michael Flynn investigation. Yesterday, you backtracked and tweeted that “with all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are “tapes” or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

Mr. Trump, whether I like it or not, you are playing an incredibly important role. And if you get impeached, a zealot will stand in your place. I don’t know which is scariest in a leader – blatant narcissistic ignorance, or cold right extremism.

Mr. Trump, I am so proud to live here. I don’t take it for granted anymore. I beg you. Fight with us. Fight for the people who need help. Open up the doors and let the light in on truth. Restore trust in our country again. When North Korea is calling YOU a psychopath, you know things are upside-down.

Let’s flip it right-side up. And in the meantime I, along with my intelligent, thoughtful, passionate and compassionate friends will continue to work to flip Virginia – and the country – back to Blue.



Day 154 – The Handmaid’s Tale Should Not Remind People of Your Administration, Mr. President.

Day 154 – The Handmaid’s Tale Should Not Remind People of Your Administration, Mr. President.

Photograph by Tom Blunt of cover of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Dear Mr. President,

One Friday night nearly twenty years ago, my college roommates went out and I just wasn’t up for it. Hardly was I up for studying either, so I looked over our bookshelf in hopes something would spark my interest. I picked up The Handmaid’s Tale. I put it down only after reading the final page.

This novel struck me as no other ever had. These were my formative years as an activist, a feminist, a believer in equality; Margaret Atwood’s words helped solidify the importance of paying attention to the government and its true impact on its people.

I have often told this story when asked to choose my favorite book (and as a high school English teacher, it happens a lot). Yet what I cite as most disturbing about the novel is not the militaristic government, the destruction of individuality or families, or even (as horrifying as it is) the legalized – and required – rape of young fertile women by their “Commander.”

What scares me most about this novel is just how fast Gilead, the dystopian society of the novel, was created. The adults remembered what life had been. They did not believe every aspect of life could change before they realized every aspect of their life had changed.

As you may know, Hulu just finished its first television season of The Handmaid’s Tale. I was a bit leery when I first heard about this, but upon learning that Atwood was involved and read interviews with the cast, I had complete faith in the adaptation. The show blew me away. I know reading isn’t your thing, but I hope you are at least willing to watch it.

The writers and directors so beautifully integrated the flashbacks of life previous to the regime change. Again, this is what scared me most. Life looked familiar, completely relatable. Little by little the government started intervening; little by little rights started disappearing, namely because the human race was dwindling. Society had destroyed itself nearly to sterility. This is where I truly see the eventual parallel to Gilead: your steadfast push to poison our environment.

Already you have called climate change a hoax despite all true scientists showing the opposite. But it’s not solely your words. Your actions are taking us closer to the contaminated world of Gilead.

Your support of the Dakota Access Pipeline shows your ignorance as to how our actions impact the Earth. How many other places in our country will you be willing to destroy for profit? Land is poisoned.

You propose to cut the funding of the Great Lakes, funding that would benefit those in Flint, Michigan. These citizens – these children – suffer from horrendous amounts of lead. The damage from this lifelong impact is still developing, but children have been showing developmental issues. Water is poisoned.

Then there is your highly disliked choice to exit the Paris agreement. This is not about “massive redistribution of United States’ wealth to other countries.” You just don’t feel the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  You refuse to listen, to work together. Air is poisoned.

Without land, water, and air, we have nothing, Mr. President. Nothing.

I will continue to do as I can to sustain our earth, allowing her to work for all of us, but she needs your help too.

Mother Nature, I’m sorry this is happening, yet I also know you’re strong. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.




Pin It on Pinterest