“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends–honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism–these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.” –Barack Obama
“The people of the United States are one of the people I most admire in the world. The only thing I don’t understand is why a country that manages to do so well cannot do better in choosing its president.” –Gabriel García Márquez
I suppose every writer shares the compulsion to have their voice heard. We feel we have something important to say, something that needs an audience. Sometimes that is an audience of one. I love letters. That is probably no surprise to you, but it is so true. I like the format. There is a carefully selected audience who is both greeted and bid farewell. It is understood that what falls in between those salutations is quite intentionally stated. The writer means it. It is thoughtful, unlike the mind(less) vomit that fills so many social media feeds. I know it is not as fast as a Tweet or a text, but it means a million times more. At least, that’s how I think of the letter. I have one friend who still writes me real emails—letters—occasionally, and it fills me with all the best feelings every time. I love her for it, and I love investing all my heart and soul into the response. The relationship feels intentional. That is everything to me.
By some strange twist of Fate, I have not become the global icon I dreamed of becoming when I was a kid. I lack the status and connections I imagined I might have by this point in my life. Somehow, that harsh reality has not deterred my ambition to secure the occasional audience with the big shots. I simply have these exchanges in my imagination instead. Musicians. Educators. Film directors. Writers. Scientists. Activists. Yogis. Healers. And yes, even politicians. (Okay, maybe especially politicians.)
Four years ago at this time, in a letter to you, I ruminated on the new President and the direction things seemed to be headed. I was definitely concerned. Several months later, still in President Trump’s first year in office, I wrote him an open letter to share my by-then-heightened concerns on his presidency. I am sure we all had strong opinions on the matter, as the presidency suddenly seemed to consume all of the airspace and hover over us every day. I wanted to be clear—to me and to him–where I stood.
Now that we have a new President, it seems only right to give him a piece of my mind, too. While in the literal sense, every moment is an unprecedented one–no two moments have ever been exactly the same—I think we can all agree that, in our lifetimes anyway, there has not been another era of political drama and intrigue quite like the one we are in right now. “Unprecedented” doesn’t feel even remotely exaggerated. The country could go a number of different ways from here. And though I have no doubt that President Biden has many wise and experienced advisors, it wouldn’t hurt to hear from one of his constituents. I don’t know anyone more opinionated than me, so why not? This is what I have to say:
Dear Mr. President,
Just be decent. You know: sane, kindhearted, generous, thoughtful, altruistic, inclusive, wise, optimistic, empathetic, patriotic, gracious, and just. Just be a decent human and care about us for four years. That’s it.
No. Sorry, that’s not it; that doesn’t do it. But honestly, that is my first impulse, Mr. President. That’s what jumps to my mind when I think about what I want you to do right now. I know, I know, that’s not enough, and that would be shortchanging your potential for greatness—not to mention that I am WAY more demanding than that—but I also don’t want to downplay what some solid Goodness could do to salve the wounds in the soul of our beloved country right now. I think you know that, so I won’t spend too much more time on it. Or maybe I will. Anyway, PLEASE be that soothing grandfather that the country is silently begging for. That may be the most important thing I can ask at the moment.
But it’s not all. As much as I need you to simply BE good, I am going to need you to DO good, too. Thanks to the voters of Georgia, your party controls the Congress as well and thus has the ability to do big things, to make major structural changes in a country desperately in need of them. If you fail to seize this opportunity and merely be a decent, gracious man, I will be as disappointed in you as I have been in most of your predecessors. Perhaps more so.
What do I need you to do? Let’s start with climate change and environmental issues. It was a nice symbolic gesture that you rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement on your first day, but I need to see some aggressive legislation and investment that will both create lots of new jobs and decrease our greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, after the last administration, you have a lot of catching up to do to restore credibility to the Environmental Protection Agency and to secure our public lands. I understand that climate change is a global issue and that one country’s efforts can be nullified by the negligence of other countries, but there is no excuse for America to fail to be a leader in this urgent matter. And even though this is not the most exciting topic for the majority of the electorate, this could ultimately be your most important legacy. Fortune favors the bold. I expect you to rise to the occasion.
Obviously, the coronavirus and its accompanying financial crisis are the issues slamming you in the face right now, and they will require the combination of bold proposals, wise judgment, and nimble adjustments to the fluid situations. I encourage you to go the exact opposite way of your predecessor: embrace the science, tell us the truth, take responsibility for federal government-managed testing and tracing, provide ample funds to local and state governments so they can perform their roles, and provide enough human and financial resources to make the logistics of mass vaccination as efficient as possible. I am past relying on my fellow citizens to do the right thing with masks and social distancing; I need you to get the vaccination in our arms and save us all, including those unwilling to do right by their communities. I am less certain of all the right moves you should make on the financial side of the crisis. I know the checks-for-everyone is kind of an easy, popular band-aid, but my main concern is targeting the people who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. I want you to do all you can for small businesses, for the people who have lost their jobs (and the health care tied to those jobs), and for those in danger of being evicted. As a nation, we have already failed this crisis quite miserably. The best thing you can do is get us out of the woods quickly and land us on our feet. Be the janitor and clean up our mess.
I need you to address and constantly re-address issues of equity and racial justice. This is one that you simply cannot back away from. I am pleased so far with your willingness to speak phrases like “White supremacy” and “Black lives matter.” I have been impressed with the diversity of your Cabinet nominees and advisers. But it is high time we dig in with some policymaking. Voting rights. Prison reform. Investment in infrastructure, green space, and schools in areas inhabited by people of color. Loans for entrepreneurs, small businesses, and first-time homebuyers. Tuition reimbursements. Anti-bias and curriculum reform in schools. Building a pipeline for teachers of color. Pathways to citizenship. Food justice. And on and on and on…. Get to work!
Health care. I know you didn’t campaign on a universal healthcare/Medicare-for-all platform, so I am not holding my breath here. But hey, this is my letter, so here goes. I really want you to start talking about health care as a right and begin to explain to America in good old “Joe from Scranton” language how much better our overall quality of life would be if we could all count on cradle-to-grave care in the same way we count on public schools, parks, and roads. Perhaps in your push to move the age for Medicare down to 60, you will see that the logic of your argument extends to any age. It is an embarrassment that America does not provide health care to all of its citizens. And let’s not pretend that it doesn’t affect poor people and people of color disproportionally. Even if you don’t get us all the way there, please move us in the direction of EVERY OTHER WEALTHY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD (you know, those countries that, no matter how hard they were hit by the coronavirus pandemic, not one of their citizens lost health care coverage). Bend that arc, Mr. President. I beg you.
I could go on and on with issues small and large that I want you to act on. Statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. The Supreme Court. Gun control. The filibuster. Homelessness. Campaign financing. The Electoral College. Term limits. I have strong opinions on just about everything. But which ones you choose to take on and in whichever order you choose, I hope you will do it with the utmost class and grace. Whether you are fulfilling all of my wildest policy dreams or falling short (as all of your predecessors have so far), I ask that Decency be one of your trademarks. Be the kind of leader I would like my children to look up to. We need that right now. We need you.
I’ll be honest with you, Mr. President. You weren’t my first choice in the Democratic primaries. You were pretty far down my list, frankly. Though you seem like a nice guy, your record is much too centrist for my liberal tastes. But I will tell you something: I have come to believe you are the right person for this moment. I think you have it in you to be the leader we need right now. I believed you when you said, in your inauguration speech, that your soul is in it. I sure hope so. We need every ounce of Goodness that you have. At any rate, I will be cheering for you, understanding that your success is our country’s success.
How about you? What would you like to say to the new President? Open up your journal and unload your thoughts. Is it comfortable to you to write in the letter format? Does it feel weird to write a letter you aren’t formally sending? Does it free you up to say things you might not otherwise dare to? I hope you put it all out there for this one. My guess is that your letter will look a lot different than mine. But how? Is your letter more confrontational? What specific issues would you like to challenge the President about on his way into office? Things he has stood for in the past or campaigned on? Things you assume he is planning to change from the last President? What about the other side: what specific issues do you want to encourage him to take up? Which of the handful of crises that America is dealing with right now—pandemic, economy, racial justice, climate change, etc.—would you like the new administration to prioritize? Do you believe the President has any choice but to tackle them all simultaneously? What things would be a waste of his time and energy? Would you share in your letter some personal stories of you or your loved ones and how his upcoming presidency could impact you? Would you like to address his character and the example he can set for children, particularly in light of the last President? How much of what you would say is driven by whether you voted for him or not? Do you have a different list of demands depending upon which party the President belongs to? How can your words help him? If you are mostly angry about his arrival in the presidency, how can you find words that are both a release for you but also helpful to him? Do you think there is anything you could say to bring about a positive change? I dare you to try! Leave me a reply and let me know: What would you like to say to the new President?
Lift your voice,
P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it with your community. Let us empower one another to speak and be heard!
P.P.S. If this way of reflection appeals to your sensibilities, consider buying my book, Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.