January 20, 2017

If I could have a face-to-face and man-to-man chat with our new president, this is what I would like to say:

Mr. President:  By way of introduction I am an American and an older academic, a couple years older then you. For more than three decades, my primary research, teaching and writing has focused on religion and socio-cultural values in American (U.S.) society. I consider myself a patriotic citizen and come from a very politically active family.  

Although I have been a Democrat since the Nixon/Kennedy election of 1960, I have strong Republican DNA. Maybe that enables me to engage in respectful dialogue with people who don’t hold my personal political viewpoint? I am happy that, in the United States, we have at least two political parties. Monotone politics can lead easily to despotic dictatorships. Republicans and Democrats, with their differing viewpoints are nonetheless genuine Americans.We can debate, we can reflect; and then we can determine how we can best work together for the good of all in our society. That is an essential part of the American way of life. 

Yes Mr. President I must acknowledge that I did not vote for you; but I speak today with no animosity. I address you respectfully, because I do have some major concerns, as you become our forty-fifth president. 

Mr. President, one of my big concerns, as I reflect on contemporary U.S. Society, is the extreme socio-political polarization that is tearing our country apart. It is worse, Mr. President, than at the time of our nineteenth century Civil War. Sorry to say, sir, you and your election campaign have greatly contributed to this national tragedy. I am not writing today to condemn you or your supporters. I write to strongly suggest, however, that it is now your presidential responsibility and that of your administration to drop the rhetoric of animosity, to build bridges, and to repair the damage. 

I am reminded of the words of our Civil War Republican president. You took the oath of office with your hand on his Bible. Abraham Lincoln was speaking about Civil War America. You, Mr. president, could use his words today: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.” 

Mr. President, you have often said you want to make America great again. Personally, sir, I think America is already great.  

When it comes to greatness, however, I would suggest that the genius of greatness is not located in overpowering other people or other countries. Greatness is not an exercise of self-centered power but an exercise of understanding, respectful dialogue, compassion, and humble collaboration. American greatness is reflected in the words of Emma Lazarus at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  

Mr. President, there are a lot of people in our country, and in our world, yearning to breathe free. In 1987, Republican President Ronald Reagan told the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “tear down this wall.” Why don’t you emulate President Reagan and demand that all walls be be torn down when they block people yearning to breathe free. There are concrete walls. There are legal walls. There are walls of ignorance, and walls of racism and prejudice. They all need to be dismantled. You and your administration can do this. 

Mr. President, I happen to be a Catholic and I was very surprised when I learned that a great number of U.S. Catholics voted for you. The argument I have since heard and read is that they felt compelled to vote for you because you are anti-abortion. I too am opposed to abortion but I am also pro-life. I hope, sir, that your administration will be not just anti-abortion but strongly pro-life as well. And pro-life for all.  

Being pro-life demands reaching out to lift up the poor, giving a hand to those whom you call “losers.” Pro-life is pro-education, pro-child support, pro-health care, pro-living wage, pro-single parents. It is pro-straight and pro-gay…..Being pro-life means that one truly does believe Thomas Jefferson’s words in our Declaration of Independence that a legitimate government must protect the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all.  

Actually, Mr. president I would like to see you establish a strong human rights commission in your administration. I would suggest that your commission insist, at home and abroad, on a strict adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. It was our Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who praised that Declaration for its “recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” and as “the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”  

Mr. President, throughout your campaign and even afterwards there have been a number of questions raised about your competence, your psychological health, your moral rectitude, and your commitment to truth and honesty. These are serious questions. As you begin, your presidency I strongly encourage you to seek the truth, reflect on the truth, and to speak the truth. Theodore Roosevelt was a strong Republican president. As I watched your campaign, I thought of his words. “The man who knows the truth and has the opportunity to tell it,” Roosevelt said “but who nonetheless refuses to, is among the most shameful of all creatures. God forbid that we should ever become so lax at that.” On another occasion, President Roosevelt reminded reminded Americans: “A true patriot must necessarily be a zealot and fighter for the truth.” Good advice, sir. Good advice for all of us. 

Well Mr. President I wish we could sit down and discuss these and other issues. You and your administration are introducing a major climate change in Washington. If the opinion polls and the news reports are accurate, more than half of our U.S. citizens, as well as millions of people around the globe, fear that your winds of change are launching, to use Shakespeare’s famous words, a long “winter of discontent.” Some very big challenges will confront you — and us — before we can all sing “spring is in the air.” 

For my part, in my teaching and writing I will do my best to promote genuine American values. I will endeavor to dialogue, especially when it seems to be so difficult. I will do my best to collaborate in maintaining the common good. I will challenge ignorance. I will challenge bullies who denigrate other people because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. I hope, sir, that you and your administration will do the same. We must work together. We will not survive as a healthy and peaceful country unless we do. I remember the words of President Eisenhower: “You do not lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.”  

Mr. President, your presidency comes at a pivotal point in U.S. history. I hope you are up to the challenges that await you. I hope sincerely that the Donald J.Trump administration will be characterized by strong humanitarian leadership and unquestionable integrity. If not, sir, be prepared. I suspect that either the people will call for your resignation or Congress will remove you from office. 

9 thoughts on “Inauguration Day Reflection

  1. This is a great column, Jack. Your insight amazes me. You suggest to Donald Trump that he could do some good. I pray that he does!

  2. Dear Jack,
    I awoke this morning to a cold, gray, rainy Michigan winter outside and a cold, worried, anxiety in my heart in anticipation of today’s inauguration and coming four years. Fortunately, your reflections were here, like a soothing blanket in which to wrap myself. Thank you for voicing the concerns of so many of us in respectful, positive, and hopeful words. This is the time for us who worry for the future to put aside animosity and “give peace a chance.” Hopefully, there will be no need to rise up and be voices for change. Let’s hope that our new president will hear your words! Peace to you, dear friend. (And peace to us all!!)

  3. Thank you for your thought provoking and sincerely written words. Would that he would listen!

  4. Your words have eased some of the bitterness in my heart. I thank you . And I am passing this on to others.

  5. My sister forwarded your column to me. Good read! Thank you so much for addressing this situation in which we, and the world, find ourselves..

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