Dear President-Elect Trump,
It’s almost been a week. Congratulations to you, Mr. Trump. There, I said it, as personally painful as that statement was to me and many others. One of the most important tenets and principles of America is that we are a nation of laws, our elections are fair and proper, and we are committed to a peaceful, orderly and respectful transfer of power at all 3 levels of government. We accept the will of the people, even if we disagree with the outcome, or if our favorite candidate does not win an electoral contest. That is what we do in America - we look at facts, outcomes, evidence and reach conclusions based on systems designed to ensure the sanctity of a fundamental right in America – our right to vote. Mr. Trump, you will now have a level of responsibility that will grow daily leading up to the Inauguration, and then will exponentially increase after twelve noon on January 20, 2017. But, let’s talk about the President-Elect period for now.
Mr. Trump, you may not realize it, or maybe your advisors do not, but there are additional great expectations and responsibilities for you and your team right now because of things that YOU said or did during a tremendously divisive, nasty, hurtful and confusing Presidential campaign. You may be thinking that since you won fair and square that all is resolved. Let me state plainly that while the election is OVER, the pain and anxiety that YOU caused by your words and deeds continue to cause anger, fear, doubt, frustration and an emptiness in many Americans of all races, religions, socio-economic levels, ages and genders. As election night transitioned into Wednesday morning and afternoon, on college campuses, in homes, at work and on the streets, people were crying, distraught, angry and fearful about their America or the America in which they were an international student or visa holder, let alone those who for whatever reason may be undocumented. Those emotions did not solely occur because Hillary Clinton was not successful, no, it’s deeper than that reason. You may be thinking, “Well, I gave a speech early Wednesday morning, I said all the right things. Hillary spoke, and she said all the right things. President Obama spoke, and he said all the right things, and so everything must be okay, right?” Let me assure you Sir, NOTHING could be farther from the truth, and I think you actually know this to be fact.
Here are a few reasons that American citizens and international guests have taken to the streets in an unprecedented manner unlike anything I have ever seen after a contested Presidential election. African Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement are probably still upset that you stressed “law and order” as your campaign theme which was a dog whistle for your less progressive supporters who want Blacks “controlled”. Or many in the Black community may still be upset about your statements that seemingly suggest that all of us live in poverty, that we only seem to live in “inner cities”, that we don’t have jobs or even work, and that where we live you characterized as being “in hell” because so many of us in your view have no education or are involved in violent crime or are in danger daily of being shot. It is likely that the Latino/Hispanic community is greatly fearful, with good reason, that you emphasized until the end of the campaign and supported in recent interviews, that you would deport millions of undocumented immigrants; that you stated that Mexico sends us their rapists, murderers and drug dealers, which of course demeans, demonizes and mischaracterizes the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants who work hard, raise their children, contribute to American society in many ways and WANT to become citizens of the United States, but for the barriers of a broken immigration system which the Congress cannot seem to find the time, the will and the courage to properly fix. The themes you expressed though, were great rallying cries for your supporters who wanted “someone/some group” to blame for their own current life circumstances, and you seemed more than happy to oblige. Or, many women are probably marching in the streets because you have expressed negative views about the funding of Planned Parenthood, have made the most vile comments that have ever been publicly aired about sexual assault and your personal treatment of and views about women, or when you expressed that women who seek an abortion, which is their right, should be punished, or that you have regularly objectified and “rated” women based on their physical attributes or body characteristics. Or, maybe our Muslim brothers and sisters are marching because you proposed to BAN them from our country based on their religion, even though one of the other fundamental tenets of America is that we will have no religious test to be an American or prohibit travel based on the religion that one practices. Your statement of course never dealt with the fact that many of our own Military service members are Muslim and defend our country valiantly and have even made the supreme sacrifice in service to and defense of the America that they love. This listing could go on for a while, but I am sure that you are smart enough, as you have indicated many times, to get my point. The reason that children, students, parents, senior citizens, immigrants in America and people around the world are distressed, demonstrating and expressing fear, anger and doubt about THEIR America is because you have stated out of your own mouth ideas, policies and comments that make it sound like so many of us have no place in YOUR America. You scare many of us because we actually don’t know what you will or won’t do, what you mean or don’t mean, and most importantly what you actually stand for, not just as a successful candidate, but as a human being who is about to assume the most powerful public office on planet Earth. You cannot complain Sir about the protesters because YOU created the environment that causes people to utilize their 1st Amendment right to protest and seek redress from their government whenever they disagree with what is going on or may happen. By the way, you should get used to it, it’s what we do in America.
You pride yourself on being a great businessperson and master communicator. Well, I would encourage you to start using whatever skills you have to communicate with all of America about the many confusing, conflicting and contradictory statements that you made as a candidate, because being a candidate is over now. Now is the time for leadership, clarity, unity, healing, compromise and statesmanship. Now it’s time to govern. It is now a part of your responsibility based on your new status to provide comfort, empathy and reassurance to those who may not have supported your candidacy, your policy proposals and your statements, which attracted millions to you, that you are both listening AND you hear their concerns, you understand their fears and you want to bring us all together as Americans in the United States of America.
I would suggest you immediately make a national address, to recognize the monumental nature of what many consider the success of an improbable candidacy of someone who has never held any public office, said and done things that in the past would have disqualified any other candidate, and who is about to become our President. Acknowledge that you have made many painful, hurtful, abusive, controversial statements about various people and groups, and sincerely apologize, mean the words you say and ask the American public for forgiveness, not from a teleprompter, but from your head, heart and soul. Speak to our parents and teachers and help them to explain to our children and students why the inappropriate things that you said and did are not appropriate for our children to ever say or do to each other. Explain to our DACA community what you will or won’t do so they can better know their futures. Speak forcefully to your voters and supporters about their behaviors toward their fellow Americans and our international community, tell them that negative and intolerant behavior towards others is unacceptable to you personally. A great first step in this regard would be for you to publicly request that the KKK in NC not plan or host the parade in your honor on Dec 3rd or at any other time. Publicly apologize to President Barack Obama, who warmly welcomed you to the White House with incredible dignity and grace, even though you championed the offensive idea that he was not born in the United States or that he should release his school transcripts because you questioned his intellect and legitimate acceptance into prestigious schools, even though you admitted that you had NEVER met him before. Apologize for questioning the legitimacy of our electoral process, especially since you won. Apologize for even suggesting that if you were successful in this campaign that you would seek to investigate and potentially “lock up” Hillary Clinton, for which your supporters always cheered and you encouraged. Apologize publicly for your statements about African Americans and our community, comments about women and girls, the disabled community, Latino/Hispanic community, Muslims and their faith and all of the other constituencies that you have offended over many years and in the current campaign. You picked Gov. Mike Pence, now the Vice-President Elect, who has one of the worst records in America on women’s and LGBT issues, and you should explain your positions on issues that matter to those communities. Seek aggressively to heal the wounds of this campaign by immediately proposing the creation of a bipartisan National Commission on Reconciliation and Healing, somewhat similar to the model created in South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela, for the purpose of trying to reconcile and heal the wounds of the people of South Africa as they were facing significant governmental change in leadership, in an effort to unite their country. Give all Americans, from the most Liberal to the most Conservative, an opportunity and a safe place to express their legitimate concerns about the direction of our country, the daily fears and concerns they have about the economy or jobs or gender bias or racial fears or the religious divisiveness that appears to have gripped America. We need to start a healing process, and it is now a part of your responsibility to lead, guide and shape that process. That is what leaders do – LEAD.
You decided to run for President, and now you will have great authority and power. You will also have a higher level of responsibility and decision making than ever before in your life. What you do with your authority and responsibility will affect the lives of many. These are not moments on a reality show, but these are real life moments and there are consequences. You have won a contest that confers a title upon you, and you will hold an Office that commands respect. I say this with sincerity to you - respect is earned, not automatic. Americans will respect the Office of the President, but you will only personally be respected when you give the millions of Americans who are rightfully fearful, doubtful and angry, who are exercising their right to protest, the respect they deserve by your personal outreach to the various constituencies you have offended, provide your true and honest views to them and give reassurance of the leadership you plan to provide for all of us. The campaign is over, you have won, the time for constructing a new government has begun and you will soon be in charge. As you transition from candidate to President-Elect to President of the United States of America, think more about your language, your appointments, your policies and your actions and the reality of their impact on ALL Americans. You will earn respect when you give respect. Accountability starts now, America and the world are watching. Show us all who you really are, what you really stand for and what you will really do in office. No rhetoric, just reality.
Michael A. Nutter
Former Mayor of Philadelphia
David N. Dinkins Professor of Professional Practice in Urban and Public Affairs at Columbia University/SIPA