To kneel, or not to kneel: That is not the question

Dear Mr. Trump:

It is imperative that you take a time out from commenting on the kneeling choices of NFL players, and on whether a White House invitation should be accepted without hesitation by NBA players. This is because many of us are concerned: North Korea is in a war path, Iran has found in you further reasons to be defiant, Puerto Rico is under a dire predicament, Florida and Texas are ailing, millions of Americans may lose their health benefits at the hands of Congress, there is a worldwide refugee crisis, terrorist and hatred acts are multiplying internally and externally, and our planet is under major stress from climate change and overpopulation.

I am an independent voter. I did not vote for you, as I did not feel that you met the standards of moral integrity, intellect, knowledge and empathy required to be the US President. Others disagreed. In fact, you won the Electoral College, which means that this country chose you through our established, democratic, electoral practices. You are, therefore, our President—and that means all Americans. Please act as such.

As others did before you, you took the oath of faithfully executing the Office of President, and to the best of your ability, preserving, protecting and defending our Constitution. Common sense and history tell us that US Presidents are human, therefore have weaknesses and make mistakes. But US Presidents serve their people. They are committed to unifying and protecting their nation. They strive for the common good and for our country to remain a beacon of freedom, compassion, economic development and innovation. They seek a fairer, more democratic and more sustainable country and world.

You have done none of those things. To the contrary. You have incited division and conflict internally and with other nations. You have disrespected vast segments of our population. Your policy priorities and executive orders are undermining the very foundation of our nation, by removing basic environmental and financial protections, reversing basic human rights in areas such as equality and health care, and compromising innovation in science and technology.

I support and applaud non-conventional thinking and methods, when used for the greater good. You are plenty non-conventional. And that has made you US President, thus giving you an awesome power to do greater good. It is the greater good part that you need to work on. Please allow me to make some suggestions.

You may want to start by turning off the TV and disconnecting the internet. Read abundantly, but focus on your agencies’ briefings, a selection of foundational books and documents such as the US Constitution, and the in-print version of credible newspapers. Perhaps you can ask your Chief of Staff for a reading list. You seem to trust him, and he seems to understand the duties and responsibilities of a President.

Also, please get out of your bubble. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, or, better yet, live someone else’s life for a week. In an inner-city neighborhood in Chicago, as a black male. In an Indian reservation, as a Native American. On minimum wage, as a single mother without a high school degree. As one of the DACA enrollees, worrying about likely deportation to a country where they have never been as adults. As a farmer in Iowa or Oregon, struggling to make ends meet. As a late fifties unemployed worker, without the technical skills to be competitive in a fast changing economy. As a drug addict, struggling to regain control of your life. As a rape victim, making the decision to bear or not the child of her abuser. As a lesbian or transgender, balancing genetic makeup and societal prejudices. As a cancer patient without adequate medical insurance.

Yes, I realize that these are too many lives to live, in too little time. But all of these are your people, Mr. President. As are many others whom you are ignoring: scientists who are warning you about a changing climate, health care providers who are encouraging you to improve rather than repeal Obamacare, intelligence community people whose assessments you ignore at our peril, responsible analysts who warn you about irresponsible financial deregulation, even those among your voters who now worry about your views on issues like North Korea and health care.

I do know, Mr. President, that you cannot live their lives in a literal sense. But you can meet and listen to a broad cross-sample of them. Away from cameras. Perhaps have your Chief of Staff select whom you meet, suggest questions you may want to ask, and help you analyze and internalize the outcomes. Maybe someone at the White House can point you, ahead of time, to training on how to listen and empathize. But please do truly listen to these and other people who are different and often believe differently than you. Learn from them and their differences, and translate those lessons into smart, effective and compassionate policy priorities. No modern US President has needed this recalibration as much as you do, I am afraid.

This all is hard work. But you ran for President. And you got elected. It is time to deliver on your oath to office. Or to step down. Your choice, for now.

The outcome of Robert Mueller’s investigation might take that choice off your hands. Short of that, the ultimate choice will be ours (the voters) as is appropriate in a democracy. And whether NFL players kneel or not, you should know this: Your divisiveness is mobilizing Americans like me (once “mere” voters) into pro-actively creating constructive alternatives to a GOP-controlled Congress (starting 2018) and to you as President (in 2020).

— Antonio Baptista

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