Open letter to a Republican congressman

See Disclaimer.

Dear Congressman Walden:

You recently mailed a form letter to my household, reporting on perceived accomplishments. I would like to respond by introducing myself and expressing my views as a voter in your district.

I am a naturalized citizen. I was born and raised in Africa, leaving as a refugee at 18. After more than a decade in Europe, intermingled with studies in the US, I immigrated to this country 30 years ago. I have a PhD from a top US school, have been a researcher and educator for over three decades, and was elected last year to serve as commissioner in a local water district. My wife (originally from South America, also a naturalized citizen) and I vote regularly, conscious of having lived under regimes where voting was not free. Our older son serves in the US Army, and our younger one serves in county management in an East Coast state. In essence if not in the details, our story is no different from that of most immigrants: Pursuing a better life, working hard to achieve a measure of success and happiness for us and our children, and making as strong a contribution as we can to our new country and community.

I have watched with deep concern the evolution of our country over the last couple of years. I am politically independent and thus I do not see issues through either blue or red lenses. The Republican primary featured 17 candidates, from which arguably the least qualified was nominated. The Democratic primary featured three candidates, from which arguably the most qualified was nominated, although with deep scars. To great surprise, Mr. Trump defeated Mrs. Clinton in the general election–an election where only ~58% of those eligible exercised their right and civic duty to vote, and where the Electoral College victory was effectively decided by 107,000 votes in three key states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) while the popular vote went the other way by nearly 2.9 million votes.

Mr. Trump was not my candidate. In fact, I saw him as unqualified in character and knowledge to serve as President. But I democratically accept the choice of the American People as expressed (like the US Constitution mandates) via the Electoral College: He is our President, and I accordingly gave him the benefit of the doubt. I also hold Presidents (regardless of party) responsible to protect the fundamental principles and democratic values of our nation. And I hold my representatives in the House and Senate responsible to provide the necessary balance, should the Executive branch fail to properly exercise its duties. 

After a year, I consider that Mr. Trump has dramatically failed to discharge his duties as President. By failing to have a fair, dignified, consistent, thoughtful and empathetic posture, he has betrayed the trust the electorate placed on him, has further polarized an already divided nation, and has done irreparable damage to our global leadership. His attacks on the free press are attacks on the freedoms that anchor our democracy. His attacks on science and on environmental information and regulation will cause irreparable harm to our nation and to the Earth’s sustainability.  The tax reform he fostered and signed will drastically increase income inequality, will augment the national debt, and fails to set the right incentives towards a fair, healthy, wealthy and forward-thinking society. His attacks on ACA places the US further away from protecting our citizen’s basic human right to health. His deregulation of banks and financial markets jeopardizes in the long run (whatever the short-term gains might be) the resilience of an economy whose recovery his predecessor had to jump start. His provocations to North Korea and Iran, among others, put the world closer to conflict and conceivably close to a nuclear war. His racial bias is apparent and disturbing. His obsession with a wall and his insulting language towards entire regions (including the Africa where I was born) and religions are beyond comprehension, and distract from the comprehensive immigration reform we need in this country.

I also consider that you and the vast majority of your Republican colleagues in the House and Senate have consistently failed your constitutional duty to offer a healthy counter-balance to the Presidential power. Senators McCain and Flake are among the very few exceptions. Could Republicans be blinded by the temptation to pass legislation along strictly partisan lines, or to gain a long-lasting advantage in the number of conservative judges appointed throughout the judicial system? Do Republicans need to be reminded that their first duty is to their country and to the People they represent, not to party or privileged elites?

Congressional Democrats have arguably fared better. This is in part because they are the opposition party, but some (including members of the Oregon delegation) have stood on truly courageous principle. They have as a group maintained the discipline of vote necessary (even if not sufficient by itself) to achieve some important victories, the most salient being the rejection of the ACA repeal. But way too often they have lacked the procedural tools or on occasion the moral high ground (ACA was passed along partisan lines, after all) to make a real difference.

This speaks to another key failure: A two-party system is no longer a viable political solution for our country and democracy.  Red-or-blue alternation of power is productive and stabilizing when the two parties can find enough common ground to legislate in a bi-partisan, sustainable manner; but it is ineffective and dangerous when the priority of any new majority is seemingly to undo whatever the previous one did.

Can our country recover? Recovery will not happen by accident. It will require action. Peaceful, strategic, patient yet galvanizing action. I don’t have an ideal recipe. But I do know this:

  • Because of its complicity with an unfit and disruptive President and because of extremely poor legislative choices and practices as exemplified by the Tax Reform, the Republican party has forfeited my vote for the foreseeable future.
  • In 2018 and 2020, I will exercise my freedom of choice by voting (and campaigning if appropriate) for Democrats, independents or third-party candidates—as ethically, strategically and pragmatically best to terminate Republican majorities in Congress and to elect a non-Republican President.
  • Without compromising the 2018-2020 goals, I will actively promote a true multi-party system where no party can govern with arrogance and disregard for the best interests of the American People.

If enough Americans share these or better ideas, and choose to act on them with committed civility, our country will not only mend its internal divides but will also become once again a bright beacon of freedom, resolve and compassion for the benefit of people in the US and globally.

You too can be a part of the solution, Mr. Walden, by becoming a voice of strong and reasoned opposition to an unfit President and by fostering truly bipartisan legislation. I hope I speak for the majority of the 2nd district voters: You would still not earn my vote, but you would earn my respect.

If you chose to answer this letter, please meaningfully address the issues I raise. A personalized answer would be valued, however much we may disagree on issues. By contrast, a form letter would waste valuable time of your staff without adding value to the type of dialogue this country needs.


António M. Baptista

A version of this article was published in the Another Voice section of the Hood River News (“Open letter to Walden: Seek common ground,” January 31, 2018)


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