Like many of my fellow Americans, I’ve taken the “wait and see approach” since the election of Donald J. Trump. But with more than a month having passed since his inauguration, I believe I’ve already seen enough, and I’ve probably waited much too long–not that I’ve formulated a suitable response to this unfolding national quandary other than to utter the words “God help us” much more than usual.
I’ve heard from more than one friend that they have abandoned social media and cable news in order to find some sense of refuge and peace. I, on the other hand, continue to expose myself to the onslaught of electronic punditry, and to engage my bar room customers as to the pros and cons of this presidency. But then I have the advantage of those quiet late nights after the dispirited Democrats, the few remorseful, but mostly rejoicing Republicans, and the incredulous independents have all gone home.
My outpost during this particular political cycle has been the Ferndale Inn, a wonderful old Upper Bucks County establishment that has been around long enough to have served some of those that lived through the colonial insurrection of 76 as well as the civil unraveling of 1861. Perhaps it is their ghosts that motivated me to once again attempt to reach out to yet another incoming administration. So on the morning of the 20th day of January 2017 while the Trumps were contemplating an afternoon stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue, I was heading into to town to post my letter to the incoming President.
I sent copies to both the White House and to Trump Tower in New York City. In retrospect, I probably should have also sent a copy to the clubhouse in West Palm Beach–because every indicator suggests that the only persons that may have read the letter are those tasked with monitoring the mail to make sure that there is nothing more threatening than what might be perceived by the Bannon wing of the White House as the poisoned pros of some poor misguided moderate. So in the hope that all my words don’t fall on deaf ears, I will also share the letter with the audience of this blog and American Pubic House Review.
Dear President Trump:
The preservation of a healthy democracy demands participation beyond the voting booth, hence the reason for this letter. First of all, while I did not cast my ballot for you, I want you to know that I sincerely hope and pray for the success and well being of you and your family as you embark upon the many challenges of the presidency. To that end I wish you Godspeed sir!
From this point on, forgive me if my writings ramble on a bit as I attempt to blend the practical with the philosophical side of our politics.
I applaud your efforts to retain and create employment opportunities within our borders. But I believe we need to be realistic and honest with American labor about the real potential employment numbers within certain industries. Even if we produced steel or mined coal to the extent of the peak years of the twentieth-century, we would do so with a fraction of the manpower that was needed in the past. In 1923, it took 863,000 coal miners to produce approximately 600 million short tons of coal. Today you could double that production number with a workforce of less than 70,000. The new reality calls for much more aggressive retraining programs. And if we can’t bring new jobs and industries to those areas hardest hit by change, then perhaps the government needs to provide assistance so that it is affordable for people to relocate to those places where there are new avenues of employment.
I believe that we should acknowledge and maintain the moral high ground achieved by the previous administration. No human being should ever be denied healthcare because of a pre-existing condition. And that care should be truly affordable and in keeping to the highest standards of modern medicine! America’s middle-class cannot afford another monthly bill that is equivalent to a payment on a BMW. And from solely a business perspective, every dollar that is spent on just providing a family with essential needs and services further erodes the growth of those parts of the economy that depend upon discretionary spending.
Healthcare over the past several decades has evolved from being a necessary institution into something more akin to just another big business. And while I believe that those dedicated souls that provide the care and the cures should be well paid, we can’t expect the average American to shoulder the financial burden of something that now accounts for nearly 20% of our gross domestic product.
I certainly agree with your point of view that we need to create more competitive pricing of insurance by expanding the marketplace beyond state borders. But I also believe that the real cost savings will be realized in the delivery of services. Because of what has been perceived as being a bottomless well of government and private insurance monies, hospitals have grown into bloated, inefficient bureaucracies. Perhaps we need a moonshot approach to medicine—one where the government develops new lifesaving techniques and technologies, and then rewards those public and private entities that incorporate them into the practice of medicine in the most cost-effective manner.
Once we get beyond the rhetoric of the issue, there are no easy answers accept to say that a good immigration policy is in fact good for business. Whether we utilize the carrot or stick approach to the problems at our borders, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are the country that has always advertised ourselves as that land of opportunity. And whenever we needed to dig a canal, build a railroad, or send men underground in order to provide the fuel for our industrial might, we called upon the immigrant to break their backs and to risk their lives. Historically, it has always been a relationship of convenience tailored to the needs of the business class and the political class with the immigrant caught somewhere in the middle. Even today not much has changed. In the same breath American business welcomes the illegal through the backdoor to wash the dishes, while our politicians propose protections that keep those same people from entering through the front door under the guise that they might be stealing food off of the same plates that they just washed.
Putting the obvious hypocrisy aside, no matter what reforms are eventually adopted they must be initiated from a position of reason and compassion—because the vast majority of those that choose to cross borders illegally are in fact doing so because they are facing genuine hardships and immediate threats. And in some instances, those dire conditions came about in part because of American economic and foreign policy. Before we propose legislation or sign anything into law, we must ask ourselves what we would do if our own families were in that position?
In the past, when life wasn’t to our liking, we crossed an ocean, we crossed many borders, we displaced others, and on some occasions we made claims to land in a manner that was neither moral nor legitimate. It is incumbent upon every American to remember our own journey before we intervene on the itinerary of others.
On Having Skin in the Game:
There are those that have accused you of being a bit thin-skinned. As one who shares the condition of having a sharp tongue and strong opinions while at the same time not always being receptive to that potentially bruising return volley, there isn’t much that I can offer other than to say that before we tally the falsehoods and slights put forth by others, it would serve us well to apply a bit of self-accounting regarding our own behavior. Furthermore, an effective presidency does require a thick skin, because those who desire that position must wear many skins: the skin of the rich and the poor, the skin of the powerful and the downtrodden, the skin of all races, the skin of all colors, the skin of all creeds, and the skin of all nations. Because that is what America has always been and always will be as long we continue to uphold the aspirations and principles of our Founders.
But ultimately, our leaders will not be measured by the thickness of their skin, but instead by the broadness of their shoulders and the size of their hearts!
On Healing a Nation:
Our Constitution can be rather problematic—because within its structure lies the seeds for our potential unity or disunity depending upon how we choose to exercise our rights. Those freedoms enshrined within that document allow us to exclude or include, to tear down or raise up, and to inflict pain or promote healing.
In 1861, there were those who believed that the Constitution went so far as to provide for the right of secession. It would take four years of carnage and deprivation to prove otherwise. But as we consider a nation that today is mired in contentious rancor and has been politically reduced to a map of red and blue, one might wonder has much changed since Lee surrendered his army to Grant at Appomattox?
I wish that prior to taking the oath of office every President-elect would spend a quiet winter’s day of reflection at Antietam, Gettysburg, or any Civil War battlefield. There were no real victors on these pieces of ground—just body counts that led the commanders on one side or the other to foolishly presume that they had won the day. But there would be many bitter harvests on those hallowed fields before a severely wounded nation would make any sense of the struggle—let alone claim victory.
On August 8, 1885, some of those same veterans, who had faced the fire and the fury from opposite sides of the lines at places like Shiloh, Vicksburg and Cold Harbor, now marched shoulder-to-shoulder as they accompanied the body of General Ulysses S. Grant to its temporary place of rest in New York City’s Riverside Park. On this day at least, young enemies would stand together as old friends.
During his final years, as he had done throughout his presidency, Grant sought to bring about a spirit of renewal and reconciliation to a nation still suffering the lingering deep divisions that remained after the Civil War. Even during those final months of life while suffering the ravages of a painful and debilitating throat cancer, General Grant would provide counsel to his friends and former adversaries with a gentle dignity and optimism that belied his immense suffering.
Ulysses S. Grant truly lived up to those words spoken by Abraham Lincoln at his first inaugural address, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
May all Americans, and especially our leaders, aspire to those better angels!
Chris Poh, Editor for American Public House Review