Friday, January 20, 2017

Dear Mr. Trump... (advice on Inauguration Day)

Dear Mr. Trump,

First, congratulations. You won. You get to be President. The Oval Office, the nuclear codes, all of it. No one today can make fun of you as only a reality television star or only a con-man or only the son and heir of a successful real estate developer from Queens. You've silenced all those mockers. And other than Alec Baldwin, those who are still mocking you as such even now are starting to seem a little desperate: nothing seems to stick. And you keep on winning and winning.

So I'm not here to mock you about the rumored "pee pee tape" or deride you for your bad taste. Millions of Americans in any case seem to prefer your taste in things to mine. Happily it's a big country and there's a million decent things to watch on TV.

Actually, I want to talk with you about something a little more personal.

I want to ask you to reconsider something fundamental about your approach to politics, something fundamental to the way you think. This is your habit of latching onto an idea of the Enemy -- the Bad Guy, out there -- who is out to get us, the Good People. Many liberals have heard your statements along these lines and simply dismissed you as a "racist." And you have definitely said and done things that I would call racist over the years.

But just branding you with that name might have been a mistake. Your way of thinking appeals to many people, and it's not enough to expect that everyone will understand why some of us use the word "racist" or agree with us that it's the right word to use. And maybe using that word as a broad, categorical identity ("he's a Racist") rather than more narrowly risks doing some of the same things I'm asking you not to do. It makes *you* the Bad Guy, the cause of all of our unhappiness. And as we all know, no one actually wants to be the Bad Guy in their own story; I'm sure you don't see yourself that way. What I'm telling you today is meant as advice -- so you don't wake up five years from now and wonder if, in fact, you became the Bad Guy without realizing it. If you do what I'm suggesting I think you might also find that you'll be a better President.

Like I said, I'm not here to call you a racist. It's more that you like to latch onto Bad Guys and Good Guys far too much and too easily. This way of thinking might lead you to make some mistakes that will make people think less of you as a President. (It will also cause a lot of unnecessary suffering and damage the country. But we're keeping this about you, don't worry. And brief. I know you're a busy man.)

Bad Guys and Good Guys is how you started your campaign and this is the real meaning of your favorite symbolic proposal -- the Wall. With the Wall, you've made Mexican immigrants the Enemy. You've imagined a nightmare scenario where millions of Mexicans are sneaking across the southern border, and are taking over the country from below.

Of course, this isn't true (and I think you know this). Mexico is one of our closest allies and our cultures and economies are deeply and inextricably connected. If you keep thinking of Mexico as the Enemy, you'll damage that friendship and weaken those connections. And that will ultimately hurt us as Americans. If you actually build your Wall, you'll hurt the feelings of people who have been our friends, and that's about it (you must know by now  that most undocumented immigrants coming into the country today come in by plane). And the trade war you've threatened will make many of products Good Americans enjoy -- from the cars we drive to the meat and produce we eat -- much more expensive.

Bad Guys and Good Guys is also what's happening with your idea of a ban on Muslim immigrants and the various other plans that you've put forward to combat Terrorism. And yes, we should admit that there are some people who do bad things in the name of God. But if you make all Muslims the Bad Guy, you'll actually make that problem substantially worse. You'll give the terrorists a rallying cry and make yourself (and the rest of us Americans) an even more inviting target. Those that have been claiming all along that America is the Bad Guy will find more followers. And we will have more wars, more terrorism, more blood.

Remember also that the First Amendment forbids the idea of a religious test. I know you like taking people to court, but I'm pretty sure you'll lose this battle in court, even with a conservative-dominated Supreme Court. If you try to do some of the things you've promised along these lines, you might find that many of the Republicans that have embraced you will turn against you. And again, this will weaken your Presidency.

(It will also, needless to say, be extremely damaging to Muslims Americans. And possibly to other brown immigrant groups, like my own. But again we're keeping this about you...)

You're doing some of the same Bad Guy/Good Guy stuff with China and Russia. I understand why you've made China the Bad Guy, but don't be fooled by Vladimir Putin. He's really not a Good Guy. He is very dangerous. (Look up the story of how he first came to be Prime Minister under Boris Yeltsin.) He will be only too happy to destroy you if it suits him.  And on China a lot of the things I said about Mexico apply. Americans have gotten used to cheap laptops and TVs manufactured in Asia. Think twice before you start a fight with the people who make everything we like to buy at Target and Walmart and Best Buy and Amazon.

I could go on about a hundred different things, but I wanted to keep it short and to the point.

We all have the potential to be the Bad Guys in someone else's story. I do too. I have to watch myself when I talk to my kids; there's a thin line between the right kind of parental discipline and the kind that hurts a child's feelings and fills them with bitterness and resentment. Being a parent is a big responsibility; I have to keep working to make sure I get that right. I also have to stay on my toes to make sure I do my job responsibly and that I actually help my students get where they want to go. We've all met bad professors who abused their position of authority various ways; I try hard to make sure I don't become one.

Mr. Trump, think about the bad things other people have done to you over the course of your life and remember how that's made you feel. And remember that you can have that same effect through your statements and actions on others. So when you wake up in the White House this weekend, look in the mirror that many other Presidents have also looked in -- and try and focus on facing down the Bad Guy within yourself. If you do that, you might find it easier to avoid making mistakes regarding Bad Guys and Good Guys with our friends and enemies all around the world. The world is not full of Bad Guys and Good Guys. It's full of people who are all the same, at heart, as you and me. And we're all trying to do our best.

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