You surprised just about everyone, possibly including yourself. I recall last Sunday reading the Time’s last election report. A reporter asked what you would do if you lost. You leaned back in a chair and said you would not. Something instinctive in me registered what before I had not fully grasped. You had your finger on the baseline political pulse. You counted the electoral votes better than the Democrats. In that moment, I felt it, but did not believe it until the wee hours of Wednesday. Congratulations, but remember the irony: a democratic republic system rigged to offset democracy is what got you the brass ring, not the popular vote. Let’s explore how you can convert that win into real integrity and meaningful leadership.
About the myriad lies you have uttered, I hope one thing: you know the difference. Please, tell us now, you did what you had to do to win, that’s politics, but you will not govern through mendacity and the constant slinging of mud just to see what sticks. You see, I think I understand some aspects of your personality. You are an enthusiast. Part of the reason I am writing this message to you is because we share that trait.
Enthusiasts channel life’s essence. They often either, or both, attract and repel others. Versatile and quick learners, enthusiasts are also easily distractible and often scattered. Enthusiasts can skim along the surface of issues with facility; our challenge is to go deep. You did that with business where you put your money and reputation and family at risk. Now you have swung along the surface of politics and have this country and large parts of the world at stake.
That is another reason why I write. We also have some similarities in our background. There was a family business (not comparing scale, which was quite different). An older brother, (although hardly comparable, there is something about the attention of the mother), and a complicated family dynamic. A notion of being raised on the wrong side of the tracks. You stayed in the Queens family business and proved you could conquer the borough your father steered you against. Being underestimated is a magic potion, isn’t it? An unconscious elixir, being underestimated has an intoxicating effect. Here’s the rub: you proved you can win, but can you be a responsible president?
As you sort that challenge out for yourself, take note, there is a cost to succeed under those circumstances. I am not talking about the usual efforts of hard work, showing up, and little sleep. I mean that shadow side of our personality type that under stress goes to harsh criticism, impossible perfectionism we expect of ourselves and project onto others, an acrid spirit that has the potential to corrode as much as it does to motivate. Over and over again, you have demonstrated these traits. It frightens people about you, especially because in a more relaxed state you can be entertaining and generous. You surprise people with the shift. Many will draw a line in the sand against you that no apology can lift. Would it be possible now for you to acceptance yourself? You are not a loser, Mr. Trump, and that would be true whether you won this election or not. Do you now believe that enough to stop using that notion as a psychological whip, against yourself as well as everyone else?
About the racism, I obviously don’t know you well enough to discern whether it is bone deep or pedestrian cowardice, or a little bit of both. My mother, I am sorry to say, had it bone deep. Only when I got older did I come to understand that it came from the searing pain of internalized abuse projected onto targets that centuries of abuse made an easy mark. My father’s was more pedestrian. He didn’t viscerally hate black people; they were just bad for his business. You knew that President Obama was born in the U.S., right? You envied his success, and his job as president. But now don’t forget: the majority of those white, under-educated, rust-belt denizens who turned key states for you also voted for him. He promised change too, but instead conditions seemingly only grew worse. Underemployment, lives without sufficient drive or meaning, a legal and illegal drug trade, all the while the wealthy got richer, traveled to interesting places, had opportunities and made money not with their hands but “on the market.” You owe them not racism but responsible governance. And as the defender of the U.S. Constitution, you owe African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, gays and lesbians and transgendered people the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
The part of you that wants to be liked and desperately needs to be adored will best be fulfilled by moving away from bitter critique grounded in thread-bare stereotypes and towards a genuine opening of your heart. Make sure those jobs you are going to create do not discriminate on any categorical basis. Give everyone meaningful work, an opportunity to succeed, a chance to form and maintain intact families. Reform immigration in a manner consistent with what made America – and New York City in particular -- great in the first place: an open door for those who wanted a better life regardless of color, gender, national origin or creed. Go after the pharmaceutical companies for their wanton pushing of opiates knowing damn well the toll that those drugs would take on people’s lives. Stop the avalanche of illegal drugs that fall all over rural America and corrupt those inner cities you want to clean up. The failure to do so will only perpetuate that which undermines this country’s success. I know you want to be a leader for ages. That would ensure your path.
About women in particular, with two previous marriages under your belt and a good marriage in place – not to mention being at an age when you should have more wisdom than needy acts of an adolescent – cut it out. Banish the thought of any more sexual assault, push it out of your mind, sublimate those urges into appropriate leadership. And that is all there is to it. You may find that if you walk the walk of such discipline, you can talk credibly about your love and respect of women, your wife and daughters, your family and your legacy as a man of integrity. It is never too late to change. But change you must.
This letter is not a policy treatise but there are a few thoughts I have about where personality crosses over into it. Another characteristic of our personality type is extravagance, and you have demonstrated that aspect over and over again in spending. Unfortunately for your personal development, the tax code rewarded your irresponsibility. The U.S. Treasury does not have that escape hatch. Go for that deficit spending to spur the economy, create jobs and fix our infrastructure, but do not indulge it as you did the Taj Mahal thinking you can enrich yourself by simply walking away from a debt. Here is how deficit spending pays for itself: Support education of our young and retraining the workforce for the 21st century information economy. Only cut corporate tax if those corporations are willing support the closing of transnational loop holes, come back to the U.S. and pay it. Impose rather than cut taxes on your own class. Infuse your politics with the honor of a president, set aside selfishness and act in the public’s interest. Since the 1980’s the tax pendulum has swung too far in favor of the rich; it is time for it to swing back. Be a real hero, Mr. Trump, swing it back.
A word about your cabinet. True to your personality type, all your life you have had the tendency to “use” people. Now you have an opportunity to open yourself up to trust. Believe in those people who trusted you with their vote. Serve them. And win over those who did not by deploying your authority and influence to improve their chances at success. That “user” part of your personality can come in handy, however, when it comes to some of the inner circle of Giuliani, Christie, and Gingrich. Sir, you don’t own them anything. They gilded their own lily with your candidacy, thank them, keep them on proverbial retainer for occasional pep talks, but do not put them into office. Cast them off and move towards people of real honesty and integrity. Bring in the once adversaries, recreate Abraham Lincoln’s approach of a “team of rivals.” Innovation comes out of difference of ideas and opinion, not obsequious agreement, and certainly not from has-beens of public life who are using you as a ladder to crawl back up.
Joyous, satisfied and generous are the traits of a healthy enthusiast. You have already begun to demonstrate those traits with your gracious mention of Secretary Clinton in your acceptance speech, the gratitude you expressed to President Obama when you met him at the White House, and in the appeal you made to all Americans to help you as you prepare to take the reins of leadership. You seem calmer now, more soft-spoken, as if the enormous responsibility of this office is sinking into your consciousness. I believe that the zeitgeist of a society courses through its leaders, for better or for worse. Surprise us in governance as you surprised us at election. Prove that you are a person of real substance, who can change and be trusted to act in the public’s interest. Mr. President-Elect, be a vessel of all that is good and energetic, innovative and fair, hopeful and generous in the American spirit.
Read more by
You may also be interested in...
Opinions on Inside Higher Ed
Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U
What Others Are Reading