The Open Letter to Donald Trump has been signed by almost 4,000 verified students, alumni, faculty, and family members of the Wharton community—including verified members of every Wharton class from 1964 to 2021. Many readers have asked us to comment on why our signatories decided to add their names to the open letter. In response, we decided to analyze the comments of Mr. Trump alongside those of our signatories. Here’s what we found.
(Author’s note: Many thanks to the co-authors of the Open Letter to Donald Trump: Christine Goldrick, Wilson Tong, and Amira Valliani.)
While Donald Trump has repeatedly brandished his Wharton undergraduate degree as proof of his intelligence, the Wharton community has never celebrated intelligence for its own sake. We readily recognize that intelligence can never be an end in itself—intelligence only has meaningful social value if it is applied toward a meaningful social end. To that end, we seek to harness the power of data and evidence to improve our businesses and our communities.
In contrast, Mr. Trump has long remained fixated on intelligence as an intrinsic measure. In a fit of braggadocio, he once tweeted, “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest—and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault.” Mr. Trump’s theatrics obscure the fact that any ostensible indicator of intelligence—educational credentials or otherwise—is a red herring. What is the relevance of Mr. Trump’s intelligence if 76% of his fact-checked statements are patently false?
“It is the duty of anyone hoping to live in a fact-based world—regardless of political affiliation—to oppose Trump’s candidacy.” — Madhan Gounder, W’03 alumnus
“Trumpism is a celebration of ignorance,” wrote Madhan Gounder, one of the signatories of the open letter and a 2003 alumnus of the Wharton undergraduate program (“W’03”). “It is the duty of anyone hoping to live in a fact-based world—regardless of political affiliation—to oppose Trump’s candidacy.” A 1991 alumnus of the college (“C’91”) agreed that Mr. Trump was “illogical, ignorant, uninformed, temperamentally unfit for political office,” and “a danger to the country and the world.”
Perhaps in response to being publicly repudiated by almost 4,000 members of the Wharton community, Mr. Trump tried a new approach at the Republican National Convention (RNC). After months of trumpeting his undergraduate Wharton credentials, the campaign attempted to downplay the value of an MBA education. “We didn’t learn from MBAs,” his son, Donald Trump, Jr., scoffed. “We learned from people who had doctorates in common sense.”
Unfortunately, both Mr. Trumps miss the point. The Wharton community wholeheartedly agrees that having an educational degree is no substitute for experience or common sense—or a desire to create meaningful change.
At Wharton, students are constantly reminded that true leaders recognize their own limitations. In fact, our MBA admissions interview includes a team-based exercise that requires competing applicants to work together to solve a given problem. Once we arrive on campus, we are exhorted to explore “stretch experiences,” seek out 360-degree feedback, and learn from the diverse leadership perspectives of our peers.
But how does Mr. Trump define leadership? According to a 1999 interview with Larry King, he had absolutely no idea. “How do you define leadership?” he mused. “I mean, leadership is a very strange word because, you know, some people have it, some people don’t and nobody knows why.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Trump has recently stumbled upon a strange and dangerous new definition of leadership. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he announced in his RNC acceptance speech. “Our plan will put America First,” he said, echoing the sentiments of a nativist, white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and isolationist organization from the World War II era.
“This is not the kind of leadership that we learned at Wharton.” — WG’88 alumnus
Mr. Trump’s “I-alone” and “America-alone” brand of leadership finds little support within the Wharton community. Signatories of the open letter called him “a weak leader,” citing his “utter lack of any apparent moral and ethical center,” the “height of his hubris,” his lack of “humility and compassion,” his fondness for “strongmanship [sic] and bigotry,” and his policy of “dividing the country instead of bringing people together.” “This is not the kind of leadership that we learned at Wharton,” wrote a 1988 alumnus of the Wharton MBA program (WG’88), who pronounced Mr. Trump not only “unqualified to represent the Wharton alumni body” but also “unqualified to be President of the United States.”
The Wharton community is proud to represent a remarkably diverse group of people. We proactively invest in student initiatives like the Return on Equality coalition that seek to create business leaders and citizens who can help make America (and the world) a more inclusive place. We welcome opportunities like the #HumansofWharton storytelling platform to empathize with the diverse lived experiences of our peers.
Mr. Trump has long claimed that he wants to Make America Great Again. But who does America represent, in the eyes of Mr. Trump?
Not Latinx immigrants, whom he seeks to expel on a scale greater than any other forced migration in global history, and whom he has vilified as rapists—despite being a defendant himself to multiple charges of rape. Not African Americans, against whom he has incited violence and discriminated so blatantly that the U.S. Department of Justice sued him—not once, but twice—for housing discrimination. Not Muslims, whom he wants to register in a national database and ban from our country (while flatly denying the existence of an extensive vetting mechanism for refugees). Not American veterans, like Humayun Khan, a fallen Muslim American soldier whose mother he cruelly attacked for being too grief-stricken to speak at the DNC, or U.S. Senator John McCain, whom he has callously ridiculed for being captured while serving our country in war. Not Jews, whom he has demeaned in a dog-whistling, anti-Semitic (and plagiarized) attempt to discredit Hillary Clinton. Not Asian Americans, whom he has lazily stereotyped as perpetual foreigners, no matter how many generations they may have lived here. Not indigenous Americans, like the Mashantucket Pequot Nation, whom he has baselessly accused not only of organized crime but also of not “look[ing] Indian” enough to operate gaming establishments. Not Americans living with disabilities, like New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, whom he has openly mocked in retaliation for questioning the factual basis of Mr. Trump’s Islamophobic claims. Not lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer Americans, whom he believes do not deserve the fundamental and inalienable human right to marry. Not women, against whom he has unleashed a torrent of misogynistic statements for breastfeeding, menstruating, asserting their sexual autonomy, exercising their reproductive rights, or failing to meet his arbitrary standards of female beauty—in other words, for daring to exist as whole human beings beyond his personal, perverse consumption. The list goes on.
In response to this litany of hate, the Wharton community has come together to denounce Mr. Trump.
“My father fought for his country and its ideals both in war and with peacetime activism. He would be appalled.” — son of W’42 alumnus and war veteran
For many signatories, joining the letter was an act of love and solidarity. An inner-city schoolteacher and incoming WG’18 student described the “psychological damage” that Trump had inflicted on her Latinx students as “heartbreaking and unacceptable.” A rabbi, nonprofit administrator, and WG’84 alumnus explained that “inclusion is good for business, and thus the overall society,” lamenting that “Mr. Trump must have missed that essential lesson.” Several supporters signed the open letter in honor of their fathers, who were veterans and Wharton alumni. They were adamant that “Trump would never have represented his views,” with one categorically stating, “My father fought for his country and its ideals both in war and with peacetime activism. He would be appalled.”
“A true member of the Wharton community and a true leader stands up against hate, racism, prejudice, and xenophobia.” — Melody Chen, WG’17 student
For those of us who belong to communities that Mr. Trump has repeatedly attacked, the personal was inseparable from the political. “I am an American citizen, a minority, a child of immigrants, a Christian, and a woman,” wrote Melody Chen, a WG’17 student. “A true member of the Wharton community and a true leader stands up against hate, racism, prejudice, and xenophobia.” Another WG’17 student, a black international woman from Zimbabwe, agreed: “Trump’s hateful comments don’t represent me or the student body that I love.”
“I am a board member of College Republicans at Penn. I am horrified by Donald Trump’s statements and actions over this past year.” — W’19 student
It was unsurprising that the open letter resonated across the political spectrum, extending “beyond party politics” as one WG’05 alumnus observed, into the realm of “basic human decency.” Republican signatories included a WG’62 alumnus and self-described “center-right Republican,” as well as a W’19 student and College Republicans board member who declared that he was “horrified” by Mr. Trump’s campaign. “Not only does he fail to represent Wharton,” the W’19 student wrote, Mr. Trump “fails to stand for both conservative and, more importantly, American values.”
The Wharton community is proud of our history of protecting freedom and democracy from encroaching threats of fascism and totalitarianism. Today, the Wharton curriculum continues to teach respect for democratic governance, civic duty, and stewardship through social impact.
While some readers may bristle at election-cycle invocations of Godwin’s law, Mr. Trump’s campaign has disturbingly embraced many textbook attributes of fascism and totalitarianism, including, but not limited to, an anaphylactic aversion to the truth, open support for torture and violence, a hypermasculinist disdain for losing, fanatical fearmongering, mandatory registration of a scapegoated minority group, and white supremacist propaganda couched in nationalist rhetoric.
Borrowing from a well-known anti-Nazi poem (“First they came…”), Ohio governor John Kasich has conceded that Republican voters “might not care” if Mr. Trump threatens Muslims, Hispanic immigrants, black protesters, or journalists. “But think about this,” he warned. “If he keeps going, and he actually becomes president, he might just get around to you. And you better hope there’s someone left to help you.”
“I long for a return to the glory days when our worst alumni were just your garden-variety white collar criminals and inside traders—not a maybe-fascist demagogue who pretends to sell steaks.” — W’13 alumnus
Many Wharton signatories shared Mr. Kasich’s concerns. One C’85 alumnus called Mr. Trump “an aspiring fascist despot,” while William Klun, a WG’88 alumnus, declared him to be a “fascist who has no place in public office.” Finding solace in satire, a W’13 alumnus confessed that he “long[ed] for a return to the glory days when our worst alumni were just your garden-variety white collar criminals and inside traders—not a maybe-fascist demagogue who pretends to sell steaks.” According to a C’91 alumnus, Mr. Trump is “dangerously narcissistic” and “a serial liar.” Deeply troubled, she wrote, “He represents the worst about us; he is what happens when the untrammeled id is given a megaphone. He sullies democracy with his demagoguery.”
“Donald Trump is the antithesis of everything I believe Wharton stands for.” — W’09 alumnus
Several signatories, including a prominent faculty member, denounced Mr. Trump as the “antithesis” of everything Wharton stands for. Some of us might venture one step further—
Donald Trump is the antithesis of everything America stands for.
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Disclaimer: This op ed reflects the personal views of its author and quoted signatories only and is not affiliated with the Wharton School. The Wharton School takes no political position and does not comment on its students, alumni, or faculty.