Dear Mr. President:
Greetings! Mitch Ditkoff here, red-blooded American and registered voter. Although you and I have never met and are, seemingly, from "different sides of the aisle," I think you'll find it quite fascinating how much the two of us actually have in common -- a phenomenon that has inspired me to write this letter to you. That, and the fact, that I also want America to be great again.
To begin with, both you and I were born in Queens -- you at Jamaica Hospital and me at Kew Gardens General, just a few miles away. Both of us are baby boomers and neither of us served in the military. Being New Yorkers, you and I both tell it like it is and don't take shit from anyone. Your father and mine were both powerful, self-made men who were totally focused on their work. And, both of us, that's you and I, Donald, got into politics late in life -- you, as President, and me as the speechwriter for a President -- the Borough President of Queens. On the home front, both of us are fathers and are married to beautiful women who were not born America -- Melanie, in Slovenia, and Evelyne, in France. And, as if the geographical proximity of our births wasn't enough, both of us attended college in the same state, Pennsylvania, a key swing state that helped you get elected. And finally, both of us are billionaires, except for me. Of course, we have our differences. You have more hair than I do and the only skyscraper I ever built was made of blocks, but other than that and some disagreements over policy and governing style, I think it's fair to say that you and I have a lot in common. Oh, I almost forgot -- both of us are into social media, big time.
While I'm not nearly as suspicious of the mainstream media as you are, I do have my moments -- and it was precisely one of those moments that inspired me, just a few days ago, to bypass the press and go straight to the people. So I conducted a little social media experiment. I asked my 5,000 Facebook friends to tell me, in a single sentence, one request they wanted to share with you -- something I might include in this letter. So here goes -- a distillation of what my fellow, Americans have to say to their President. Please note that I have chosen not to include the epithets of approximately 50% of my Facebook friends who, in their anger, depression, sadness, rage, hopelessness, anxiety, shock, and fear could not muster up any other input than snarkiness and name calling. I totally get how they feel, but in the spirit of trying to make America great again, I don't think snarkiness and name calling are all that useful these days -- especially since, in a high functioning democracy, the goal is always to find a way to honor our differences and get to resolution without ad hominem arguments and vilifying each other. Make sense? Here we go:
1. BE INCLUSIVE: If nothing else, remember the three most famous words from our Constitution: "We The People." Donald, you are the President of everyone in America, not just the 63 million people who voted for you. Please do your best to honor the input from everyone. Inclusion matters. Diversity, too. We are all in this together.
2. DIFFUSE FEAR: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, once said something so memorable that people are still quoting him decades later: "There is nothing to fear, but fear itself." Mr. President, we are asking you to do everything in your power to diffuse fear, not stoke it. People are afraid. Very afraid. And that includes our children. This fear, which is reaching epidemic proportions, is far beyond job loss, rising mortgage rates, and immigrants crossing our borders. The fear people are feeling is about life itself and the possible large-scale extinction of it via nuclear war. Scary stuff. Very scary stuff. You are a powerful man. You are also the leader of the free world. We need your help. We need you to be moved by something greater than fear. What can you do to diffuse the fear that so many of us are feeling? Walls may keep people from entering our country, but walls do not keep fear from entering our country.
3. RESPECT AMERICA'S HERITAGE: Your grandfather, Wilhelm Friedrich Trumf, emigrated to America from Germany in 1885. My grandfather, Abraham Ditkoff, emigrated from Russia in 1913. As you know, one of the things that has already made America great is the non-alternative fact that it is a "melting pot" -- a place where people from all nations can live together in peace. Mr. President, we are all immigrants. Everyone here came from somewhere else, except those whose land we stole.
4. HONOR THE WOMEN: Your biggest single constituency in America is women. They are the majority in this country -- not men. Millions of women, your potential biggest voting block in 2020, are deeply concerned about their rights -- their human rights. The four million who marched on the day after your inauguration are just the tip of the melting iceberg. They will not stop marching and their numbers will grow if they continue to feel disempowered and ignored by the patriarchy. Please develop a deeper, more respectful, ongoing dialogue with them. By the way, your mother and my mother were both women. As I understand it, your mother, Mary Anne Trump née Macleod, less than 90 years ago, arrived in New York from the desolate Scottish Isle of Lewis, with just $50 to her name, to pursue work as a domestic. She certainly came a long way, didn't she?
5. KNOW THAT TIME IS PASSING: The life span of a white American man is 76.7 years. Statistically speaking, that gives you another six years to live. Barron will be 16 then. My son, Jesse, will be 28. My daughter, Emilia, will be 25. How can you make the most possible impact for them during the time you have left -- not the kind of impact that the next administration will inevitably reverse, but the kind that will endure? True prosperity is more than the GNP. True prosperity is about courage, hope, kindness, love, peace, respect, self-expression, freedom, and gratitude. That's what makes us truly rich. Mr. President. What are you grateful for today? And how can you leave behind a legacy that all people will treasure?
6. LISTEN MORE: Many Americans, these days, are not feeling heard. They feel shut down, diminished, and marginalized. This is not a formula for governance, especially when you consider the fact that the word "democracy" (originating from the Greek word 'Demokratia') literally means "the rule of the commoners." From where I'm sitting, it sure seems like we are drifting further and further away from our roots. More listening will help. Deep listening. This is not just your responsibility. It is the responsibility of all 324 million of us. And that includes me, too, and my Progressive friends -- a responsibility that will require all of us to slow down, pause, and reflect on what is most essential about life. As one pundit put it, "There's a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak."
7. PAY MORE ATTENTION TO WATER THAN OIL: The earth is 75% water. And so are our bodies. But water is becoming increasingly endangered. Please respect the rights of the water protectors and the agreements we have with the people who were here long before any of our ancestors immigrated to this land.
8. PROTECT THE ELDERS: If your father was still alive, I'm sure you would do everything in your power to honor and protect him, especially as his health declined. That's a painful time in any man's life -- the time where he's watching his own father, his hero and mentor, slowly slip away. Your father and mine are gone, but many fathers are still alive. They need to know their health and welfare will be protected. They need to know that their President is on their side. Please do what you can to save Medicare and Social Security. And honor your promises to our Vets who gave the best years of their lives to help ensure our freedom of expression -- and that includes Twitter, Facebook, Breitbart, and the Huffington Post.
9. BE COMPASSIONATE: I know you are a passionate man. Throughout the seven decades of your life, you have thrown your whole self, big time, into your work. You've built extraordinary structures and made more money than half the world combined. But passion is only one side of the coin. The other side is compassion -- the true concern for the suffering and misfortunes of others. Compassion is not a sign of weakness. Neither is it a loss of power or a waste of time. On the contrary, compassion (and it's close cousins empathy and kindness) is the penthouse of human existence -- one of the highest floors any of us could ever hope to live on. I'll make the same promise now that I am asking you to make -- to practice being more compassionate with everyone I meet, even if their views are very different than mine.
10. THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN: Barron, your ten year old son, God bless him, enjoys the many fruits of your labor. He goes to a fine school, lives in an exquisite home, and wants for nothing. But there are 2.5 million children in America who are homeless. That's one out of 30. No one is telling them bedtime stories at night. The next time you hug your son, please take a moment to think about the countless other boys and girls who have no one to hug them.
11. PAY MORE ATTENTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE: We all know the political climate in Washington, DC is awful these days. But the actual climate in the world is even worse. And we all know you think climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Of course, just like the rest of us, you are entitled to your opinion. But no matter what you think the origins of climate change are or aren't, the fact remains that the earth is continuing to warm whether you believe it or not. Just like the stock market is going up, so is the heat. Just in case thousands of scientists around the world are right, please make your best effort to meaningfully address the climate change issue. We know you want America to win, but if our trading partners are (literally) underwater, not to mention Miami, New York City, and LA, it will be drowning, not winning, that will dominate the news -- not bringing back jobs and all of the other campaign promises you hope to fulfill.
12. BUILD SOMETHING GREAT: All my Facebook friends know you have built some amazing things -- massive structures of steel and glass. But now we're asking you to build something even greater -- a country that fulfills the dream of its founding fathers -- a government of the people, by the people, and for the people -- one that shall not perish from the Earth. In the words of Lao Tzu, the most revered sage of our third largest trading partner, China, "He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still." That's something I'm going to think about today, as I continue to make note of the fact that I still have a lot to learn. And I invite you to do the same, Mr. President. Maybe, when the two of us meet at the White House (or Trump Tower, if you prefer), we can explore, in the spirit of true dialogue, some of these vital topics. I'd ask my people to get together with your people to work out the details, but I don't have any people. For now... it's just me.
Mitch Ditkoff is the President of Idea Champions, an innovation and consulting company headquartered in Woodstock, NY. He is the author of two award-winning books, Storytelling at Work and Awake at the Wheel. His forthcoming book, Storytelling for the Revolution, will be published later this year.
Photograph: Trent Yarnell