By Steve Patterson
Dear Mr. President,
I am a man of straightforward candor, so let me go ahead and clear the deck. I don’t like you. I have voiced my dislike for your bravado and otherwise distinctive “style,” both in writing and to any and all who sought my opinion. I am but one of the millions of Americans who did not vote for you. Many of those voters were concerned, as was I, that you may be as undisciplined in your actions as president as you appeared to be in campaign mode. I cringed upon hearing many of the unseemly comments you made so gratuitously. I am accustomed to bare knuckle political campaigning, but many of your tactics were tedious, crass or classless- or all of the above.
Nevertheless, you are now my president, and therefore have my support, prayers and best wishes. Having cited my support as well as my huge doubts, concerns and frustrations, I will now graciously dispense my wholly unsolicited observations and advice.
A profound maxim in political circles can be found in any number of variations on Miles’ Law: “Where one stands on an issue often depends on where one sits.” So, let me tell you a little about my circumstances, and where I sit. I’m just a burned-out and disgraced old politician and observer who knows few, if any, will listen to what I have to say. With respect to my heritage, I am Southern through and through-a descendant of poor, but proud puritan dirt farmers who fought the crown in the old country and then the elements, Indians, Yankee invaders, bowl weevils, and the Great Depression. We are survivors who were born fighting and are, as Mississippi civil rights advocate Fannie Lou Hammer famously said, “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
I am a lifelong Democrat, and have seen high and low water marks aplenty for both parties. As in most things in life, political parties are always changing. They must evolve or they will not be relevant, or even long survive. The essential meaning and nuanced connotations of such labels as liberal, progressive, and conservative certainly change with time, as well. Yes, even the term conservative can at times be amorphous and a bit nebulous, as I feel it all comes down to this: Which ideals, beliefs, philosophies and public policy positions do we want to conserve, nurture and promote? Now there’s the rub!
I candidly admit my current state of disappointment with, and even palpable disgust for, many things afflicting both parties at the national level. But to be clear, I do firmly believe a healthy, two-party system best benefits our country. However, the nub of this nub is that both parties currently present themselves with such disgusting and deleterious pre-existing conditions they might never again gain credible coverage! Both parties, it seems to me, are in a terribly conflicted identity crisis. Therefore, it appears they must heal themselves.
Forgotten Americans: “Not this time”
Oh yes, about your campaign and election. In a word, it was a collision, a big one witnessed in disbelief by millions of clueless observers, most notably the media, both parties, all the elites, the power brokers, ultra-liberals, the Establishment, the governmental bureaucracy, political advisers, pundits, and pollsters. They all got it wrong. It was a resounding vote of no confidence. A rebuke. But, how did it all happen?
It started slowly, but throughout the country, over time, common people with pent-up frustrations saw their views, values and lifestyles impugned by all the above named parties, and many others. They did not like what they saw, what they felt and what they saw still to come. It wasn’t just one or two primary things; it was most everything, in every direction they turned. They wanted something different, even if there were uncertain consequences attached to such big changes.
Overwhelmingly, there was a sickening feeling they were losing their country, and had been, a little at a time, for many years. Now the pace had quickened to the point of . . . well, a breaking point. There was an urgent sense that this was the last chance to take the country back. A multitude of good, common people felt pulled to the call and drawn to the cause. These citizens had been silent through much of this. When they did voice their concerns and fears, it seemed no one in Washington was listening– or worse, just did not care.
They were expected, as usual, to accept, submit and comply. Instead, they replied, “Not this time.”
From across the country there came a swell of discontent and a rejection of anything resembling the status quo. Then, bitterly sewn seeds, dormant for many years, simultaneously festered, penetrated the ground and exploded! The “Forgotten Americans” arose to act.
And there you were- the best escape vehicle available-high mileage, but still a flashy and dependable ride, despite the many dents and various flaws that frequently surfaced. You were their chosen agent of change. (or did you choose them?) You weren’t quite Robert Preston in the “Music Man,” but you excelled as a pied piper, adept at playing the tune they craved. And they loved every note of it!
Even more – you were both catalyst and accelerator-part cause and part effect. Your symbiosis with the “Forgottens” spontaneously birthed a Movement. You had them when you promised to undo just about everything Obama had put in place. You tapped into their angers and fears and easily trumped the “hope and change” mantra of the Obama years. Then you put forth a bold platform. Well, perhaps not exactly a platform, but a resonant populist checklist that galvanized and drove the rebellion right into that big white house.
Faceless bureaucrats and secret guidance
Remember the bumper stickers that began appearing around the South and Mid-West a few years ago: “I LOVE MY COUNTRY BUT FEAR MY GOVERNMENT.” Though obviously a bit libertarian in view, they perhaps now have even greater resonance in that same territory– the states you won overwhelmingly. Government policies (the New Deal) once were viewed as saviors; now government polices are FEARED. Government is no longer seen as lending a helping hand, but rather as big brother – enforcer of its own agenda and impediment to the liberty promised by the founders and the constitution.
Your election joyfully represents the first step in a departure from these fears. With your election, elite bureaucrats, lobbyists, and policy makers were reminded where the power really lies – the sovereign voter, i.e., “we the people.” Finally the paradigm has flipped, and the people who make up our government have been put on notice that the masses of common people are still in charge.
Finally, Congress has irresponsibly delegated entirely too much of its power and duties to the now sprawling bureaucratic-agency-complex. Congress, itself, does not adequately control prospective legislation or give bureaucrats the necessary oversight to ensure sufficient development to prevent corrupt manipulation. More and more, our laws are fleshed out by non-elected, faceless, often politically-driven minions in dozens and dozens of agencies. Most egregiously, these non-elected and unaccountable bureaucrats ultimately promulgate mounds of regulations and related penalties that severely and unfairly circumscribe the rights of the people and their ability to live their lives and conduct business as freely and fairly as possible.
Most often, bureaucratic minions operate under the pressure and secretive guidance of advocacy groups, lobbyists and lawyers of powerful special interest groups. The devil is in the details, and he lives in thousands of tony homes of these bureaucrats and lobbyists in the suburbs of Washington, DC. It will require a Herculean effort to cleanse these pseudo-Aegean stables; I wish you luck here, where others have failed. Do it, and already you will be well on your way to draining the damn swamp!
The world is watching
Democracies are by design slow, messy and cumbersome. Yet, they are by far the best form of government. Ours allows millions of voices and opinions to filter through their elected officials to represent the good of the country. Conceptually, it is a beautiful thing. A great benefit of a strong, vibrant two-party political system is its role as part of the great design of checks and balances, and the one through which the people can best effect change, restore balance when necessary, and vigorously assert democracy’s authority, which is vested in the people. In our democratic republic, there can be blessed benefit when we follow the adage of “make haste slowly.” After all, don’t we all feel safer when our representatives are back home and, therefore, not in session?
Our country chose you. It desperately needs inspired leadership from you. The entire world needs a strong, resolute leader in the White House to offer guidance and leadership on a host of critical issues. By position, practice and necessity, you are the leader of the free world. The American people, and the world, wait and watch. A blatantly obvious understatement is that you face a flotilla of issues and decisions of vital importance, all of which are among the most consequential of your life and the lives of all Americans. That is the stark nature of the office, and true of everyone who has filled it. You will be challenged to the brink and beyond, just as were your 44 predecessors. I trust that God’s hand is in everything, and that includes this momentous quest you now are just beginning.
The American people love to see acts of humility, no matter how small. Simply admitting on occasion that something could have been done differently- a little better or more thoroughly- has an endearing effect that will please your supporters, silence your critics (at least for a moment) and, over time, win additional supporters for you. I well know you always want to win and to be seen as a winner; I get it. But, by owing up to occasional flaws, you can actually show you are a bigger, and big-hearted, winner! Additionally, it is a vital tonic for the soul.
Be the builder in chief
Even as president, you will learn there is still so much that is beyond your control. The good thing is you have more power at your disposal than any other person in the world. As a successful businessman you know the vital importance of proper capital allocation. You now have a quantity of one of man’s and nature’s scarcest resources: Political capital. History tells us you will probably never have a greater quantity than in your first few months. Do not squander it; use it judiciously. You will be battling the Democrats, many in your own party, all manner of special interests, the media, and bad actors in their worst roles scattered across the globe. I am glad you are a hard worker and need little sleep.
Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Sam Rayburn, of Texas, is one of my political heroes. Mr. Sam once said, “Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one.” Mr. President, stop kicking. Stop saying things that are manifestly untrue. Stop worrying about that which does not matter – i.e., whose crowds are biggest, who won the popular vote, etc.). You are a builder. Start building. Build a government free from special interest, free of childish bickering, and free of corruption. Build and strengthen our foreign alliances. Build rural America. Rebuild our failing infrastructure. Build respect for law enforcement and justice. It all begins with you! You are the builder in chief!
I have previously and quite clearly stated I do not like you. Notwithstanding this, I do hope during your tenure to discover many things that might change my feelings in that regard. Unlike many others, I will give you every chance to do so. Although we may differ, perhaps even broadly, regarding ideology and on philosophical and policy issues, I have every confidence we both have the best interests of this country in our hearts. Therefore, I dutifully respect and personally appreciate your undertaking this daunting challenge.
Write your own script
Let me close by simplifying things with an analogy. In those great old-timey Westerns it couldn’t get much simpler- there were good guys and there were bad guys. The very best of the good guys, the leader and hero, often times was a lawman, a sheriff, but sometimes a farmer or even a drifter put in a tight spot. Only he could save the day by rescuing the people and the town from a gang of vicious misfits. He was not only rugged, brave, and fearless, but also fair-minded and true- an honest, genuine straight shooter. On the run, he could scoop up a child while shielding a woman as he was shooting over his shoulder to get them all to safety.
He possessed a good heart and legendary wisdom, and could intuitively separate good from bad and act accordingly. But he could do much more than fight and shoot and dodge bullets. The townspeople were always quarreling, becoming divisive or growing fearful of the battles to come and starting to go soft on him. He would always find a way to calm them, then unite and motivate them around a plan that would defy all odds and win the day. People can spot this kind of good guy a mile away. They admire him for his acts, but also for his character, goodness and selflessness.
You presently have an almost blank slate to live this scenario as your own script: A businessman suddenly thrust into the president’s shoes, immediately facing world-class villains and a host of seemingly intractable problems surrounding you on all sides. All you have to do is become that great man- just step up, you do have it in you. Be the conciliator, the tough, but kind and fair man who men, women and children respect and admire for your sacrifice, your willingness to take a punch or an insult and still keep your head, and for putting personal pride and proclivities aside and keeping your eyes peeled to make sure you are always doing what is required to achieve the greater good for the people.
The magnitude and daunting responsibility of the office can be cathartic: Every person who has gained this esteemed position, regardless of his background and abilities, then had to experience exceptional personal growth to bring himself up to the challenge. In this role, one can become an exceptionally bigger and better person than anyone could have ever imagined. Our country is depending upon you, as is much of the world. Do all this, and at the end of your last day in office, you can ride off as the sun goes down, assured your legacy will be lustrous and lasting. And, with God’s grace, perhaps one day the initials D.J.T. will roll off the tongues of schoolchildren as easily as some of your predecessors’ initials do today.
Mr. President, may God bless you and your family, and may God bless our wonderful country that we all wish to make even greater.
Steven A. Patterson