Politics Blog

Jay’s blog focuses on family, current events, politics, social justice, and tolerance … and sometimes he tries to be funny, even when he shouldn’t.

Reading, Writing & Politics: Dear Mr. President

President Trump

Let me get this out of the way: I’m a hypocrite. We all are, but I’m bigger than most. You’ll soon see why.

I started writing a blog piece entitled “Dear Mr. President” and it took President Trump to task for not reading books. The piece was kind of caustic—the usual liberal and intellectual sneering. The writing itself wasn’t very good, but that’s actually beside the point. The real point is that I am in fact a condescending liberal and think President Trump is the least intellectually curious president of modern times. And because of this, I shouldn’t have written this letter. 

Let me share with you just the first two paragraphs and then explain why it was wrong for me to write it. I could write a whole separate piece about why the writing’s not my best and the jokes a bit trite, but I will let the writing and jokes flop for themselves. 

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I know you’re not an avid reader of books, which isn’t to say you’re not very smart. I’ve heard you can be a little thin-skinned, so I hope you don’t take this as criticism, or worse, FAKE NEWS! It’s just a fact—one that has been well-documented by REAL NEWS, and by REAL NEWS, I mean Fox News. (Note: I’m using a lot of CAPS, because as opposed to books, you seem to really like CAPS). 

Not long ago, you were asked by a Fox News reporter—you know, the pretty one with the blonde hair— what the last book you read was. You didn’t have an answer, because I don’t think you’ve actually read a book in a very long time. You told another Fox News reporter—this time a bowtie-wearing bushy-haired guy who you can’t possibly like—that you are too busy to read books. Clearly, you have time for some things—tweeting in all CAPS, railing against the press, and treating women like Trump-branded online merchandise (i.e. crap). But for books … you just don’t have the time. 

I then went on to suggest a few science fiction and fantasy books the President might like. I suggested reading George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, and others. I compared the Trumps to the Lannisters—with the president obviously being Tywin Lannister and Ivanka being Cersei. I won’t say who was Joffrey, but you can probably guess. I told the President he could just skim the plot synopses on Wikipedia or better yet just watch the HBO show because it’s amazing. I also suggested reading Cat’s Cradle because of its outlandish circus of characters and unpredictable plotlines—which seemed very Trumpian to me. I also had a great Vonnegut quote I wanted to share with the President. I essentially forced it into the letter, just like I’m forcing it into this piece now: “There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.” 

You can fill in your own set of jokes. 

But I stopped writing this letter, because I realized that I was guilty of doing things I have frequently criticized. In the service of sarcasm, I “unwittingly” started to write in a way that served a purpose I wasn’t overly proud of—painting President Trump as a lying buffoon. I do believe President Trump is often dishonest, lacks integrity, and is woefully uninformed about basic political concepts. But this is different than harshly portraying a man (one that many Americans support) as a dishonest fool. Although my letter—not to mention my life in general—is filled with all sorts of hypocrisies, in the interests of brevity, I’m going to limit it to three:

1. Cherry-Picking Facts to Bolster an Argument
I strongly believe that one of the single most toxic elements in our current political discourse is that partisans handpick facts to marshal arguments, rather than marshalling arguments to support facts. I looked up interviews Trump did which painted a clear picture that he wasn’t much of a reader. I did not, however, spend a lot of time trying to figure out if he had other intellectual pursuits. Was he an avid reader of magazines? Did he watch PBS or History Channel specials? Did he have other intellectual hobbies or curiosities? I was the intellectually lazy one and I was trying to marshal facts to support my own predetermined conclusion. This was precisely what I was accusing him and others like him of doing, and for that reason, I was wrong.   

2. Personal Invective over Policy
I don’t like what Trump stands for politically and I don’t like his personality. Much of his behavior seems immoral to me. I think saying this is fair game. But, my letter was about to childishly veer into calling him ugly names. This is one of the things I don’t respect about Trump. Entertaining as they may be, I don’t like the all-capped adjective-driven invectives designed to sum a person up in two words: CROOKED HILLARY, LITTLE MARCO and SLOPPY STEVE. Trump’s policies are anti-immigration, anti-minority, and anti-liberty. But calling him KLANSMAN TRUMP harms our ability to engage in meaningful discussions about race, immigration, and religion. I see the personal animus and name-calling in President Trump’s tweets, but I also see them on the OP-ED pages of the New York Times (albeit less). I would rather we spend less time calling Trump names and more time calling out his blatant misstatement of facts. For example, instead of calling him a racist pig, let’s debunk his repeated claim that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes. Every reliable study on the matter has shown that immigrants are in fact less likely to commit crimes than native citizens.

3. Levity in Lieu of Respect
My letter was written as a piece of entertainment and that’s fine. I have no problem with Saturday Night Live lampooning the President. It’s more an issue of the New York Times doing it or Joe Biden grandstanding and pretending he and Trump are going to go outside and have a fight. Our entire politics-as-competitive-sport and politics-as-reality-TV culture is a race to the bottom—one that slowly chips away at institutions and norms that should remain above the fray. Watching former FBI Director James Comey ridicule President Trump’s personal appearance and sexual proclivities is disheartening. I would have thought a career FBI leader who served three different presidents—as well as one who is capable of using the word “Lordy”— would be above this. But he’s just a symptom of our times. I would hope we can have a new generation of leaders engaged in a political dialogue that strives for higher ground.  

I’m not suggesting it was a big deal or major sin that I wrote a piece that was hypocritical. I’m not Sir Thomas More. No one even reads my blog. The point of all this is that I was a hypocrite, and as the writer of the piece (and probably its only reader), I felt it necessary to have this conversation with myself. Instead of making fun of Trump, I should have written a piece about how our primary system and gerrymandering are destroying our political system. Instead, I wrote a cheeky and condescending letter to the president. 

I’ve sort of learned my lesson. So, here’s the letter I would write now. There’s still a touch of condescension and a hint of hypocrisy … but I’m a work in progress

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump:

I am opposed to your presidency. You have said and done things to women, minorities, immigrants, and other groups that are contrary to my beliefs. I was going to write you a letter that was sarcastic and portrayed you in a bad light. Sorry about that.

I know you’re not much of a reader, but you say the Bible is your favorite book. I’m sure there are a lot of passages you can pick from to support your political positions. But maybe you should take a look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I hope you find some guiding principles in Jesus’ teachings in these passages. I would also recommend you read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. It’s essential reading for any U.S. President trying to understand how others feel. 

Again, I’m really sorry about that letter I was going to write. You don’t necessarily have to read books to be President. But I do think you should work harder on being a nicer human being. I’ll try harder too.   

Best regards,

Jay Schiffman

Jay Schiffman3 Comments