By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, JD
Dear Mr. Trump:
Congratulations on your victory after a long election night and even longer campaign year. This race was hard fought and against a formidable opponent in Hillary Clinton. And your electoral win says much about your tenacity and skill in this political effort.
Given that I have spent the past 38 of my 48 years studying, commenting, writing, teaching, and engaging in government and politics, I must say that this was one of the most fascinating and difficult presidential election years I have ever witnessed. As such, I am taking the liberty to share some thoughts not only about the process but also about the prospects ahead.
Your victory was stunning but not surprising. From early on, you captured something that very few other candidates, least of all Hillary Clinton or the Democrats, tapped into — a segment of working class and rural populations who have felt disenfranchised and disappointed with the state of government and society in America. These mostly white male, 45+ year old voters have been the backbone of the country, but have increasingly felt disgruntled with politics as usual. You gave voice to their concerns and spoke their language. In addition, you increasing connected with the Christian and conservative communities, reflected in your choice of VP in Mike Pence. Both men and women of various backgrounds in these circles may or may not have wanted to vote for you, but certainly wanted to vote against Hillary Clinton since she did not represent their concerns or values. And the media played a significant role in (inadvertently) assisting you, especially since your strength is an understanding of how to use media.
While I applaud your ability to harness these groups into this election process, I am deeply concerned about the methodology that you took to do so. Brashness, rudeness, untruths, and full scale attacks have never reached the heights that they did in this election year and on either side. While many accepted your persona, your approach, and even your failings in light of the “bigger” Republican/conservative election goals, these traits and actions are not acceptable for the American presidency and even less so for American society.
How a particular candidate runs a campaign says much about how they will serve as president. However, the role of president is far more challenging and complex than that of candidate. Even though the groups that elected you are within your constituency as president, so too are the more than half of the voters who voted for Hillary Clinton and the many others who did not vote. As president, you no longer can give voice only to a particular group(s), but need to represent everyone — which includes many in the younger generations, women, minorities, and “elites” who did not support you. I appreciated that in your acceptance speech, you provided a tone and statement focused on unifying the country. But unification takes more than an election victory — just ask Barack Obama or George W. Bush. It takes reaching out and reaching across which is difficult to do when you will also be held accountable by those that voted for you.
From now until January 20, you and Mike Pence will receive a series of high level briefings in preparation for your transition to the presidency. In those sessions, you will learn not only about the inner workings of our country but also of the range of risks and threats facing it. Some of those threats are internal and some external. Those that elected you expect that you will address the range of domestic concerns that stirred them to engage in this election year. It will take tremendous energy and thought to how you will actually address jobs, healthcare, education, immigration, etc. And it will require determining the right people to guide you and work with you through the legislative process and the work of governance. Your business savvy will be helpful to you, but government is nothing like business and takes a different kind of leadership to do effectively.
Throughout history, while domestic concerns have been significant for presidents, the threats that have cost the most to them have generally been external. Barack Obama came into office with a domestic agenda and certainly faced challenges, but it was foreign policy that was his Achilles heel. He did not have the experience, depth of knowledge, or sufficient team to provide the necessary leadership on foreign policy and international relations. That is a challenge that you also face. Understanding business goes a long way to understanding people and management, but it does not necessarily give an understanding of global politics, diplomacy, or foreign affairs.
Your victory also confirms a few realities that both you and your opponent need to embrace — the system is not “rigged” but it is highly influenced by interests and media, the people can and will speak but only when and if empowered and inspired to do so, and those same people can and will speak again in 4 years. The media has a significant impact in elections, and demographics also play a role, but there is not a pundit or pollster that could have predicted how the people would make their voices heard in this election year. However, we can see a pattern of pendulum swings after each president. Bush was a departure from Clinton, Obama a departure from Bush, and you are a departure from Obama. As such, it is likely that who ever is president in 4-8 years from now may be a departure from you. To be effective in the current pendulum swing requires that you meet the high expectations of those who voted for you but also exceed the low expectations of those who didn’t. That is a tough job and a tough level of accountability.
Knowing that you are stepping into the most difficult position on Earth – the presidency of the United States of America, I will uphold you in prayer and continue to respect the office you will be holding, just as I have respected that office for your predecessors. And as a Christian, woman, wife, mother, minority, and professional, I will hold you to the same standards and hopes that I have held for every other president that I have seen in my lifetime. Your success in this role is our success as a nation.
Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, J.D.
Founder & President