Dear Mr. Trump,
Your campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again.” Honestly, I hadn’t realized that we had stopped being great. We’ve pretty much been the leader of the free world for quite some time, and we’ve been an inspiration to others even longer. People still look to America, even look UP to America as being the benchmark in several areas for measuring how every other country in the world is doing. We may no longer corner the market on things like democracy, freedom, equality, and opportunity, but I see that as a good thing. It means that the ideals that America has long been advocating and attempting to put into practice are spreading. To put it in terms you may be more familiar with, we’ve gained market share in the global free market of ideas.
You’re coming into office at a good time. You’ll be facing some serious challenges, for sure, but things could be worse. The preceding administration has helped pull us through some rough spots. We’ve avoided another Great Depression due to irresponsible bank practices and careless financial speculation. The economy is growing again. Unemployment is down. The federal deficit has decreased. And although wages remain low, corporate profits are high. I’m sure you’re well aware of that.
So, with all due respect, I think your implication that America somehow stopped being great is mistaken. We have been, and still are, pretty great. Greatness, however, isn’t something we can achieve once and expect to hold onto forever. Greatness is a process. It’s like peddling a bike up an endless hill. If you don’t keep pumping, you not only don’t get any higher, you lose ground. That hasn’t happened yet. We may have slowed, but we’re still going. But just because we’re still great, it doesn’t mean we can’t become greater. With responsible and wise governance, I think we can. I’m assuming that’s your goal as well, so I’ve listed a few areas in which I think we could use some improvement. I hope you can find ways to address these over the next four years.
America has long been known as the land of opportunity. That’s part of the American dream. Anyone can ‘make it’ here. With hard work and determination, the children of a poor carpenter can grow up to be millionaires. A black kid with a single mom can become president. Sadly, we’re no longer the leaders in making this dream a reality. In the U.S., the chance of a kid from a poorly educated and impoverished family remaining poorly educated and impoverished in adulthood is greater here than in fifteen other countries (per the 2016 Stanford study below). This includes some nations that are much like us in terms of history and culture, such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. There are several reasons for this, but key areas you may want to look at improving should, I think, include day care, public education, college tuition, wages, the balance of time between work and family, and even things like public transportation (to allow people greater access to employment outside their neighborhoods). Anything you can do to improve the opportunities kids have to become productive members of society regardless of their circumstances would be beneficial. The more successful people we have, the more successful our country can be.
The people of a nation are its greatest asset. They investigate, discover, invent, innovate, and improve our lives through personal achievements gained by their study and hard work. In our modern, high-tech and rapidly changing world, education is more important than ever to succeed, both as individuals and as a nation. A country filled with well-educated people can accomplish great things. A country without them cannot.
The U.S. pioneered public education and benefitted greatly from it. Unfortunately, the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores show that American students currently rank 30th in math, 16th in reading, and 24th in science. Obviously, we have work to do here. Things to consider include lowering class sizes, paying teachers well enough to attract especially talented and well-trained people to the profession, providing continual teacher training, and looking at educational systems that work elsewhere and adapting their best ideas to ours. When multinational high-tech companies are looking for great places to set up operations, the availability of a well-educated workforce is near the top of their requirements lists. Our children are our future. Please do what you can to help make America’s educational system the greatest in the world.
Another thing that can help the U.S. be competitive in the global marketplace is a modern and well-maintained infrastructure. This means more than just roads, railways, and bridges. It also includes seaports and airports, water and sewage systems, communications, electrical generation and distribution…things we often take for granted until they stop working. The American Society of Civil Engineers currently gives the U.S. infrastructure a grade of D+ due to overdue repairs and lack of modernization.
Broadband communication (internet) is often overlooked when talking about infrastructure, but it is critical today. The internet is increasingly replacing mail, telephones, newspapers, and television. It has become a tool that facilitates education and commerce. It is how people communicate with, and learn about, the world. But our internet speeds are slower than in some other parts of the world, and our costs for it are higher. The reason for this, it seems, is that private, for-profit internet service providers have a virtual monopoly in many parts of the US.
During your campaign, you promised you’d improve our national infrastructure, so I am looking forward to seeing you accomplish some overdue repairs and upgrades. Perhaps you could also do something to increase broadband competition, ensure that internet access remains open to all without undue impediments, and maybe even do something to encourage the development of public municipal systems.
Freedom of the Press:
Our founding fathers knew well the importance of a free press for ensuring democracy. Currently, Reporters Without Borders ranks the U.S. 41st in press freedom due to a lack of protection for whistle blowers. We can do better. Help make America honor this fundamental principle by ensuring as much unfettered press access as possible during your administration and by protecting journalists who report what they observe.
Wealth and Income:
There has been a lot of talk about economic disparity during the campaign, and I think we all know by now how lopsided wealth and income are. When the richest 10% of the population controls 76% of the wealth, when the bottom half controls just 1%, and when managers and owners of a business are being paid tens or hundreds times more than its workers, people could understandably see the situation as inherently unfair. This is especially true since average wages have remained stagnant. But paying workers less so that managers and investors can make more is not just a hardship on the workers; it is also detrimental to the national economy. Consumer spending remains its primary driver. A more just and equitable division of income could help families pull up the economy. Unlike the trickle-down economic theories of the past, trickle-up economics can actually work just as it did for the thirty years after WWII. As president, you could pursue several initiatives to help make this happen. If you are unsure what those are, I have listed some books below that may help you. Please look at them. This is your job, now, and it’s an important one.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Pikety
The New Grand Strategy: Restoring America’s Prosperity, Security, and Sustainability in the 21st Century by Mark Mykleby, Patrick Doherty, Joel Makower
The End of Progress: How Modern Economics Has Failed Us by Graeme Maxton
Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business by Rana Foroohar
Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich
Healthcare has also received a lot of attention recently. According to a Time article from 2014, the U.S. health system ranked last among eleven developed nations. We also pay more for it. A 2015 report from The Commonwealth Fund says that “despite its heavy investment in health care, the U.S. sees poorer results on several key health outcome measures such as life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic conditions. Mortality rates from cancer are low and have fallen more quickly in the U.S. than in other countries, but the reverse is true for mortality from ischemic heart disease.” It seems clear that we have some catching up to do in order to ensure healthcare is effective, affordable, and available to all Americans. I look forward to hearing your proposals to make America greater in this regard.
In addition to these national issues, you will also be faced with the same challenges confronting other nations. This includes countering religious and ideological extremism. The world is rapidly changing, and people can feel threatened by this and react violently. Some are angry because they feel they are being left behind. Others want to be left behind and feel they’re being dragged forward. Islamists and other fundamentalist religious groups probably fall into this latter category. Sadly, there may be little you or anyone else can do to warm the hearts and open the minds of people prone to reactionary acts of violence, but if we stay true to our founding principles and not react in kind, perhaps we can lead by example.
You will also want to address climate change. Regardless of what vested economic and political interests may be telling you, the scientific data is clear. The CO2 we release by burning fossil fuels is changing the composition of the atmosphere, which in turn is affecting the global climate. As president, you will be in a position to pursue international agreements leading to reductions in CO2 emissions. I anticipate that such efforts will be eagerly supported by the scientific community and largely accepted internationally. Your biggest detractors will be industry lobbyists and members of your own party. I wish you luck.
The last couple of things I want to mention probably won’t reach crisis points during your term, but your responsibilities as president require that you look beyond your stay in the White House. The first issue is the depletion of farming soil, fresh water, oil, and other natural resources. We are using these faster than they can be replaced through natural processes. In the short term, our best option is probably to use less and reuse more. In the long run, technological advances may allow us mitigate some of these problems. I encourage you to do whatever you can to promote, through policy and funding for R&D, efforts to improve recycling and speed the development of sustainable farming and renewable energy.
The last issue I want to bring up pertains to the increasing use of automation in all sectors of the economy. From farming to finance, artificial intelligence and robotic machinery are doing jobs that once required human labor. Due to cost and efficiency advantages, the use of automation will expand. I see this as a good thing, but it can be disruptive and require some fundamental changes in how people obtain income. Remember that the economy is fueled by consumer spending, so as automation makes many kinds of jobs obsolete, either new, good-paying jobs will need to be created or we will need to decouple income from labor to ensure that consumer spending, and hence the overall economy, do not grind to a halt.
Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance by Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna
The Industries of the Future by Alec J. Ross
Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
by Martin Ford
I must admit that I did not vote for you, and I your narrow victory in the last election surprised me. It has prompted me to rethink some of my former opinions about Americans and about humanity in general. Only a fool will hold to his beliefs in light of conflicting data, and I try not to be too much of a fool. I trust you feel the same, which is why I am writing to you today in this open letter. I hope you will consider what I’ve said here, and I wish you success in making America greater in the upcoming years.
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