You may never read this. I’d be willing to bet that you’ll never see any of this letter, isolated as you are in the gilded cage that is the Oval Office. But perhaps, just perhaps, you might, and on the off-chance you do I cannot be more blunt that this:
The time has come for you to lead your nation.
As a candidate, you promised Americans hope and change. Now, almost eight years later, there is little hope, and the change has been for the worse. While you have issued statements from the glass walls of the White House, our country has devolved into a morass of fear, suspicion, and disunity.
In four months’ time, the American people will be presented with a choice between the nominees of the two major political parties, who are perhaps the most hated presidential candidates in history. The election of either will ignite a firestorm in this nation we are ill-prepared to weather. So instead of campaigning for one of those candidates, take a moment and consider.
In the past few years, we have suffered staggering losses – attacks from within, orchestrated by our own citizens, who gun down the innocent for the purpose of widening the growing chasm in our society. There have been 10 mass shootings this year alone. Hate crimes are on the rise. Citizens are turning against the policemen who defend them because of other policemen killing unarmed men. Racial divides that should be behind us are being resurrected. Gender equality, LGBTQ civil rights, religious discrimination – civil discord involving all these issues has been on the rise during your administration. And when a tragedy strikes, you give a statement – and do nothing.
Mr. President, you are the first African-American commander-in-chief. You are in the last six months of your administration, a time usually referred to as the lame-duck period of any president’s term. Your focus needs to shift now to healing your nation. Fourteen times, you have issued statements after mass shootings. Fourteen times, you have done nothing. Fourteen times, the seeds have been laid for the next massacre, the next horror, the next rampage. And now, that number has risen again—to 15. Each time you talk about gun control, but each time you do nothing.
Surely you are aware that gun violence is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is societal, fueled by the enmity created when a two-party political system governs a nation of moderates but represents the interests only of the far left and the far right. This disease’s reach is insidious, affecting all Americans in different ways but leading to the same ultimate conclusion: Civil unrest.
President Jimmy Carter faced the same disease, and in the last year of his administration said the following:
I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy. I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might. The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.
Mr. President, as a citizen I have a few questions.
Where have you been? Why have we not seen you in Orlando? In Dallas? Why weren’t you in Ferguson or Baltimore? Why haven’t we seen you with the American people, aiding and counseling them? Why haven’t you been at any of these Ground Zeroes?
Where has the President of the United States been when his people needed him?
Not where he needed to be. Beyond platitudes and statements and repetitive calls for action that have never been followed up on, the President of the United States has been invisible and silent.
Mr. President, you must address this crisis. You must leave the golden bubble that is the White House and go among your people. Not after your term is done, but now – as the President of the United States, you must return to the people who elected you. You must lead our citizens out of the darkness, out of the rage and the fear and the suspicion that has divided our society. You must realize that every political fundraiser you attend only separates you further from your constituents, and nullifies the influence you could wield. Stop thinking about the political future and do something about the societal now.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said:
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.
Mr. President, it is time for you to stand. The challenge and controversy we face now is unparalleled in this country in the past 50 years. The American people are in crisis. The worst thing that could possibly happen is for you to leave a divided and angry United States in the hands of a successor the majority of the American people will neither trust nor respect.
If you continue to ignore the horror that has descended upon America, if you turn this divided country over to a successor who will be handicapped from the day he or she takes office, you are condemning our nation to a disastrous course that will only worsen during the next administration under a chief executive patently incapable of resolving any of these issues. You can do nothing about the terrible choice Americans have to make in November. But you can do something about the bitterness and hatred infecting our people.
It’s time. Time to get out of that chair and get into the American public.
Time to stop campaigning for Clinton and start campaigning for America.
Time to stop making statements and start taking action.
Time to stop doing nothing.
I heard a speech once that really resonated with me. The part that stuck in my head read:
When we don’t pay close attention to the decisions made by our leaders, when we fail to educate ourselves about the major issues of the day, when we choose not to make our voices and opinions heard, that’s when democracy breaks down. That’s when power is abused. That’s when the most extreme voices in our society fill the void that we leave.
Those words are yours, Mr. President. You delivered this speech at the University of Michigan Commencement in 2010.
Democracy is breaking down, and you have chosen the path of silence and inaction. As a result, the void you have left is being filled with the extremism you warned about. You have a chance, Mr. President, to throw a lifeline to your people – all your people – by simply fulfilling your own words.
You need to roll up your sleeves and organize your community – your American community. If you don’t, your legacy will be the continued splintering of the people you swore an oath to serve. Don’t think. Don’t grieve. Don’t talk. Don’t give us platitudes. Don’t blame the symptoms for the disease.
It’s your last chance to give the American people something they desperately need.