As my family and friends could attest, I do not advertise my veteran status as the first thing people hear about me, but I use it here simply to achieve several minutes of your time to read this letter in its entirety. What I write here comes from a place of deeply held moral conviction, and an utter abhorrence for your treatment of democracy. As a great many veterans and military members did, I signed an enlistment contract with the intent of serving my country and protecting the values we consider most sacred. I was naïve in many ways, and my experiences in Afghanistan showed me that, but my original intention was rooted in service to country and to others. Your idea of service seems to be unilateral decisions and swift strokes of a pen with which you destroy the lives and hopes of millions of human beings. Your idea of “protecting” us is to label entire countries and people groups as evil, which is not only ignorant, but it puts a larger target on America’s back and provides terrorist recruiters all the ammunition they’ll need for the next decade.
I know you value your own voice over that of anyone else, but just try for the next five minutes to hear me – actually hear me, and not automatically dismiss what I’m saying just because it doesn’t pad your ego. I am the daughter of a housekeeper and a maintenance man, both life-long republicans and devoted Christians. I do not share all of their political beliefs, but I respect them as people and I adopted key elements of my character from their lived example. They taught me the value of hard and honest work, rather than the endless pursuit of a vast accumulation of personal wealth. They taught me that the value of human life means ALL human life, young or old, rich or poor, white or black, American or not. They taught me that if a person needs a place to live, you open up your home. They taught me that if someone is hungry, you offer them a place at your own table. They taught me that a person’s character is judged by their actions, and yours speak to an incredible level of arrogance, selfishness, and narcissism.
For someone who has never witnessed war, you are awfully quick to speak of dropping bombs. For someone who used veterans as a regular prop in your campaign, I’m hard pressed to find a single shred of evidence that you ever spent time in a VA hospital or visited troops in a combat zone. For someone who professes to be a Christian, you blatantly ignore the overarching and continual theme of the Bible which is to show love and compassion for those most in need, especially to those in poverty, those being oppressed, and those considered immigrants. Refugees are all of those things, and should be receiving the best help America can offer. Instead they are being treated like the enemy. You claim to be a patriotic American, yet your every action spits on the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on Lady Liberty “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. I suppose if past presidents acted as you are now, then your family would never have made it here from Germany.
I speak now to the tiny shred of you that may actually care about the whole next generation of Americans, not just your own children. Stop talking and start listening. Stop signing things for which you have no idea the true impact and start doing some research. Stop playing on people’s worst fears and start employing their best values. Because you see, Mr. Trump, America is not your country, it is OURS – those of us who live in its flawed but still precious neighborhoods and not in its ivory towers or corner offices; those of us who work decades just to own a single home, not multiple mansions or resorts. You seem to live in an alternate reality, but let me tell you some true history – this country was stolen from indigenous people, enlarged by forcefully taking land from Mexico, populated through mass immigration, enriched on the backs of slaves, and made powerful through the constant use and abuse of the military for geopolitical motives. Now for our future you want to:
1 Desecrate what remaining land indigenous populations do have
2 Ban the arrival of refugees who are fleeing for their very lives
3 Build the next Berlin wall to keep out Latin American people who are more entitled to the land than we are (FYI – your hero, Ronald Reagan, thought the Berlin wall was a horrible thing)
4 “Rebuild” the military that has never been as well-funded or well trained as it is right now (and quite frankly, is sick and tired of being used for regime change)
5 Send “the Feds” to “end the carnage” in inner cities
Here are some alternative options that would actually achieve some of things for which your voters elected you WITHOUT trampling on the Constitution and the other half of the country who did not vote for you:
1 Rather than forcing the building of oil pipelines (a finite resource), you could try asking Native tribes and other land owners to partner with you on building and maintaining wind and solar fields (infinite resources and sustainable jobs). Give something back to Native Americans instead of continuing to take, take, take.
2 Rather than discriminating against refugees based on religion or race (which is unconstitutional) do some actual research and talk to the judges who preside over asylum cases. You will find out that the overwhelming majority of these human beings are not only NOT terrorists, they have been through incredible human rights abuses at the hands of actual terrorists, and now they are coming to our country for simple opportunity. Just as your family did, and just as mine did. Immigrants ARE America’s past and they will continue to be our future.
3 Rather than alienating Mexico, partner with them in a new and humane trade agreement that includes provisions for “work exchange” programs for Mexican citizens who are law abiding and have no criminal record, so that those individuals can travel back and forth in order to support their families. US companies would see incentive to base themselves in States like Texas and New Mexico to hire both US workers and “exchange” workers.
4 Rather than pouring a trillion dollars into updating a nuclear arsenal that shouldn’t exist in the first place, put that money into the Veterans Health Administration. We don’t need more destructive weapons and more of them, we need a military that isn’t reeling from never-ending deployments, undiagnosed trauma, rampant substance abuse, and astronomical divorce rates. Invest in people, not in destruction.
5 Rather than throwing around words like “carnage” in relation to communities of color, start having actual conversations with the people who live and work in those communities. Prolonged and sustained ones, IN their neighborhoods, not in Trump Tower and not on a stage with cameras. Learn about your own white privilege and the way you’re slapping your own citizens in the face with it every time you open your mouth. Empower those citizens with the resources and authority to re-educate our populace, and take the initial steps towards healing long unresolved injustice. Institutionalized racism is a fact, and you won’t “fix” inner cities with factories and hotels. You must start at the very beginning.
Mr. President, you will likely never see this letter or read these words, but the truth still needed to be said. If you truly cared about the working class, you would have put them on your Cabinet in place of Goldman Sachs. If you cared about being the highest example of ethics and leadership, you would have divested from all of your businesses, because that is what is in the best interest of the American people. If you truly cared about veterans, you would never dare say “maybe we’ll get another chance” to “take the oil”. The truth is, you don’t care, you are just obsessed with people thinking that you care. There is a world of difference.
Erin H. Leach-Ogden
US Army veteran