I wanted to start this letter on the 100th day of your Presidency but I couldn’t wait. I fear I won’t recognize my country by then. I also wanted to start it with “Dear President Donald Trump,” but I couldn’t force myself to type those words. I’m not alone in that. Courtesy considered but not extended.
In addition, I wanted to avoid reference to specific policies. I might agree with your action on TPP and oppose your restrictions on immigration, but that is not the point. My objection is deeper. It is to the WAY you approach the office that I think is most damaging. Please consider a different approach in governance. Please consider “presiding” rather than “ruling.” I know Bannon will not agree with that offering. There is nothing about that man that is (small d) democratic. But your place in history depends on that simple choice.
America has survived several “bad” presidents. It has also failed to progress during periods governed by brilliant men who didn’t seem to have the knack for leadership. Which way will you want to be remembered? Today, going on only these few first days, it looks like you think a President issues edicts. There is something to be said for unilateral action by a President when faced with a recalcitrant congress or opposition. You certainly don’t have a recalcitrant Congress. This is a Republican majority Senate, House and, if they approve your recommendation for the Supreme Court, it will be a conservative majority court as well. In that situation, using the prescribed processes for legislation goes much further in creating an image of a President of the United States using the power of government, proving that elections have consequences. But twenty Executive Orders in ten days shows a different kind of personality. It seems you don’t trust your Senate or House. Do you fear they will turn on you? And you don’t seem to trust the Courts. I know, it takes a long time to have the courts review and rule. You appear to only trust the unilateral powers of the office of the President and you are apparently dedicated to the exercise and expansion of those powers.
In this way you appear to me to be very much like Nixon but far more impatient and less respectful of the legislative process of representative democracy. How else should I take it? That begins to look like disrespect for and assault on the state itself. And it’s not like Bannon hasn’t said exactly that kind of thing very recently in public. I’m open to a different interpretation, but I don’t find one. People are using the words “coup,” “war,” “shadow leader” and the like. No one is asserting this is a “military junta.” In many ways the military is as shocked over these actions as the rest of the American populace.
This blitzkrieg of orders has me looking for historical counterparts. I can only find them in the worst possible scenarios. All of them fall variously into the term “regime change.” And I understand about how political thinking and action tends to run in cycles. It is often called a pendulum swing. But in this case, it feels like the clock fell off the wall and is bounding across the floor, spraying springs and gears with each overreaching new order. I think your approach most resembles Benito Mussolini’s rise to power, but others point to Hitler. I think Hitler is less like you, especially since, in the beginning, Hitler really admired Mussolini, even calling him a mentor. I don’t think you are working in admiration of anyone else, but the change in direction of our government might be more akin to other social and political revolutions. Lenin? Stalin? Mao? It may be too early to make those kinds of judgments. That is the purpose of this letter.
Please change the way you approach this job. You are not rescuing a failing company you just purchased at a discount. You can’t cut up its departments and sell off the ones that aren’t “producing.” It should be your goal to make them produce, not make them ineffective, weak and irrelevant. Government is very different from business. There should be no elite shareholders. We are all in this together. Think of us as customers.
I appeal to you today on a level I believe will have a chance of touching you. Your place in history is certain, now that you have ascended to the Presidency. The perception of your place in history is now up to how well you govern, how your hand holds the tiller of the ship of state. A tiller needs a steady hand with an eye on the safe passage of the ship. It does not need a hand looking for a chokehold, or a rapid change of course that can threaten to capsize us. I encourage you to reveal this kind of governance very soon. The waters are growing rougher each day. And the winds are dirty.
I have been an American for 66 years and I have never seen a fourteen-day span that has shaken my faith in leadership like these first two weeks of the days of Trump. Please consider moderating your approach. This might be my last polite appeal.
Retirement has arrived. I’m slowly learning the role those who are not in the workforce uphold in this culture. (Not very much.)
It will be my intent to add an article or some kind of writing to this document each week. More often if there is enough juice in an idea.
My favorites? Reading. Music (mostly the older stuff). Politics. Writing (sometimes writing about reading), Wine and Winemaking. I have no topics I’m not interested in. Follow along.
It just occurred to me that I must be pretty typical of a kind of person. I am a child of the 20th Century retiring in the 21st Century. I’m just a little off the line. Probably not too odd for anyone at this odd new age of 65.
I’m working on a piece about the Doobie Brothers. Remember those guys? Was a weird time to be young. Just listening to their old album Minute by Minute, 1978. I turned 28 that year and was just about at the end of my association with Doobies of any kind. Anyway, look for that pretty soon.
Maybe tomorrow I can get this weird kind of critique of a Stephen King novel I just finished. BTW I don’t do this for any gain. These are just prompts for my writing. I intend to attribute any original material other than my own. I guess you would have to consider this “academic” use.
Recently many of my literate friends have been listing the ten books that influenced them most. Some think it is a favorite book list. I suspect some think it is an opportunity to show others which classics they have read, or how avant garde their tastes are. I don’t need to judge.
Here is my list with a little comment about each title I selected. I have to say that I have loved hundreds of books and making this list is very difficult. (You can see how I cheated.)
1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. This is the first hardcover book I read all the way through, by myself, because I wanted to. My grandmother Marsh bought me a series of young reader books. They came in the mail once a month. I had collected a few before I picked this one off the shelf on lazy, hot summer day. I took it outside to read and the world of literature opened up. That is why it is posted at number 1. Not because it is the best book I ever read, but because it did a magic number on my brain.
2. The Man by Irving Wallace. This is a book about presidential politics. It was a good read in 1964. It is still a good story, not a great book, perhaps, but very significant in that it was an “adult” story that my young teen friend, Carl Sumerix had begun to read. I taunted him that he couldn’t read an 800 page book and he challenged me to read it with him. So, we were boys, and we raced. (I won.) I already knew that books were pretty wonderful. This was when I discovered long books were particularly wonderful. Nope, no assignment. Not for class or school. Just a long delicious read by a 14 year old who was gaining interest in politics.
3. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. This became a kind of holy book for me in my late teens. When I read it now, I blush a little at the saccharine elements, but it was perfect for the end of high school and a burgeoning awareness of how large life was.
4. I went from very conservative politico to hippie to Marine in less than 4 years. It was the mid-to-late 60s. Everything was in transition. Nothing provided sound moral footing. This book was perfect for me at the time. I read all the Hesse I could get my hands in while I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. I remember a particularly prickish Captain who saw this (or was it Magister Ludi?) on my desk and remarked how that was “pretty heavy reading for an enlisted man.” Making a decision not to re-enlist was so easy after that.
5. Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tokien. I know, this is another cheat because it is not just one book. But I cannot separate the impact of one part of this story from any other part. It is a whole. It also fits into that burgeoning love of big books and series books. No, I did not read this in high school like lots of others. I read this in the Marine Corps. Believe me, when you are under arms and reading about invading hoards of orcs in the middle of high-minded discussions of the value of home, security, bravery, nobility of purpose…It was a pretty freakin’ good read in those circumstances.
6. Sound and Sense by Lawrence Perrine. This image is of the 12th Edition. Mine was in the very small numbers. Again, in the Marine Corps I had the opportunity to take a couple of college courses on base. I took a literature course about poetry. I had been reading Gibran pretty hard and chose well. What had been a loosey-goosey exercise in self-expression until then, suddenly became a craft with suggested guidelines, and parts and pieces that could be explored. Perrine’s work has been fundamental to all the other readings and teachings I have done about poetry since. At the time, I thought it was a nice, clean organization with excellent examples. Now I know it to have been profound in my development.
7. I read this in high school and I don’t know if I wasn’t ready for it or if my high school teacher didn’t give this much relevance. I didn’t care very much. But I have re-read it several times since then. Each time I am am taken even more by how Orwell understood the way modern governments encroach into totalitarianism. He was absolutely accurate as a prophet of the never-ending wars, the group hating process, the fear that a neighbor might turn you in for some misguided “patriotic” value. And torture. You know, torture.
8. Just because this book is number 8 on my list, doesn’t mean it was the 8th greatest influence on me. I had tried to read Irving before. The World According to Garp was where I tried. Thee times I started and gave up before getting 50 pages in. On a whim, I picked this up and couldn’t put it down. This book shaped the standards by which I measure all of literature. I cared about these characters. I laughed with them, wept with them and only after this book did I go back and read everything Mr. Irving has ever written and follow him like he was a guru through everything he has written since. (And, even though I hated A Son of the Circus, I read every word.)
9. I had divorced three times. I had reached the lowest point in my life. I was broken. My soon to be ex-wife had gone off with my boss for the weekend and when she came back she gave me a copy of this book. This book is very much like my life at that point, it was full of love and passion, pain and fury and the end is seriously flawed. But it was the right book at the right time. So very much like the Universe to have it delivered to me by what I perceived to be the source of my pain. I have given copies of this book to a dozen or so others who I thought could benefit from it. I don’t think anyone had the visceral reaction I did. This book is on this list not because it is the best literature in the English language. It is here because it saved my life.
10. I know this looks like a cop out. It isn’t. I’m 64 years old at the end of this month. I was raised in a non-secular home with a fundamentalist Grandmother whom I loved and who had a profound belief that she could save my soul. I have read around in this book since I was about 10. But I read it all the way through in the 80s for the first time. I have read it in about 4 different translations since. I keep a copy on my Kindle. I do not do that because I am a Jew or a Christian. I do it so that I can try to understand Jews and Christians. It also is fun when the Jehovah’s Witnesses come around.
That is supposed to be the end of the challenge, but it cannot be for any true bibliophile. I am now adding to a list of Honorable Mentions.
In no particular order:
This book opened my eyes to the power of poetry as a voice for the voiceless. While I was writing poetry, as much as anyone else, Forché’s work kept me focused.
What a beautiful and horrifying set of characters here! I wanted to teach this in high school because my classes were full of broken humans, underdeveloped creatures, sad bent little children. I also wanted to show the 1932 film, Freaks. Plymouth-Canton was having none of that.
Oh, Ignatious! You have left us too soon. I have now read this book three times. Each time it is deeper and more nuanced. If you have never read it, just go do it now. No, really. Just go read this now.
I know. I read this in high school too. I thought it was horrid. The dialect, the hundred year old sensibilities. It wasn’t until I had to teach it in my own high school classes that it started having a real impact on me. It was the beginning of a kind of education I had never seen before. There was a moment when I was reading aloud the description of a thunderstorm passing through the rolling hills of forest when I became so overwhelmed with the genius of this writing and the strength of the message that I grew speechless of several moments. Kids were convinced I was weird. I was too.
Just when a straight white man gets comfortable with himself, along comes a book like this. It provided me with insight into a lifestyle that I had no emotional or intellectual experience with but because it is set in Detroit, it did so in the most familiar of surroundings. It was a powerful juxtaposition for me. One of a few Pulitzer Prize winners I agree with and the only one I predicted before it was awarded.
I hear you snickering. Seriously, this is the best book King ever wrote. It was gloriously crafted. It was wonderfully edited. Please DO NOT buy the unedited version. It adds nothing and it detracts much. This was the first time I thought of Stephen King as an artist. I’ve been able to see it often since then.
This is the cover of Master & Commander, the first in a 20 book series of sea tales set in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. This is the very BEST series about the ocean and sailing ever. The language is crude, juicy, succulent, frightening, obscene, grotesque, beautiful and so very, very original. There were one or two of the books which didn’t do what the others did. But the relationship between the two main characters grows over decades, through tragedies, despite differences. Don’t let Russel Crowe’s movie spoil it for you. Read these in order.
My second daughter, Sarah, got married last weekend in a very small but very emotional ceremony. Only immediate family was invited; even the officiant was a family member, my son. While I have to admit that the way we got to marrying Sarah off was not the smoothest transition in the world, I am happy for her and for her husband, Dan Smith. They are just about perfect for each other. And it’s not about how I feel anyway.
My sister, Karla, helped me get over an ego-blindness about it all. In so many ways, although she is my baby sister, she is an older soul than I.
Suffice it to say that legally, Sarah is my step-daughter, but in my heart she and Dan are as much a part of my family as any natural (or un-natural) relation. I wish long life and long happiness to the new married couple.
I get lost in my passions sometimes. I am ready to tilt at a new windmill every decade (or half-decade) or so. There have been some notable exceptions but they are few.
One exception was poetry. But you might be aware that I broke up with Poetry a couple of years ago. She broke my heart. I don’t wanna talk about it.
I loved stunt kites for a long time too. Still love their lighter than air spirits trapped in heavier than air bones.
I spent a lot of time on motorcycles in my youth and while, today, I am unlikely to find myself on a Hog, a Sportster would be a wonderful diversion in warmer weather.
But even when I have tried not to be a writer, I still would read like a writer. And complain about writing like a writer. And praise writing like a writer. And in the last several weeks I started a new relationship with the idea of the memoir. Please see that I said “the idea,” not the actual memoir. But I think part of what this little column will be about is prep work for memoir writing. Wanna be in a book? Give me something to remember you by.