Yesterday I preached the following “Open Letter to Donald J. Trump” on the occasion of his inauguration as the 45 th President of the United States…those in attendance (we had one of the biggest crowds of the year) urged me to share it as widely as possible…here is the complete text.
The following letter was sent (under my signature) to President Donald J. Trump (care of The White House in Washington D.C.) two days ago (on Friday, January 20th) the day he was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America. I share it with you now…and will publish it and share it as widely as I can in the coming days.
Dear Mr. President,
I am writing you this “Open Letter” on your inauguration week – which will be shared with the congregation I serve here in Vero Beach, Florida, and subsequently publishing it as widely as I can for other American’s to read and consider – because I have deep and serious concerns about the kind of moral leadership you may bring to your Presidency.
Let me begin, please, by briefly introducing myself. My name is Rev. Scott Wells Alexander. I am a 10th Generation American — with the first of my family arriving in Massachusetts in 1630 with the first wave of Puritan immigration. I have lived and worked in the United States my entire life, and have been a Unitarian Universalist minister for the last 43 years – serving congregations in Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Florida and also working as a denominational executive for a decade (in the 1990’s) out of our national headquarters in Boston. I write you today as a proud and patriotic American, a religious leader (particularly focused on addressing hunger, poverty, and inequality in my community) and a faithful Unitarian Universalist.
Before I tell you what is on my mind today (as you begin your Presidency) let me share just a little about my religious tradition, which informs and animates everything I want to say to you as my President. Although the roots of our liberal faith tradition go all the way back to Jesus’ gospel message of compassion, inclusion and justice for all — and the earlier teachings of other great religious leaders (such as Buddha, Moses, Mohammad and Confucius) who also taught human unity, dignity and compassion — our formal institutional roots go back some 500 years to the European Reformation. Today, we are an inclusive, diverse and progressive 21st Century American faith tradition built on the bedrock principle of “The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person,” and devoted to building a world (and a nation) with justice, equity, compassion, dignity and safety for all.
All of this is by way of saying that as one American, I am deeply committed both to the long-standing egalitarian ideals of our democratic nation, as well as the bedrock moral principles (of inclusion and compassion) which animate and inform my faith and my ministry. It is from this particular (and dual) perspective then, that I write you with my serious reservations and deep concerns as you begin your Presidency among us. I, of course, hope and pray (Mr. Trump…as do most Americans) that you will prove to be a good and wise and effective President – a steady, respectful and inclusive leader who succeeds in strengthening and humanizing the fabric of this diverse, multi-cultural nation in every way.
But, I must tell you (honestly) that in this very first week of your Presidency, I have GRAVE FEARS Mr. Trump — not only about the tenor and tone of the leadership you are likely to bring to our nation, but also the social and moral direction which you may seek to take our great-but-fragile nation. These profound fears of mine (as you take the reins of power and begin to act) have arisen – frankly — in large part (there is no other way of saying this, Mr. Trump) because of the systematically divisive, demeaning, and dehumanizing tone and tenor of your 18-month campaign for the Presidency (and this recent Presidential transition period). Now some people are saying (post-election) that what you said and did during the heated campaign should not matter – that “politics is politics” and that we have turned a new page and that we should just “wait and see” about how you govern our nation. But I cannot overlook (what to me was) the utterly despicable and shameful campaign you ran. In both style and content, your recently-concluded campaign (sir) was (to me, and many other millions of concerned Americans) consistently mean-spirited, disparaging of persons and inhumane — especially to those Americans (and constituencies) who were your targets for ridicule, dismissal and contempt. Your acrimonious campaign – which I found downright ugly and un-American – sadly dragged our national political discourse down to a new and shameful low. Both your campaign rhetoric (and your constant and derogatory “Tweets”) were full of (what I must call out as) demeaning, degrading, and dismissive (name-calling) references to rival candidates, immigrants, refugees, women, the disabled, and a whole host of racial, religious and cultural minority groups you clearly do not respect. I am frankly shocked that so many American voters seemed to approve of (or at least overlook) all your many ugly (and immature) attacks and I say shame on you for making them…and shame on so many Americans for tolerating them.
Your campaign, sir, was (and I know you don’t like to own these labels, but I must use them, because they are accurate and fair) your campaign was unmistakably bigoted, xenophobic, homophobic, racist, intolerant and misogynistic – and appealed (frankly) to the worst and the meanest in the American psyche…the darkest underbelly of American politics (if you will).
As partial evidence of this, I refer to the fact that white supremacists and nationalists (and so called “alt-right”) leaders here in the United States have all praised your selection of former Breitbart executive Steve Bannon (a man who ran an unashamedly racist media enterprise) as “Chief White House Strategist” and further declared that your election both validates and legitimizes their hostility to immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and multi-culturalism. For example, as you well know, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke recently said of your appointment of Bannon: “I think that’s excellent…anyone that helps to complete the program and policies that President-Elect Trump has developed during the campaign [programs and policies like banning all Muslim immigrants, turning all refugees away, and instituting discriminatory “law and order policing” in minority communities] is a good thing.” Whether you intended it or not, Mr. Trump, America’s most virulent racists – responding to your divisive campaign rhetoric — have been emboldened and empowered to further express their hate.
Now in all fairness to you, Mr. Trump, I will acknowledge that you did not single-handedly create much of the anger, resentment and hate that your campaign seemed to stimulate and encourage in many of your supporters…but you nonetheless must take responsibility – full responsibility — for the divisive way in which you repeatedly stirred the American pot at a vulnerable time…just as your supporters must take responsibility for encouraging you on. You, sir, repeatedly and blatantly tried setting America against itself, pitting various groups and constituencies against another in resentment, suspicion, anger and fear. And (sadly) despite your many, recent proclamations that it is now your intention (as our new President) to “Bring all Americans together” you have (in fact, to date) done almost nothing to begin heal the ugly wounds your campaign both surfaced and encouraged.
Let me pause here and point out one simple-yet-powerful symbolic thing you could immediately do that would powerfully help to undo some of the damage your divisive campaign (and transition to power) has created. For many months during the campaign, you repeatedly attacked and disparaged not only Islam (in its entirety, as a religious faith) but also Muslims (by calling for, among other things, a total ban on Islamic immigration to the United States, and suggesting (on several occasions) the possibility of needing (despite the obvious constitutional protections that are in place) to somehow “register” all American Muslims in “some type of database” that would support “increased surveillance” of them as Americans. You also repeatedly charged that American Muslims “must do more” to prevent terrorist attacks here in the U.S.. You said in November of 2015 (and now I quote you word for word) “When they [meaning, law-abiding American Muslims] see trouble, they have to report it, [but] they are not reporting it, and that is a big problem.” You repeatedly said this, despite the fact that there is absolutely not a shred of evidence that such has been the case in terms of any of the recent terrorist attacks here in the homeland. Something you could do, Mr. President — in this, the first crucial week of your Presidency to undo your divisive rhetoric — is respectfully visit the Islamic Center of Washington DC — as President George W. Bush did just days after the 9-11 attacks – (which is conveniently located on Massachusetts Avenue, just blocks from The White House) during its regular Friday prayers, to let the more than 3 million Muslim-Americans know that (despite what you said during your campaign) you intend to ensure that they have a safe and honored and respected place here in America. Such a simple, respectful visit would calm (the very real fears) in the Islamic community (and the fears of millions of OTHER Americans — including all us Unitarian Universalists, and many other people of faith scattered all across the United States) who are radically unsure that that you – as our new President — intent to treat ALL Americans with the dignity and worth which our constitution (and Bill of Rights) guarantees. Indeed, if you realize the symbolic importance of such visits, you could similarly respectfully drop into (over the next few weeks) OTHER American minority communities – African American communities…Latino communities…gay, lesbian, and transgender communities…and impoverished inner city and rural communities — to let all marginalized and vulnerable Americans know that (despite all your divisive and dismissive campaign rhetoric) you intend to be the President FOR ALL OF AMERICA, ensuring and defending the inherent worth and dignity OF EVERY LAST CITIZEN AND COMMUNITY. Mr. Trump, since your narrow election – and you must never forget the humbling fact that you did NOT receive a majority of the total votes cast, and thus DO NOT have some sweeping mandate for any divisive agenda – since your narrow election you (and Mr. Pence) have repeatedly stated that you are committed to “being the President for all Americans.” Now is the time, Mr. President, for you to “walk that talk,” and reach out to all the minority communities you so vocally dismissed or disregarded during your divisive election campaign.
Let me cut to the chase here, Mr. President. As I have for every President during my adult life whether or not I voted for them, I will (despite your shameful and negative campaign) give you “the benefit of the doubt,” and will “wait and see” how you decide to actually govern now that you have assumed power. But for me (in regards to my future support for your presidency) THE MORAL BOTTOM LINE is that as an American and as a Unitarian Universalist, I cannot (and will not) stand idly by as you (or anyone else) attempts to abrogate, abuse, or deny either “The Inherent Worth and Dignity” (or the inalienable rights and freedoms) of any American. The highest ideals of our nation (and the core beliefs of my religious faith) demand that I speak up and stand up for the rights and dignity of every last man, woman and child in America – regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender or sexual identity, or physical ability.
I fully realize (and accept the fact) that with many matters of national public policy, good (and moral) people can disagree how we should proceed as a nation. There are legitimate differences of opinion about how we in the United States should regulate immigration…confront terrorism…conduct our foreign policy…wage war and prisoner interrogation…manage the economy…handle refugees…regulate industry, agriculture and the banks…protect the environment…ensure health care for all…address climate change…and improve education — to name just a few of the crucial areas of public policy we (liberals and conservatives) must together address. I fully accept the fact that, as they say, “Elections have consequences.” You won the Presidency in November by claiming a majority of the Electoral Colleges’ votes…your political party now controls both houses of Congress…and you (with the consent of the Republican-dominated Senate) will soon be able to appoint the ninth justice of the Supreme Court. It is clear to all who understand how the American political system works that you will no doubt “have your way” with many important matters of national public policy. And because I am a loyal and patriotic American, I will give you, Mr. President, every opportunity to govern our nation justly, wisely, compassionately and well. I promise you that (despite the grave reservations I have already enumerated) I will take a “wait and see” approach to many of my concerns…and give you a chance to become a good and compassionate President. But in the same breath, Mr. Trump, I must tell you that from this-day-forward if I perceive you to in any way be willfully abrogating, diminishing, or abusing “the Inherent Worth and dignity” of any Americans – most especially vulnerable minority groups — I will engage not some sort of mild-mannered “loyal opposition” (that polite political push-back which so many people and politicians talk about) but will take up instead “PATRIOTIC RESISTANCE.”
Both the high ideals of my nation, and the bedrock principles of my religious faith will require me to push-back in “Patriotic Resistance” joining with millions of others in our refusal to allow our nation to fail its highest moral and human aspirations. Again, I am fully prepared to support your leadership of our nation (and the policies you pursue) IF (and this is a non-negotiable “if”) IF you faithfully honor and serve our most noble American ideals of equality, justice, and compassion. But if you fall back upon the darker, uglier, and divisive instincts that animated your shameful campaign and your immature “tweets”, I will resist you (in every legal and moral way) that I have at my disposal.
Dear God, I have never felt the need to say this to any other of the Presidents that have assumed this high office during my lifetime…but Mr. Trump, I need to say it to you on this inauguration Weekend. I sincerely pray that as a person and politician that you rise to fulfill the responsibilities of this high office, and indeed become the kind of good and wise President who consistently serves and protects and honors all the people of our nation. But you must know, Mr. Trump, that there are many millions of us (fully half the population by most estimates) out there across America who are gravely concerned about much that you have done and said in the past. We will be vigilantly watching how you govern, and insisting that you honor and serve our national ideals.
Alright, Mr. President, I have had my say…thank you for considering my deep moral concerns. Again…I am — through and through — a patriotic American. As one citizen of this vast and diverse nation, I will do everything I can to ensure a safe, inclusive, just and humane future for my country. Please lead us with wisdom, inclusiveness, generosity and compassion. Please set aside all the anger and pettiness of your campaign and rise now to the noble duties of your office. Please be the kind of compassionate president who will work to ensure that America achieves its highest and most humane self.
Rev. Scott Wells Alexander