Why bring out the worst in people?

Dear President Trump,

I wasn’t born yet, so I didn’t hear JFK give his inauguration speech urging Americans to ask not what their country can do for them but rather, what they can do for their country. You would have been 14 at the time, plenty old enough to be interested in your new president and to grasp that here was a leader aiming to inspire people to bring their best selves to the endeavor of being a country together. We now know JFK had at least one clay foot, but my sense as a non-historian is that in him we had a leader who recognized his country was at a crossroad and that it would take everyone pitching in and asking more of themselves to keep democracy healthy as we navigated the turbulence at home and in the wider world. This is what leaders who lead with love do, they inspire their people to be their best selves in service of the community.

So I ask you, what is the point of working so very hard to bring out the worst in people? Yes, individual people have to take responsibility for their individual actions, whether it involves carrying tiki torches and yelling anti-Semitic crap or making obscene gestures at journalists. The majority of your supporters who are acting out in these ways have almost certainly harbored racist, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-everyone-not-just-like-them feelings and attitudes for years, likely having been fed them along with their milk and cookies as children. “No Sally, you need to stay away from those people, they’re just different from us.” So maybe it was as simple as you (and Vladimir) throwing a lighted match onto a pile of kindling already dripping with gasoline. Maybe. My real sense, though, is that you (and Vladimir) worked hard to find those angry, alienated people and to figure out how to amplify their anger and alienation. Despite your claims that you care for their forgotten selves, your validation of their anger and alienation is not because you truly feel called to help them. Nope. You’ve been cynically fueling their hatred and fear to bring out the worst in them, to make them into foot soldiers who are about the business of tearing the country apart because it’s more profitable to you to lead a country divided against itself.

May we be safe from those who want us to be our worst selves.
May we be happy to insist our leaders lead with love.
May we be strong enough to resist poisonous agitators, including when they are POTUS.
May we resist leaders who are too weak to embrace peace.

Tracy Simpson

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