Hope and a big gamble

Dear President Trump,

There’s nothing like starting off a letter to you still teary and feeling verklempt after reading a sweet article about President Obama. Guess what he did yesterday – he called three Chicago schoolteachers and had video chats with them to express his appreciation for them and their work. They were so beyond excited and touched by this.

Have you noticed that he’s turning up in the public eye more and more since covid-19 started? It’s as if he wants to remind us of what competent, caring, compassionate leadership looks like, that it’s possible to have it again, and to hold onto hope. You probably think he’s just tormenting you, and I’ll allow that there might be some such motivation involved, but I really think he’s stepping back into view to help the presumptive Democratic nominee and to help the country remember that our leaders, our good leaders, have the ability to connect and to show genuine care and interest in us as people, that they don’t sit fixated on the stock market while their citizens needlessly suffer and die in droves.

Obama wasn’t perfect – I don’t think he pushed the goalposts out far enough in a lot of areas. He was a very slow, very reluctant supporter of gay marriage and his public-facing messaging around race seemed to largely be about the need for black men to take more responsibility rather than on the systemic, institutionalized racism that feeds the school to prison pipeline and limits opportunities for people of color.

Obviously I wish he and his administration had done more and that there hadn’t been such primitive backlash against him (fueled, in no small part, by you), but I’m not holding out for perfect leadership. I’m not requiring someone to check all my most important boxes to consider them a solid leader. I am, however, requiring that leaders be trustworthy, demonstrate some convincing caring behaviors, and that they display a lot of convincing competence. It really isn’t too much to ask.

The other article of note that I read this morning was the WP piece by Vanessa Williams entitled “Disproportionately Black Counties Account For Over Half of Coronavirus Cases in the U.S. and Nearly 60% Of Deaths, Study Finds.” It’s a solid piece of reporting about an important study, and it makes me very uneasy to have it out there where you all are likely to see it.

The researchers told Williams that they’re releasing the information early because they hope it will influence policy makers to know just how monstrously (my wording) black communities are being differentially impacted by covid-19. It’s a noble (not Nobel) goal, but I’m so, so worried that it will backfire. I’m worried that while there’s been widespread willingness to follow the messaging about making sacrifices for our elderly parents and those with more fragile health, I just don’t see American (white) people being similarly motivated to protect the health and lives of black and brown people; our track record on this is terrible, at best. In fact, I think there’s every chance that you and other GOP leaders will find ways to use this information to further imperil communities of color.

Data from the study indicate that it’s not black people’s underlying health conditions that are driving their high infection and death rates, but rather lack of access to health care and employment. The employment finding, however, is not what you’d expect –counties with higher unemployment have lower infection and death rates and the conclusion is that increased infection is driven by employment in high-risk, high contact, jobs. All of this has been surfacing for weeks, but the study (well, the article – I’ve not read the study yet) pulls it together in a way that connects lots of dots and makes for a very scary picture for these communities in the context of the racist, white supremacist climate you’ve engineered.

Betrayals upon betrayals.

May we be safe from our POTUS and from ourselves.
May we be willing to speak out.
May we all support the health and protect the lives of black people.
May we accept and hold onto the hope and goodwill our true leaders are sharing.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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