By Ralph Nader
Dear President-Elect Trump,
You’ve come a long way without my advice, but ascension to the White House invites listening to what this letter has to say.
During the primary campaign you said more than once that you had to speak and behave the way you did to get the mass media’s attention. But you also pledged that, once in the White House, you would be “so presidential you [all] will be so bored.”
Judging by your remarkably low national polls for an incoming president-elect, it is not just Meryl Streep and John Lewis who think that your transition to becoming “presidential” has not yet materialized. In the spirit of this transition, here are some pitfalls you will need to overcome in order to avoid embroiling your administration (and the nation) in a self-initiated avalanche of charges, disputes and scandals.
- Your “Achilles heel” has thus far proven to be your easily bruised ego, which is put on display with every one of your furious, sometimes bullying tweets. When you are President, however, you have more ways to retaliate and more ways to get both yourself and our country in trouble if you do so in such a spasmodic manner. This is the Big Leagues. Adversaries abroad are keenly aware of how easily they can provoke you into impulsive missteps that play into their hands. You would benefit from reading the 2004 book by Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror—What Really Happened, on leaving his position as anti-terrorist advisor to President George W. Bush.
In it, Mr. Clarke writes, “It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, was engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting, ‘Invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.’”
As for the widespread dissent by the American people, if you take this personally instead of presidentially, you’re going to give way to your worst traits and end up stereotyping whole groups in bigoted ways. There are reasons past presidents did not personalize their presidency, however, with some going to extremes and ignoring any responsibility to respond to serious letters (see my book, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President 2001-2015).
- Your Twitter account can get you into 24/7 disputes that are unbecoming of our nation’s highest office. Thus far, you have managed to distract media attention from other negative stories about you with personal Twitter attacks. Unlike your campaigns, as president, your customary aggressive tweets will distract focus and attention from your own agenda and turn off even your crucial Republican friends on Capitol Hill. Continuing lack of impulse control will erode your presidency quickly during the 100 day honeymoon period. Best to restrain yourself. There are other more important decisions waiting on your desk.
- Early on you’ll have to decide the issue of wholesale delegation to your nominees at the cabinet and agency levels and to what extent you will make these significant decisions yourself. Since you are known for your aversion to details, requiring briefings and reading piles of memos, your subordinates will take advantage of your de-management style and go on their own, undoubtedly clashing with each other. In this case, the decision will end up in the White House after lots of press about chaos and tumult in your administration and low morale within the critical civil service.
The most immediate manifestation of the foregoing is the phenomenon widely known as “Killer Tuesday” during which national security advisors briefed President Obama about suspects or “signature targets” to be destroyed in faraway places like Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria by a drone operator in Virginia or Nevada with the push of a button. President Obama wanted to make many of these decisions directly as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. Do you wish to continue these violations of international laws known as extra-judicial slayings (inside sovereign nations) that have taken the lives of thousands of innocent women, children and men?
- Your well-publicized business ownerships are to be transferred to family members. Many constitutional experts, including Harvard Law Professor Larry Tribe and ethics experts, both Republican and Democratic, are not at all persuaded that this move complies with the Emolument Clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8). They believe that your assets must be sold to non-family members with the proceeds, liquid or otherwise, being held in a “blind trust.”
Once again, whether to curry favor with you by patronizing your hotels and other properties, brandishing your surname here and abroad, or to subject you to an extortion attempt or provocative attacks on these properties, you should change your transfer plan. Otherwise, this could be early constitutional trouble for you, including lawsuits by contractors claiming loss of business due to others currying favor with you. A Supreme Court case gives such businesses “standing to sue.”
- Lastly, some various suggestions. Please meet early on with a leading delegation of top scientists and engineers and their groups such as the National Academy of Sciences. They can prevent your administration from getting into lots of unsound and costly, ill-advised science/technology trouble.
Because you wish to squeeze out hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, reach out to legendary presidential, gubernatorial consultant and manager of four large public utilities (including the TVA), S. David Freeman on energy waste; to Professor Malcom Sparrow of Harvard on over $300 billion in annual billing fraud in the healthcare industry – including $60 billion rip offs of Medicare alone yearly – and Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, on soaring drug prices and other bilks and harms from the “politically protected” (your words) drug giants. These are three of numerous experts who are unlikely to be recommended to you by corporatists in your administration.
In conclusion, can you break the mold of your predecessors and at least acknowledge receipt of substantive letters sent to you, if your staff, cabinet or agencies do not substantively respond to them? Canadian Prime Ministers extend such courtesies. Being president is much more difficult than campaigning to be president. You need to rise above what is petty.