Dear Mr. Trump,
You surprised me last summer when you entered the large field of Republican candidates for president. I expected you to make a little news and then fade back to the outskirts of punditry.
You surprised me last fall when your candidacy did not shrivel after you made more than a few of what I thought were disqualifying comments. I expected your flippant statements about war heroes and women’s menstrual cycles to end your run.
You surprised me when you started winning Republican primaries. I saw no substance in your positions, only your overwhelming charismatic bravado.
You surprised me when you captured the Republican nomination for president. You surprised me when your general election campaign remained firmly in the environment you crafted during the primaries instead of moving to more neutral, centrist waters.
And you surprised me on Tuesday night when you gained enough electoral votes to claim the presidency of the United States.
And now, I beg you, please keep surprising me.
Surprise me by shelving the rhetoric of fear, mistrust, and violence that you stoked at your rallies during the campaign. Repudiate the signs and t-shirts that say things like “Trump that B***h.” Apologize to the young boy with cerebral palsy who, at your rally last weekend in Florida, was jeered at and threatened. The antonyms of fear, mistrust, and violence are love, faith, and peace. These are the “best” words I know: please start using them. If you truly want to make America great again, you must seek to make America good again.
Surprise me by once and for all disavowing talk you deem fit for locker rooms. It is not appropriate for locker rooms nor anywhere else. Pair this disavowal with a true apology, not one conditioned by the word ‘if.’ Do not say, “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry.” Just say you’re sorry because you have offended people. You offended me, and I do not have the anatomy of which you spoke. Some say the president need not be a role model, but that is preposterous. You have been and will continue to be a role model. The question is, what role are you modeling?
Surprise me by making the transition from public figure to public servant. You have existed on the nutrition of your own celebrity for so long that I expect you will find it difficult to relinquish the need to be liked and praised. The president must make hard choices and sometimes the popular choice is not the right one. As the chief public servant in the nation, you are tasked with putting your own needs behind the needs of the country and the world. For a lesson on what it means to be a servant, I invite you to read the first half of the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel according to John. Right before he is arrested and crucified, Jesus takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around his waist, kneels down, and washes his disciples’ feet. In this great act of humility, Jesus demonstrates the true meaning of leadership as service. Please follow his example.
Surprise me by continuing to follow Jesus’ example in reaching out to all who exist on the margins. You won the presidency by mobilizing an overlooked segment of the electorate, who have been ignored for too long. Sadly, the margins of this nation are wider than they should be: too many people exist there, including many groups of historically persecuted peoples who did not vote for you. As president, they are your priority; please do not forget that.
Surprise me by turning your charismatic entrepreneurship into leadership that turns old foes into unlikely allies. Much has been said about your outsider status, but you are about to be as “inside” as it gets. Allow your entrepreneurial heart to guide you to build coalitions within the government so something actually gets done in Washington. Just make sure that something is the right something.
Surprise me by allowing your famous intuition to be leavened by an inquiring mind. The world is more complex than any of us knows, and soon you will be handed the same binder that President Obama was handed eight years ago. It will lay out the actual state of the world in all its complexity. No one is ready for such revelation, and you must respond by doing your homework, not just by going with your gut.
Surprise me by reaching out to the LGBT community and the Latino community and the Muslim community and the African American community. Apologize for your campaign rhetoric and promise you will continue to protect their rights, both longstanding and more recently achieved. Surprise me by earning my trust, or else such promises are worthless.
You will be the 45th president of the United States of America. You will step into the shoes of Washington and Lincoln and Roosevelt and Reagan and, yes, Obama. You have surprised me thus far.
Please, Mr. Trump, keep surprising me.
The words and views expressed in this article are my own. I am speaking for myself and not as a representative of my church or any wider church institution.
Banner image: Detail from “The Washing of the Feet” by James Tissot.