Trump Aspires to Greatness

Booker C. Peek, Emeritus Professor of Africana Studies

To the Editors:

President-elect Donald Trump wants to be a transformational president, honored just like Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. But because of his ego, he wants to be elevated above them, to occupy the pantheon of greatness envied by all gods. In his first month as President-elect, he might have done a little more to unite the country.

His march toward eternal greatness could have already begun had he first spoken to the nation with an undiluted message of unity, comfort and specific reassurances to those who felt most threatened and unsafe, followed by any number of rallies in stadiums to which all were invited, especially those who did not vote for him — not rallies designed for him to thank his supporters, not rallies for those in one city to welcome home its championship team with delirious cheers while another is left in tears. He is president-elect of all American cities and citizens.

Trump can recover from that misstep by ensuring that the some 20 million who now have insurance because of Obamacare won’t miss a day of coverage even as efforts get under way to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The intent is to replace it, but that may take more than three years. Trump can step toward being transformational by not letting a day pass, let alone three years, without full coverage for that 20 million. Who among us would be willing to go without health protection that long!

Few would ask Trump to focus much attention on what the Founding Fathers did to Native Americans/Indigenous peoples in the 18th and 19th centuries. But all should expect him to make sure that our sacred Constitution, though drafted by mostly wealthy and — by today’s standards — racist white men, is not dishonored by our fear of Muslims or undermined by our desire to have a deportation department to cleanse the country of 11 million illegal immigrants. To be transformational, he just has to make sure that we do not repeat acts reminiscent of those that led us to intern Japanese Americans in the ’40s and refuse sanctuary in 1939 to the German ship S.S. St. Louis carrying over 900 Jews seeking to avoid extermination — decisions causing stain, sadness and shame that are nightmarish even today.

Our Founding Fathers could never have imagined an America with more wealth and military power than that of any five nations combined. Yet in a divided nation, Trump cannot be transformational. He’s Americans’ president-elect, soon to be president. He can begin to build his transformational legacy by doing all that he can to unite the country in the 21st century, as Lincoln did in the 19th. At this early point, more than a few of us have not done all we can to be helpful. But as there’s much time left for Trump to do better, there’s surely enough for us. If Trump is transformational, so will America be. Let’s take steps toward greatness together. Celebrate this day.

–Booker C. Peek
Emeritus Professor of Africana Studies