You are now the most powerful person in our country and arguably, in the world. The source of your power comes from much more than our military might or the size of our economy.
It arises from what is your strongest personal quality and is our greatest national need. You have a unique ability to make people feel valued both in your eyes and as valued citizens of our great country. Today, too many Americans feel disenfranchised and if they don’t find reason to feel as though they belong then they could present the greatest national security threat to the peace and security of our society.
For us baby boomers, your last hurrah is also ours. You will certainly be the last of our generation. By the time you leave office, Nancy, Steny, Jim, Pat, Diane and Mitch will have already retired. Frankly, there are far too many of today’s leaders in their late 70s and 80s to name them all.
Our parents fought and sacrificed to triumph over the “isms” of communism, socialism, fascism, Nazism and authoritarianism. We were then entrusted with the leadership of our government, our economy and our society for the last half century. It’s now time to send a message of hope and guidance to the world of our descendants that we may never see.
We need a collective sense of purpose. Otherwise, history informs us that we will turn against ourselves as warring tribes. Dwight Eisenhower said that “The purpose of presidential leadership is to raise us up as one nation, to carry us above our petty differences and unite us in pursuit of our noblest ambitions.”
• The pandemic
The current pandemic could have been a unifying test of national resolve. It has turned out to be anything but. You can now lead us into acceptance of the vaccine, engineer its maximum distribution, and mandate mask-wearing until such time as the virus is no longer a pervasive threat.
• The environment
The last five years have been the warmest in recorded history. Our extreme weather events are costing us too much human misery and too many billions of dollars. We desperately need a transformation to renewable solar, wind and geothermal energy.
In the same way that natural species survive and prosper by adapting, the history of America is one of absorption and adaptation. You must reform and depoliticize our immigration system.
It is in our national interest to more aggressively address the crime below our borders that drives too many of our neighbors to seek refuge within our borders.
We will, and always should, be a nation of immigrants though, who are expected to work a little harder for less immediate reward until they are absorbed into the fabric of our economy and our society. It’s not unreasonable to expect that they wait their turn, comply with our laws, learn our language and respect their neighbors. We can’t just “open our borders” any more than we should “defund the police.” But immigrants are not our enemy; they are part of our same human family and deserve to be treated humanely.
• Fiscal responsibility
Twenty-eight trillion dollars — $84,000 per person and $220,000 per taxpayer — is what we all owe today. What kind of message is that to leave the next generation? In the same way we would not want to leave our children with an insurmountable debt of our making to be paid off by them, it’s time to rectify our national indebtedness.
In the last year we’ve dumped trillions of dollars into the economy with too little accountability and questionable justification. Why would we want to be giving $2,000 payments to folks that have been working at home, making phone calls, shuffling papers and getting fully paid with less to spend it on? This is why the stock market and savings accounts are at record levels in the midst of a shuttered economy and near zero interest rates.
Target the money to those who have actually lost their manufacturing, restaurant and personal service jobs.
And why should so many of us in the upper middle class be getting back three and a half times what we paid into Medicare? Means test entitlement programs. We’re not entitled to more than we’ve earned and paid for.
• Racial justice
Back in the 1970s, Mr. President, you opposed a federal mandate for school busing. Your argument was that while Black children deserved a much better education than they were getting, most parents want their children to be attending their neighborhood schools. You were right. Busing was well-intentioned but has proven to be another unsuccessful social experiment.
Yet the median wealth of a Black family is $3,600. That’s 2% of the average White family’s wealth. That’s neither fair nor sustainable. The key difference is home ownership. Most wealth is not accrued from income as much as from asset appreciation. Families need to be able to borrow against their home to send their kids to college and to retire financially secure. Too few families of color own homes. We need a more robust federal home loan outreach program and aggressive anti-discrimination enforcement.
• Our children’s care
Last month 113,000 people lost their jobs. All were minority women. Men gained jobs and White women gained 16,000 jobs. A factor is childcare. With schools closed, lower income mothers especially have had to stay home with their young children. If we want to bring about sustainable social progress, we should invest in developmental day care in the earliest years when 80% of a child’s brain is formed.
Looking beyond our borders, since when does this country ignore a massive cyberattack on us, penetrating critical infrastructure without a harsh response? Our adversary, Russia attacked us and every day abuses the principles of democratic governance, human rights and freedom of the press. We need to set the world on notice that the sheriff’s back in town.
The principles of the Enlightenment that have defined humankind’s aspirations must once again define this nation whose ancestors for 250 years have worked too hard and sacrificed too much to dim that bright shining light of human freedom. That was the greatest gift from those who went before us and should be the most important message to those who will succeed us.
• Jim Moran is a former Democratic U.S. representative from Virginia.