The Bully’s Pulpit: A Letter to Gus After an Un-Presidential Debate

As we sat and watched, you turned to me and Mom and said, “Donald Trump is annoying. He won’t let Joe Biden speak.”

The Bully’s Pulpit: A Letter to Gus After an Un-Presidential Debate

30 September 2020

Dear Gus,

Last night, you came home from soccer practice, ate dinner, took a shower, and then came downstairs to watch the first of the three presidential debates. Mom and I were sitting on the couch, stunned by the time you came down because the debate had started less than ten minutes earlier and we were already frustrated.

Every four years, we get to elect a new president. We also get to elect state representatives and senators, local government officials, railroad commissioners, and all sorts of other people. Their job is to serve the community, to take care of us, to make sure the money we pay in taxes creates a better community, to make sure we all benefit from the collective wealth we’ve been blessed with.

These officials are supposed to promote what we sometimes call “The Public Good.”

The presidential election stirs up the most interest because the President of the United States is the one person that the whole country gets to vote for. Many people believe the President of the United States is the most powerful person in the world. Whoever holds that office has a difficult job. Here are some of the things  the President must do:

  • Make decisions about how to defend the country.
  • Make sure laws get enforced properly.
  • Propose to Congress how we spend our money.
  • Meet with leaders from other countries to try to make the world a better, safer place.
  • Decide, with the consent of the United States Senate, who gets to be a judge and who gets to make up ideas for how the country is going to manage money, healthcare, energy, etc.
  • Throw out the first pitch at baseball games. (Actually, that one would be pretty easy for you.)

This is just scratching the surface!

The President has so many things to do, so we give the President a bunch of people to help do the job. Remember how we talked about what a good leader does? A good leader surrounds himself with the smartest people in the room to help him make decisions. A good President will pick the most knowledgeable, most experienced people to help her make good decisions about all of those things I listed above and more!

Electing a President, then, is serious business. So, I’m really glad you wanted to watch the debate between President Donald Trump and the former Vice-President Joe Biden. To be honest, your mom and I had a debate of our own. Staying up to watch would mean that you’d be up well past your bedtime, but we also thought that it was important that you see how our country works.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go quite like we’d hoped.

Because the President has so many important jobs, he really needs to have good ideas and to be able to communicate those ideas clearly and effectively. When we sat down to watch the debate, we hoped that Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden would take the time to explain their ideas and to question each other.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Why? Well, because last night’s debate suffered from a case of what I like to call POTUS Interruptus (a joke that you’ll get when you’re older).

As we sat and watched, you turned to me and Mom and said, “Donald Trump is annoying. He won’t let Joe Biden speak.”

You’re right. Throughout the night, President Trump didn’t let Joe Biden speak. He interrupted both Joe Biden and Chris Wallace about 145 different times: that's more than 1.5 times per minute! Even though the candidates had agreed on a set of rules, Mr. Trump felt like he could just say whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Each canidate was supposed to get two minutes, uninterrupted, to answer questions. But Donald Trump never let Joe Biden have his full two minutes.

It reminded me of a situation that you had recently on the playground at school. You told me that one of your classmates controlled the soccer game. No matter what happened, he would declare new rules that would benefit him. If he pushed you, it was fine. But if you pushed him, then it was a foul and he’d get the ball back.

“It makes me so mad,” you said. “There are rules, but he thinks he just gets to make them up as he goes along.”

That’s pretty much what the President was doing last night. He and Joe Biden had agreed on rules, but the President kept breaking the rules and then pointing out when Joe Biden broke the rules.

So much of what we do in life depends upon little agreements that we make. Part of growing up is becoming “a person of your word”: someone we can trust to hold up your end of the agreements.

If you say you’re going to do something, then you should do it.

  • If you say you’re going to play by a certain set of rules, then play by those rules. Don’t try to make up new rules as you go along.
  • If you say you’re going to help a friend with a project, then help your friend with the project.
  • If you say you’re going to bring cupcakes to a party, then bring cupcakes to a party.

And, well, if you say you’re going to have a new plan for healthcare in this country, or you’re going to release your tax returns, or you’re going to abide by very simple rules for a debate—rules that you agreed to—then you should honor all of those.

President Trump’s inability to obey by the rules, his inability to stop interrupting came to a particularly terrible end when he decided that he was going to make fun of Joe Biden’s son. Like a bully, he thought he could make fun of Joe Biden and his children in hopes of getting what he wanted. But bullies, Gus, never get what they want in the end because bullies, weird as it may seem, are scared and weak. They don’t understand that true strength is derived from kindness and generosity.

Think about it for a minute.

When you’re kind to a friend, when you help them or give them a gift, you both feel really good about it, don’t you?

When you’re mean to a friend, when you hurt their feelings, you both feel pretty crummy, right?

Usually, when you’re mean to a friend, you do so out of weakness. You do so because you’re scared of what other people might think, or you’re scared that you might lose something. A fancy word for this type of fear is “insecurity.” It means that you feel unsafe.

Sometimes, you might feel unsafe because you’re worried you will upset us or lose our love. When President Trump insulted Joe Biden’s son, Joe Biden responded by saying he was proud of his son, even though his son had made some mistakes in the past.

You don’t have to worry about losing your parents’ love, Gus, just because you make some mistakes. We expect you to make mistakes. We expect you to have some struggles.

But we also hope you’ll learn from them.

Whatever mishaps you have along the way, we’ll always be proud of you, and you’ll always have a place in our home and in our hearts. Our love for you is secure.