Reframing Greatness

Dear President Trump,

I want you to know that I’m praying for you.  I pray daily for you and your family and for Vice President Pence and his family.  I pray for your health and safety and the same for your loved ones.  I also pray for you to have the wisdom and integrity and courage to govern well and justly.

My family and I have been praying for you and yours since you won the election last November.  I think, however, I’m going to add another request to my prayers.

I’d like for you to recognize that America is already great and that you don’t have to try to so hard to make it great again.  Our country is deeply, and at times horrifically, flawed, both historically and presently.  I freely admit that and believe we, as a country, must work to push past our current struggles to create a good future for everyone.  Nevertheless, despite our flaws, and in some ways because of them, we are a great nation and always have been.

We are a nation of idealists; idealism permeates the very bedrock of our existence as a country.  Our founding and governing documents are some of the most idealistic, profound, and powerful documents in the world.  Many things make America great, and chief among them is our idealism.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (US Declaration of Independence).

In 1776, the equality of all people was anything but self-evident; it was laughable.  Yet we founded our country not only on the idea of attainable equality for everyone but of equality as a prerequisite to a free society.  We did not know how this idealized free society would come to fruition, but we knew that it must; so we worked toward its actualization.

By 1787 we could say:

“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” (“Preamble,” US Constitution).

Many of our flaws come in the execution of our ideals, but we hold these ideals dear nevertheless.  My favorites are “promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”  Every action we take every day can either promote and secure these concepts or they can undermine and endanger them.  This onus of responsibility is great but necessary, and every citizen bears the mantle to protect them.

I fear your budget proposals will undermine and endanger our freedoms, rather than promote and secure them.  Consequently, I would like to tell you a little bit about how some of your proposals impact my family.  I like stories, so I’ll tell a few.  I hope you don’t mind.

Did you know Smoky Mountain National Park is the salamander capital of the world?  I learned this the other day while watching a program on NatGeo Wild.  I had no idea our national park had more species of salamander than any other place on the planet.  I wish I had known that when my family and I vacationed there a few years ago.  I would have gone on a salamander hunt.  I love the wonders of nature and believe they reveal God’s glory.  I also believe it’s our responsibility to protect the planet and its inhabitants.  Despite the good work of the EPA, we still have more to do to halt and eventually reverse the deleterious effects of humans on the environment.  To protect our planet and our future on earth, agencies like the EPA need ongoing support.

My love of all things environmental and science began when I was a child and we didn’t have cable television.  I watched a lot of PBS.  Some of my favorite shows were Wild America, 3-2-1- Contact, Cosmos, Nova, and Discover the World of Science.  Watching those programs began a lifelong desire to learn about the world around me.

PBS also engendered in me a love for the arts.  I didn’t stop at just watching the science shows when I was growing up.  I also watched the Joy of Painting, the French Chef, the Frugal Gourmet, Evening at PopsLive from Lincoln Center, Matinee at the Bijou, and Championship Ballroom Dancing.  And now I love to create and support people who create.

The National Endowment for the Arts makes it possible for creative efforts to continue and be recognized in a variety of venues, including public television.  Defunding that agency will remove future artists from the world, like my son.  He plays the violin but his new school doesn’t have an orchestra program, so he is auditioning for a community orchestra that enjoys a partnership with the NEA.  He will have no place to play in an orchestra without this, and his talent could become buried or lost without a place to cultivate it.

But I digressed.  I will readily discuss arts education programs, as I believe them vital to our nation’s children, but I wasn’t finished talking about PBS, which I still watch.  I watched it with my children when they were little, and I have my own shows that I follow, most recently Mercy Street, which regrettably has been canceled.  We need quality public television that doesn’t require cable or satellite subscriptions or internet access or a Youtube account.  In short, we need television that anyone can access to learn about recent developments in science, the arts, and, of course, education.  (Need I mention the hours I spent watching Sesame Street, Electric Company, Zoom, Captain Kangaroo, and Vegetable Soup?)  You never know how this programming might change a life and in turn change the world.  It, therefore, must be funded.

Although I watched a good amount of television when I was young, I also read widely.  My taste in literature, like my taste in television programs, has always been eclectic.  To feed this voracity, my father took me to the public library about every two weeks, where I would check out books a dozen at a time.  To this day, I heavily use libraries – public, school, and academic.  Without the unfettered access to information made available by libraries, I never would have earned my Ph.D. in English, specializing in 19th Century American literature.  I also would have nowhere to send my children and students when they seek to learn more than I can tell them myself.  Perhaps I’m invoking hyperbole, but probably not, when I say society as we know it may crumble without funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  As the American Library Association wrote in a recent press release, defunding libraries is “counterproductive” to advancing our society.

Our American society will cease advancing without a strong educational system.  I have two children in this system, and it has been a rollercoaster navigating it.  My daughter is 12 and currently attends a charter public school.  She has also attended a private Christian school and a traditional neighborhood public school.  My son, at 10 years old, is about a month and a half younger than your son, whom I understand recently had a birthday.  I hope he had a joyous day.  My son currently is a transfer student in a traditional public school outside of our district.  He, like his sister, has also attended a private Christian school and a traditional neighborhood public school.  Starting next year he will attend a magnet public school in our district.  Both of them attended preschool through an early childhood education center at the YMCA.  That is a lot of different schools and different types of schools for them to have attended in their short lives.

In the traditional neighborhood public school, both children had a wonderful beginning with their kindergarten teachers.  One of the teachers, incidentally, was so wonderful that she recommended we move out of the district to another one that could more easily support our children in their educational needs.  In other words, she intimated that our district couldn’t easily provide the resources needed to keep up with the level of education my children deserved.  That broke my heart.

I can think of no good reason that any child in any public school in the US should not have access to the resources necessary to provide a top-notch education.  All of our children deserve this.

I understand the thinking behind school choice initiatives.  My daughter attends a charter school, which I love.  Anyone who has talked to me for more than five minutes has heard me sing the praises of my daughter’s school.  Her school is an option that we availed ourselves of, but everyone doesn’t have the same options we do.  And they shouldn’t suffer because those options aren’t open to them.

In Missouri, for example, the only cities that can even have charter schools are St. Louis and Kansas City.  Funding school choice to the detriment of funding public schools leaves many students without choices at all, because their only options are their local public schools.  Beyond the impracticalities of school choice, traditional public education should be rich and vibrant and accessible, because that’s the right thing, because ensuring such holds to the ideal of a free and just society.

Perhaps I’m biased because my mom has been a public school math teacher for most of her adult life.  Even now in her 70s she still teaches every day.  Thousands of her students and colleagues have benefitted from her wisdom, wit, knowledge, professionalism, and spirit.  Defunding public education will further remove the best teachers from the students who need them the most and in turn further remove those students from participating fully in our society.  Yes, good public education is that important.  Alas, I’ve digressed again.  I can talk about the benefits of public education at length, but I want to get back to my mother.

My 70-something mother works full-time as a high school math teacher.  Let that sink in for a moment.  I’m a few decades younger than she is, and teaching high school wore me ragged.  I can’t comprehend how she does it everyday, but I’m glad she does.  I’m glad not only for the good she is doing but because working gives her access to health insurance.  She has preexisting conditions, and if she were to retire, I worry that she wouldn’t qualify for health insurance under the proposed American Health Care Act.  I also worry how my father, who has already retired and has preexisting conditions, would be insured.

I worry, too, about how my family would cope if anything happened to my husband.  I’m well-educated, but I’m broke.  Being a humanist, college administrator, erstwhile high school teacher, and stay-at-home mom doesn’t earn me a top salary.  If not for my husband’s gainful employment in a STEM field, my children and I would struggle.  We are just a paycheck away from the inability to exercise all of the options we’ve enjoyed so far in life.  We would need affordable public health care.  We would need good neighborhood schools that don’t require long daily commutes.  We would need school arts programs.  We would need free school lunch programs.  We would need the access to information afforded by our local libraries.  We would need quality public television for enrichment and enjoyment.  We would need someone to ensure our food and water supplies are healthy and affordable.  In short, we would need all of the goods and services that currently face budget cuts.

And in reality, we need all of them now.  All Americans need these services.  We need them because they uphold and promote our American ideals.

Perhaps it’s foolish to believe in the ideal of a free and equal society that provides for the needs of all of our citizens regardless of their racial, ethnic, social, economic, wealth, or ability status.  But I do.  And I’m not alone.

Not being alone in this foolhardy belief lets me know that America is great.  We are a nation filled with people who still tightly cling to the vision that founded our country – the vision of equality for everyone and protection of the freedom to believe differently yet act corporately and in the best interest of all.

America is already great, and I would like for it to stay that way.

So in addition to your well-being and ability to govern, I’m praying for you to reframe your idea of what makes America great, so you can promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

May God bless you, President Trump, and may God bless the United States of America.

Sincerely,

Roshaunda D. Cade, Ph.D.

US flag by Unsplash on Pixabay at https://pixabay.com/en/flag-patriotism-stripes-freedom-1209484/
US flag by Unsplash on Pixabay at https://pixabay.com/en/flag-patriotism-stripes-freedom-1209484/

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