Published on March 28th, 2017 | by Mary Margaret Alvarado1
DEAR 45: Picturebook Selections for the President
Dear Mr. Trump,
It’s 4 a.m. in the bungalow. I know you’re in real estate, but I’m not sure that you’ve ever been inside a bungalow. They’re pretty great. In this country, bungalows marked “a rare occasion in which serious architecture was found outside the realm of the rich.” No filigree, no gold, and I kind of miss hallways, but man are these houses honestly and well built. The idea seems almost utopian now: give American workers stylish, lasting homes. One wage could do it. My husband grew up in a trailer home—do you know about those?—and always wanted a bungalow. Over here, in ours, I just heard the automatic coffeemaker kick on, and the baby is making baby sounds in her sleep. Stray moon- and streetlight falls on her fat cheeks, which are so beautiful. I’m up because I just nursed her. Let me tell you about this work: you are food for somebody. When that defenseless person calls for you, you come. You move over so much you glimpse your own death, which is not such a big thing after all.
You are also going to die! Did you know that? You’re old. It may happen pretty soon! Then your body will leak and rot and sprout, like bodies do. This is a great time for you to give away everything you’ve ever accumulated, to ask forgiveness from everyone you’ve ever wronged, to thank people, make amends, go to your grandchildren’s recitals or something, give a bunch of Yemeni kiosk owners anonymous thousand-dollar tips, learn some party tricks that involve your dentures, and shut up a lot. You could try to make and keep a friend. You know why we still talk about Andrew Carnegie, another rich guy? Because he gave that shit away. The ones who die with it are forgotten: this pharoah, that pharoah, the rows of bygone plutocrats planted under gaudy obelisks, James G. Fair. Their kids fight over the money and wind up in court, their kids’ kids do designer drugs, everybody has that upscale-spa sheen, then somebody heli-skis into a tree. Sad.
Of course your own particular death coincides with a historical death rattle: a last grasping after oil, coal, and the unquestioned reign of white men. And you are an apotheosis of our deathiest inclinations: to worship celebrity, power, and money; to accept racism and rape like folksy background music; to applaud and enfranchise ignorance.
But hey! MAGA! We could cultivate some quiet together, step back, and see this for what it is: History. One thing ending, something else beginning. Another world is possible, that’s what the signs say. What about another you? Back when you were Candidate Trump, and I was working hard not to hate you, I made my husband spend most of one dinner planning a restorative justice program for you, because that’s better than punitive justice. It went like this: You don’t get to use your brand name. You are either given a new name, or you are called by the diminutive form that someone kind once called you. Donny, maybe. Were you ever Donny? After great work, you might earn a relational name, like brother, or son.
You would not be given the honor of spending time with women, children, the disabled, immigrants, refugees, Muslims, vets, or anyone who isn’t white, though you could work towards that privilege. No mirrors, no photos, no fake tan, no internet, no news. Thrift-store jeans, a buzz cut. The majority of your day would be spent doing manual labor that is difficult and tires you, but does not break you. You would do this work in silence—we’d all be done hearing from you, forever—and you would do it in service of the poor.
You’d be outside, in the weather. From your insistence that our public lands are places to frack and drill, that waterways are best for dumping toxins, and that corporate profits are more important than a climate, I’m pretty sure you don’t know about this lovely thing: the out-of-doors. It might just blow your mind. There are cabbage moths. The sun rises and sets. Long-tailed weasels turn white in the winter. Mountains of sand shift and reconfigure. Hawks catch warm air and glide. What you’d be working on chiefly is dirt: how to get the poisons we keep putting in out, how to hoe it, how to amend it, how to weed it by going after the deepest roots. You’d shovel manure and turn compost. Your advisor in this work would be a good man I know who lives with sex offenders who are working to not offend. After some time, if your shriveled heart had grown, you’d get to read a book. Books are amazing, Mr. Trump! Frederick Douglass wrote some fantastic, real-news ones. There are others, called novels, where you get to dream yourself into someone else’s life.
But perhaps you should start with children’s books, not because they’re any less wondrous, but because they’re short, and I understand you’ve injured your attention span. Have you read Brundibar? It’s an opera that was performed fifty-five times by the children in a Nazi concentration camp called Terezin. Brundibar gets rich from singing a song that is “awful, awful, awful.” He hates children, he wants to “stuff ’em in a burlap sack,” but they skip school and take him down, as tyrants “topple one-two-three.” Or what about In the Night Kitchen? Same illustrator, same Nazis, but now they’re cannibals. That kid makes a plane out of the bread dough he’s supposed to die in and flies away. Swimmy might alarm you. If you aren’t moved while reading Whose Mouse Are You? then back to step one of your program. You could work up to a chapter book. This week my children and I finished a famous one that might interest you: there’s this half-dead parasite of a man who feeds on the blood of unicorns and moves into the willing body of a coward, thus commandeering his thoughts and actions. Does that ring a bell?
But the book I really want you to read is Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep. It’s by a woman, and the hero is a heroine, so this might be a few years out for you. Elsie is poor and her neighbors are poor. She eats a breakfast of bread-and-butter and a dinner of butter-and-bread. “A born skipper,” she “skips as never so” in the lanes of Glynde every evening, and on Mount Caburn each new moon. Time passes, and Elsie grows old. A Lord comes to Glynde who does not respect the rule of law unless it’s his law, and balks at any checks on his power. He steals “the Common rights here and there, as he could,” and tries to steal Mount Caburn too. His greed is boundless, and he presses the people harder than they can bear. I don’t want to tell you everything about the uprising that begins with a bunch of women, but, spoiler alert: Elsie Piddock returns. She does the long skip, the strong skip, and the skip against trouble. She keeps her word, but the Lord can’t keep his. She skips for love; he plots for power. Guess who triumphs in the end?
I should close now. One of my jobs these days is to spend the minimal amount of time thinking about you, but my friend Helder put me up to this. Helder’s named after one of those Christians who never confused the cross with capitalism, or a flag. In high school we played sports together. The only reason I didn’t fail our team completely the few times I went in as goalie was because she stood by and coached me—a friend like that. So I couldn’t say no.
Have you read the letter she sent you? I hope you have. She wrote that she was ashamed of her country and ashamed of you, after you signed Executive Order No. 5, “PROTECTING THE NATION FROM FOREIGN TERRORIST ENTRY INTO THE UNITED STATES,” or, as you have tweeted, “bad people (with bad intentions),” “‘evil,’” “bad people,” “potential terrorists,” “many very bad and dangerous people,” and “a lot of bad ‘dudes.’” A terrorist, of course, is one who terrorizes (think Newton, think Charleston, think men who beat and rape their wives), but it seems like your real interest here is “foreign” and “entry,” hence: a big, big wall. The whole thing smacks of Psych 101. “I don’t feel safer because of this order,” Helder wrote. “On the contrary, I think you’ve added ammunition to the ISIS propaganda war.”
Helder made me think of Craigslist after Hurricane Katrina. Remember that? Did you post one of your thirty-some domestic properties on there? I put up: one-bedroom apartment in Iowa City, happy to share with a single woman. I thought my deal was okay: big living room with lots of windows that we could turn into a bedroom. But wowza, do you remember the offerings? Mine was nothing. Americans were like: We have a home in Santa Fe that we use two, maybe three weeks a year. We have an empty mother-in-law cottage in the backyard. Our kids are grown, so we have three empty bedrooms and two unused bathrooms. Loft apartment that’s only occupied when I’ve got work in the city. Et cetera! It was almost grotesque: the excess, but also beautiful: the desire to give it away. And it was a reminder that we invent these problems, like homelessness, we make them; then we act defeated as though there isn’t some other way.
But there is.
I wish you a good death, Mr. President, and a season of restitution in the meantime.
Mary Margaret Alvarado