“When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one gun salutes, all those things. You have to remember it isn’t for you. It’s for the Presidency.” Harry S. Truman said those words and seemed to grasp something of great importance that is preventing our current president from hearing the call of his countrymen to meet this moment in history.
The presidency is not about you, Mr. Trump. I know that may seem an odd thing to say. You are the president. But the presidency is not, in its purest and most American sense, about you as a person. It is about the United States of America, the American people. It is about our great nation and the freedoms we celebrate on this 4th of July.
That is why when you take criticism of you, or your actions as president, personally, you waste your, and therefore the nation’s, time. Of course there will be criticism – some warranted – some harsh and unwarranted. As President Truman said, “The President is always abused. If he isn’t, he isn’t doing anything.” You have such precious little time while in office. You have none to spare worrying about such things. Abraham Lincoln put it this way: “If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business.” Stop worrying about the criticism, the cable TV shows, the tweets, the news. All of these things are for those of us who are not president to spend time with. You must lead us.
I know this is easier said than done. As I look back over history, I believe every president has had a rough go in the press at one time or another. President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.'” You are now a member of the most exclusive club on earth – those who have lead the greatest nation on earth. The one unfortunate aspect of that great honor is that you will be roundly and consistently criticized. It is the American way.
When you label every news organization that criticizes you as “fake news,” you waste your time and you dishonor the freedoms you are sworn to defend. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president… is morally treasonable to the American public.” You know these stories are not “made up,” as we understand the word “fake” to mean. They are just critical. And you must be strong enough to take them and too busy to pay any attention.
Abraham Lincoln said, “We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it.” Up until now, you have been neither too big nor noble, Mr. President. I won’t quote your tweets here. We have all read them enough. But I have faith in the inner strength of every man and woman to rise to the occasion. I have faith in you, President Trump, to allow the inspiration of the office you hold to blend with your considerable talent and result in a president we have not seen thus far – one without bitterness, one without one sidedness, one who is the president of all Americans, one who is quicker to encourage than criticize, one who realizes the great office he holds is not about him.
For the remainder of your time in office, you must put concern for Donald J. Trump aside. You must come last, after 326 million Americans, including thousands of members of the press. The journalists from CNN, and other organizations you castigate, are Americans. Their companies are American companies. And you cannot serve them while you are trying to discredit them and put them out of business.
On this 4th of July, I celebrate the freedoms I and millions of Americans cherish. The freedom to vote. The freedom to worship or not to worship. The freedom of speech. And separately and with deep gratitude for its role in keeping us free, the freedom of the press. Forgive the self-serving nature of these lines (although I have never thought of myself as a journalist in the traditional sense) but I know that without a free press, we are less free. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”