A Letter of Optimism to President-Elect Trump

President-Elect Trump, 

Congratulations.  You have won the greatest contest in the world.  You will be the next President.  The next president for all Americans—those who voted for you and those who didn't.

I did not vote for you—millions did not vote for you—but you will be our President.  Those who voted for you have already been convinced—think of them as existing customers.  But we are the new customers, the new visitors to your hotel.  We arrived from a competing hotel.  That hotel had to shut down—there was a fire in the middle of the night and we were evacuated—and now we are all a little disappointed.  We are all a little on edge.  And we are all very tired.  It is late, and we have been rebooked to stay in a Trump Hotel.  Please, treat us well.  Treat us as visitors to your great hotel who did not choose it, but who are hoping—truly—for a good night’s rest.  Please work hard, as your employees work every day, to surprise us.  To sweep us off our feet with the quality and attention to detail and the service.  Your existing customers—those who voted for you—they are already sleeping happy in their beds.  We, however, are standing grumpy and grim and maybe a little charred in the lobby.  Inpatient with the situation and in a state of mind to be unimpressed by the opulence of the marble.  Don’t give up on us.  You can win us over because we are all your customers now.

But this isn't all on you; we can step up, too.  You deserve serious thought and consideration. You have been mocked and made fun of for years—decades, even.  And some of it people will say is fair and some of it people will say is unfair.  But lots of it really is mean—and I don’t think it’s right to be mean to anyone.  You have been mean to people in the past, but meanness met with meanness doesn’t get us anywhere.

Those who mock you discount your better qualities.  And everyone has better qualities.  Your love and genuine care for your kids.  Your skill at building the business that your father started.  At building it far bigger and far greater than he had started it.  And your generosity: remember that time you rebuilt the ice skating rink in Central Park?  The entire city was grateful for you.  Not just because you gave the money—plenty of rich New Yorkers could have given the money.  But because you had a vision for what the city could have been—what the city should have been:  The greatest city on Earth.

Greatness has always been a motivation for you.  But as a man who is always striving for more, being elected President is not and could never be your greatest achievement.  There is always more to reach for.  And now, having been elected President, your goal must shift.  Certainly your aim—to make America great—must still motivate you.  But at a personal level, when you think of what you want to achieve for yourself, it must now be to become a great President.  Every President has that chance—and now it is up to you to become it.  To strive for it.  To work everyday as hard as you worked during the campaign—day after day after day—to become not just a great President, but the greatest President.

Some will say this is impossible.  I know many will consider these words crazy.  Even those who voted for you may think that no one could surpass George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.  But our future as a country is always greater than our past.  We must believe that the future will bring greater possibilities than those that came before—greater opportunities, and bigger wins.  So I genuinely believe that you have the chance to achieve this—and I want to help you do it.  I hope that everyone wants to help you do it.  Because as my President, I am 100% invested in your success.  As you succeed, this country succeeds.  And everyone in it.

The work starts with those around you. Those on your team who helped you reach the Presidency deserve your appreciation.  They deserve your thanks.  But they are not entitled to anything more than that.  You know this better than anybody.  If it is not in the contract, in writing, then it is not an entitlement.  If you had an open position at your company, you wouldn’t hire the person who held the door open for you just because they helped you get where you were going.  You would look carefully at the position and the candidates, and you would decide who would be most likely to do a great job in that role.  Who would be most likely to greatly advance the reputation of your business—and your reputation.  Because what you care about above all—above pleasing loyal people—is making a great hotel. And now, a great country.

Yes, it is fair to thank those who helped you, fair to appreciate them and consider what they could help you with next.  But you must decide what is best.  That is the trust that every one of your voters put in your candidacy, and it is the trust that the Constitution puts in you as President.  You have earned the right to say no when helpful people expect favors.  And the right to request help when the best of people turn away.  Very few can turn down the privilege to serve their country at the highest level.

Reach out to every person you ever respected, reach out to those who are the best in their industries, and sit with them.  Have a conversation with them.  Ask them to serve and they will not turn you down.  Maybe they turned down the opportunity in the past, maybe they were quiet during the election. Don’t fault them for it.  Remember—this was a brutal campaign and this is politics.  Lots of smart people don’t like to get mixed up with it—just as you hadn't run for office before this.  But outsiders, great social and business leaders, can bring new perspectives and new opportunities.  That’s why so many Americans elected you President.  And it’s why there’s such a great opportunity for you to achieve greatness as President.

The Republican Party is interested in the Republican Party.  They don’t want you to be the greatest American President, they want you to be a great Republican President.  Or maybe greatness is too great for their political imagination.  They just want a Republican President who they can work with.  Who can push their agenda and serve them and their needs.  Don’t let them push you into mediocrity.  Don’t let them turn you into another George W. Bush.  Or even a George H. W. Bush.  Who remembers those Presidents fondly?  Who thinks of their achievements as great—or even helpful—for the country?  They will be forgotten—or worse, panned for failures that Republican leaders recommended.  To invade Iraq.  To bankrupt the country.  To expand the powers of the federal government.  Just remember—that was the same Republican Party that is now advising you.  That wants to make you just another Republican President.  Don’t let them.

It won’t be easy to say no.  For every subject, Republicans will have a plan.  They will have plans for lots of things—pre-made, ready to go.  Just push a button.  Don't push it.  Don’t buy it.  Just because they’ve thought about it longer than you have, doesn’t mean they’ve had the best thoughts.  Resist the easy choice—and find your own solutions.  How?  Well, you’ve already shown it: with an open mind.

I know that some fault you for changing your position on things—but changing your mind is not a fault.  It’s the only way to always be right.  You may have the most open mind of any President in recent history—you’re not bogged down by years and years of brainwashing by a political party and financial donors.  So use that open mind.  Fill it with differing ideas and differing solutions—so that you can choose the best one.  As President—as George W. Bush famously said—you are “the decider.”  But that power is only great if you give yourself great options.  So seek out options—from every side of every issue.  The more options, the more opportunities for greatness.  Those around you will try to shelter you, to block competing ideas, to put you in a box with one choice and one choice only: theirs.  Don't let them box you in.  Don't let them limit your options for greatness.  Trust your own instincts to decide for yourself what is best.  Trust that when you can see every path, the right one will be clear.

Talk to Republicans.  Talk to Democrats.  Talk to Libertarians and independent voters.  Talk to scientists and cultural leaders.  Talk to those of all faiths, all backgrounds and histories.  Talk to historians.  And talk to those who have lived history.  Even Hillary Clinton, who wrote a book called Living History.  I know you respect her grit and determination.  Her refusal to blink in the face of a storm.  She’s worked hard on these issues and has considered lots of options.  She's smart and she is a peer, an equal—like a rival businessperson.  Her hotel may have burned down, but she still knows all there is to know about hotel management.  Don’t be afraid to talk to her and use her experience to enhance your own decisions.  Just as she swallowed her pride to work with Obama, she will brush off her wounds to help make you a great President.  She is a believer in this country and loves it as much as you do.  And just think—what incredible news it would make if word got out that you were big enough to talk with her.

In that same sense, befriend your recent predecessors—President Obama and President Bush.  They are the only ones who know what it's like to stand where you stand.  Yes, they have both made mistakes.  Like the rest of us, you’ve seen those mistakes from the outside.  Make these Presidents explain those mistakes from the inside—from their perspective.  Learn from them so you don't repeat them.  Make them point out their missteps so you don’t fall into them.  The more mistakes they made, the more you have to learn.  The more success they share, the more likely you are to be successful.

Foreign policy is fraught with failure—both of those presidents failed in foreign policy in one way or another.  And you, too, will face failure on the world stage.  It’s inevitable that something will go wrong—some call will be blown or plan unravel.  But success is still possible—even great success.  American Presidents have helped to end the Cold War—they’ve inspired democracy across the world, and led the charge to draw down nuclear stockpiles, to reduce the chance of a new Holocaust.  And even Bush and Obama succeeded in stopping another terrorist attack like 9/11.  Your own instincts aren’t wrong on foreign policy—to defend the country with strength, but to focus the majority of our time and energy here at home; rebuilding our own country. This is not a dangerous plan—as long as you remain engaged in the world, foster real relationships with foreign leaders—treating them with the respect and dignity that they deserve.  Many of the greatest presidential successes have been achieved—not in opposition to the world—but in partnership with it.

Just keep in mind that foreign policy is more a sport than a science; governed by its own rules and assumptions—many of them hundreds of years old.  The formality can be claustrophobic, the expectations infuriating: if the President of Taiwan calls to wish you congratulations, why shouldn’t you give her the courtesy of picking up the phone?  It seems unfair that you are constantly criticized for being rude but you take one friendly phone call and the whole world is up in arms.  I get it—believe me, I’m sure that Presidents Obama and Bush get it, too.  They’ve all made mistakes of protocol and expectation.  It’s unavoidable—but you can get better at it if you remember that:

Protocol is not policy.  Get some people on your team who understand protocol: who know whose hand to shake, whose calls to take, and where to stand at a State Dinner.  These things are important—but following them doesn’t mean surrendering the State Department to the status quo.  Protocol is not policy.  You can make bold policy changes while still respecting the rules of diplomacy.  Just look at JFK.  When the Soviet Union put nuclear weapons in Cuba, Kennedy set up a military blockade.  In diplomatic terms, a blockade was an unmistakable act of war—unless he followed the right protocol.  Which he did: JFK got the Organization of American States to vote unanimously to approve the blockade.  No war was declared, and the world was saved from nuclear annihilation.  Kennedy achieved his bold military objective, and he did so by plying the rules to serve his purposes.  Remember that as you move forwards: protocol is always worth respecting—because it saves you from embarrassment, and can win you bold policy achievements. 

Travel to new places.  The White House is a new place, and Washington, D.C. a new city to live.  You’ll be moving out of New York for the first time in decades.  Get a sense of DC, get out and enjoy the hiking trails, learn about the history of the C&O Canal and the building of the Pentagon.  Wander the museums and monuments—and meet the locals.  Learn about why their license plates say “No Taxation Without Representation” and think of ways that you can represent them and their hopes.  Then—get outside of Washington, D.C.  Get outside of your comfort zone.  Use this opportunity to see places you haven't seen before, to meet people that your business interests haven't put you before.  You are now the President of the United States.  You are the leader of the free world.  Everyplace in the world is your business.  Listen and learn from these places, find new ideas and innovations that you can bring back to this country to re-invigorate this economy.  Challenge yourself and those around you to try new things.  And find a few moments—simply—to relax in new landscapes.

You may be one of the oldest presidents to hold office, but for millions of Americans—you represent the new.  So never stop trying to deliver the new.  Remember: you have the power to change people’s hard-held beliefs.  You did it during the election.  Millions of Republican voters held different stances than you on things like infrastructure and trade.  But they changed their minds and voted for you.  Remember this when advisors tell you that you can’t disappoint your base.  You are the leader of your base—they will go where you lead them—if you lead them well.  And if you are the great leader that you aspire to be, that you have the capacity as President to become, so many more will follow.

That’s not to say that you don’t have a responsibility to help those who voted for you.  For decades, they voted for Republicans who promised to help them—and no help was delivered.  So they turned their back on that tired establishment—in search of something new.  They took a chance on you; don’t let them down.  Work hard to understand new ways that you can help them—ways beyond what the Republicans promised and failed to deliver.  Ways beyond what has been tried in the past.  Just remember that America is built on the idea of unity—e Pluribus Unum—together, one.  America’s central belief is that building a stronger country will help everyone.  That you don’t have to knock other people down in order to lift some people up.  And it’s been the history of this country to keep lifting people up.  Whether that’s slaves who became citizens or women who got the right to vote or immigrants who found the promise of a better life for their children.  It won’t be easy to find a way to lift everyone up—it’s far easier to leave some people behind, or to stand on their rights to get a leg up.  But America has always been about achieving what other countries find impossible.  Greatness is in finding a way—and as President, it’s for you to lead that way.

So don’t be led down the narrow path—because that only leads to darkness.  The Alt-Right, white supremacists, the disgruntled and mean—these groups are going to try to use you and take credit for you and your work.  Don’t let them.  They are going to try to push you to affirm their beliefs.  Or to turn a blind eye to their blind hatred.  Don’t do it.  Face them head on and take them down.  Want to show strength?  Show the country that you are stronger than the thugs who are trying to steal and smear your brand.  Show the country you have the power to denounce those you disagree with, even if they agree with you.  The sound you hear when you do it will be the roar of the rest of this nation cheering.  It’s an easy win—and an important one.  Don’t miss the opportunity.

There is strength in action like that—but there is also strength in restraint.  Remember that though your power is great, the limits on your power are even greater.  You may be the head of state, but you are just one part of one branch of three branches of a federal government of the United States filled with 50 states with 50 governors and legislatures, and even more county and municipal and city governments.  You are not the boss of anyone but the people you hire to head the departments and agencies in D.C.  There is power in the Presidency, but there is also strength in the restraint of power.  Respect the role of those elected before and beside you.  Respect the will of the people who elect—and of your predecessors who appointed your partners in governing.  You will be most effective when you focus your energies where energy aligns with the office: your cabinet.  Those who work for you and those who work with you.  So choose the best—and fire the rest. Respectfully.

Fire those who fail.  You built a reputation on saying “you’re fired.”  Don’t give it up now.  The power of firing is even more important, here.  Don’t hesitate to show people the door.  Don’t let their failure to live up to your hopes and expectations drag you—and the country—down.  There’s no reason to keep people around when they disappoint—especially when there are people who could better the job.  Just look at what happened with George W. Bush.  He took the advice of his father’s advisors—appointing them all to run his White House and his government.  And where did that get him?  In Iraq.  In debt.  And with his approval numbers in the toilet.  By the end of his second term, George W. had fired most of the people that were dragging him down, and he was finally starting to make some good decisions.  But by that point, he had wasted 6 or 7 years with the wrong team on his team.  The wrong people running things.  Don’t let it happen to you.  Fire those who fail and invite new perspectives to the table.  They'll bring new options—and new opportunities for greatness.

Your advisors, of course, will advise against it.  Don’t listen to them.  And don’t let them talk for you.  One of your greatest successes this election season has been your ability to reach voters directly.  And you reach them directly in two ways: your rallies and your press.  Yes, your press.  The press that you earn not by having reporters write about what you do, but by talking directly to reporters yourself.  Unmediated.  Without handlers and spin-doctors.  Remember when you used to call in to every Sunday morning talk show?  That’s the kind of President you should be.  Direct and present.  Citizens should never wonder what your position is on a subject—they should never have to figure it out through something that one advisor said, or another advisor implied.  You are authentic—be present.  You are strong—be direct.  Nobody likes a politician who won’t face the press.  Let the press ask questions; you have the answer.  Even if you’re not sure or you’re not ready to say—that’s an answer.  Being present won’t hurt you in the press—it will help you to spread your message to the American people.  As it did during the campaign.  They can't misquote you if you are the one doing the talking on their show.

What do people expect to hear from you, now that you are President?  They expect you to make them proud.  Proud that you are President.  Proud to be Americans.  But what you’ve said and what you’ve implied has often made this difficult, if not impossible—even for your supporters.  You say what you feel in the moment—not what you feel the moment suggests you should feel.  Not what some political consultant told you to feel.  There is power in this approach, but there is also danger: the tone of that feeling can turn your words into weapons of anger and fear.  So many Americans are today viscerally afraid of you and your presidency because of this.  But the danger in your feeling-centered approach is rooted in more than the tone and tenor of those feelings.  It’s rooted in the fact that feelings are often fleeting.  You may feel one thing one minute, and something totally different the next.  For example: you felt friendly and respectful towards the Mexican President one hour, and unfriendly and aggressive towards immigrants just a few hours later.  Where you stand on an issue shouldn’t be determined by how you feel in the moment—because your standing, then, will shift by the hour.  In the same sense, what you say—and the tone you set—shouldn’t be hardwired into your feelings: instead, you should find an optimistic, friendly tone that anchors all of your emotional responses.  A tone that centers you and your presidency—and by extension this country—in a strong but calm frame of mind.  I know you are capable of this because you do it every day in personal meetings.  It’s the tone you struck with the Mexican President to gain his respect, the tone you shared with Paul Ryan to rally his support; it’s the tone that you project one-on-one.  And that personal, one-on-one space—it’s exactly the tone that Americans seek in their president.

Because Americans seek not just emotional resonance—but a genuine connection.  A connection that communicates that you can be trusted to stand with them.  To stand in their corner.  As President, you have to stand with them when they lose their job.  You have to stand with them when they lose their health insurance.  You have to stand with them when they make a mistake and wind up in prison—or when they make no mistake but wind up there just the same.  You have to stand with them in good times—to celebrate when they get their commission in the Navy.  When they get their first paycheck.  Or—after 20 years—earn their citizenship.  You have to stand with those who could never afford to lie down in Trump Tower.  And you have to stand with those who took selfies flicking it off.  It seems crazy—and it is; but you will be the President for all of them, at all of these moments.  Make it count.

Because each of them will outlive your presidency.  You only have four years guaranteed.  Four short years to make a difference in the lives of over 300 million people.  A meaningful, positive difference.  A great difference.  Ask yourself, then, with each decision whether you are making life better for people.  If you’re not, you could just be wasting time—and you don’t have any time to waste.  And if you’re making life worse for people—you're moving in the wrong direction.  Momentum is a powerful force.  Every President wants to keep moving—to keep moving above all else.  But don't fall into that trap.  Movement isn't always positive movement.  Movement isn't always forward momentum.  Always check that you are moving forwards.  That the force and momentum you feel is in the right direction.

Deporting 11 million people puts you in the wrong direction.  But it’s a difficult problem, no question about that.  How to create a fair and just immigration system.  How to protect security and the rule of law.  And how to promote American jobs.  Immigrants are easy to point fingers at, but deporting them won’t point anyone in the right direction.  In truth, immigrants are critical to America's future success.  Most developed countries are having problems because their populations are aging—not enough kids are being born, so there aren’t enough young people to create a dynamic economy.  That’s why these countries will shrink in size and importance in the coming decades.  But not the United States.  The United States is the only developed country that breaks that trend.  It’s not because we have more births.  It’s because of the immigrants who come here for a better life and make a better country for all of us—by keeping our economy young and vibrant.  But you already know all of this—your own family is a family of immigrants.

Yes, our immigration system is broken.  But believe me, it’s more broken for the 11 million people who are undocumented than it is for those who want to deport them.  The best solution is to fix the problem with the American economy, fix the problem with the immigration system, and treat everyone who came here under a broken system as full members of society.  Until then, people will continue to be paid under the table, black markets will continue to cut into legitimate American jobs, and lawlessness will persist.  Extending the rule of law to those living outside of it doesn’t mean forgiving crime—it means helping to prevent it.  Help people come out of the shadows and you’ll help the whole of the American economy—and gain millions of voters at the same time.  After decades of failed Presidents, you would get us moving in the right direction.

Of course, immigration reform will only be acceptable to some of your voters if you first solve very real problems with the American economy.  This won’t be easy, either.  What are you going to do to deal with the computers and machinery that make life better but make jobs harder to find?  Do you find ways to help Americans transition into other traditional jobs?  Do you help train people in new and emerging careers?  Or do you take some bold steps in areas like a universal basic income—or a newer New Deal?  Boldness is what voters expect—so be bold in this and other areas.  Prove that you’re not afraid to think outside of the box—even when staying in that box might help you personally.  For instance, here’s what could be a very bold first initiative:

Repeal the electoral college.  Both you and I agree that it’s fundamentally unfair.  Each vote should be counted the same, no matter where you live.  For years, the electoral college has been protected by politicians afraid of the consequences of bold change.  You can prove at the outset of your Presidency that you’re not a politician governed by fear.  And you’re not afraid of the consequences for yourself and your next election—like everyone who has come before.  Instead, prove your confidence in your future Presidency—and show your commitment to earning the trust and the vote of all Americans.  Maybe you could even partner with someone like Hillary to make it happen—proving wrong every person who thinks you only think about yourself.  You will be a bold, fearless President, then—the likes of which this country has never seen.

And it would make your children proud. Listen to your children—their counsel is more important now than ever before.  They are some of the only people who you can trust—who truly have your best interest in mind.  So, listen to your children—particularly your youngest.  Yes, you are serving all Americans—but the focus of your Presidency must be for those future generations.  To build a world that is better than the one you grew up in.  To create the country that they deserve.  Fill your thoughts and fill your plans with their future.  And fill your cabinet, too, with some young faces.  With a few young people who can tell your youngest son—when he is your age—what it was like to create the future that you built for him.

Winning the election was a surprise.  Nobody saw it coming.  But I hope that the greater surprise will be what a great president you become.  I did not vote for you, but I am investing in you every hope for this great country.  We are all privileged to be Americans—for all that was fought for, all that was bled and died for.  It’s up to us, now, to keep fighting for more.  To make America great—not just again, but for always.

I’m looking forward to what’s next.  And to writing you from time to time as we work to make this world a better place, together.

Godspeed, President-elect Trump.