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Dear President Trump...

Education must trump Entertainment.

Dear President Trump,

This letter is supposed to begin with “Dear Donald,” but even if you asked me to address you in this way, I would refuse. The office that you occupy demands, in my mind, the very highest level of dignity and respect. That said, I have some concerns about my country that I would like to share with you.

Born on the 4th of July in 1943, I have observed many changes throughout the course of my lifetime, some beneficial and some not. And every year, the celebration of that patriotic birthday reminds me of them. To me “money in politics” is by far and away the worst of the lot (“education” comes in a close second). Our elected officials at all levels need a lot of money to run for office. Then, they need another pile of money to stay in office and they need to search for it on a regular basis. That encourages the solicitation of lobbyists who pour yet more money into the mix, buying a big chunk of their work time and often seducing many of them into the love of money above all else. And finally, large corporations have been allowed to throw additional tons of money into the pot, assuring that sane, good and responsible citizens will almost never venture into public service. Ever since my college days, I have asked parents the following question: “Do you now or have you ever encouraged your children to run for public office?” Do you know how many, over all these years, have answered “yes?” Only two … and they were families of politicians! We must find a way, Mr. President, to change this. We must reopen those doors to the natural leaders in our communities throughout the United States so that they can come forward and gladly serve their nation without needing a fortune (or the threat of being dominated by someone else’s fortune) to do so. Our democracy and the strength of our country will remain in a perilous state until we do.

 Many factors stand in the way of changing this. Television and radio news stations need a lot of money to pay for almost twenty-four hour programming. They have to sell the news. Advertising agencies and political paraphernalia makers (video production companies, signs, pins, billboards, etc.) and clever Internet sleuths whose algorithms can almost determine whom you will pick for your new senator … to name only a few … are all leeching on that pile of money. But there are ways to fight the battle. And that leads me to my second point (it is alluded to above): the awareness of our citizens about their own role in all of this, their own responsibility for this state of affairs. In my opinion, we have neglected the obvious fact that we are all collectively responsible for where we are. It is high time for us to stop and reassess our individual participation in our democracy. Too many of us have let our sense of civic duty slip away. How can we get it back? 

Education … with a capital “E” … is one important way; and it too has been neglected. Where are the parents, teachers, scholars, advisors, mentors, and people in the public eye who talk about individual civic responsibility? Who set the example? There are some … but nowhere near enough. Unfortunately, the importance of being a good citizen has been relegated to a back seat. Other priorities have the fore. Entertainment … with a really big “E” … is one of them. Your own background has given you experience in the field. Entertainment has an insidious way of diverting our attention away from “responsibility,” almost by definition. Not always, because lessons can be learned through fictional presentations. But for the most part, the very purpose of entertainment has been to preoccupy our minds by giving us some relief from life’s other responsibilities. Sports come to mind, in a big way. Selling the news does, too! I hope you are seeing what I mean by Education. Making things easy is not the purpose of Education. Making things meaningful is. Meaning lasts a lot longer than entertainment and has a much larger impact on our lives.

Mr. President, when I think of the job you are doing, I often hark back to lectures I attended back in college where the theme of the course was a question: “Does the man make the office or does the office make the man?” The professor teaching the course led us all to the conclusion that the office makes the man. I am hoping with all my heart that the man it is making you into will take some of my thoughts into consideration.

Respectfully yours,

John C. Bednar, Professor Emeritus, Clemson University