Can We Have a Word, Mr. Trump?

If she were here, Granny D would tell the president his words were effective, but what we need is action.

Can We Have a Word, Mr. Trump?

Democracy activist Granny D would have some advice for President Trump. (Photo by Rockin' Rita/Flickr cc 2.0)

It’s been seven years since the legendary reformer, Doris “Granny D” Haddock, passed away, but at such a time as this the centenarian crusader would surely have something to say. After living through two world wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation — and then walking across America for democracy at the age of 90 — Granny D had the power of perspective. She also knew what she stood for and wasn’t afraid to speak.

As New Hampshire marks another “Granny D Day,” and the nation undergoes a momentous transfer of power, we and our new president would do well to heed her words, remixed from her many speeches of 1999-2010.

Granny D would tell President Trump that his pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ of Washington insiders was a masterful bit of rhetoric, and well worth the effort besides. So was his trademark phrase, ‘Can’t be bought.’

Turning first to Mr. Trump, Granny D would congratulate the president on touching a mighty deep nerve of American discontent — government corruption — in order to get elected (albeit with an assist from Russia and that most unlearned school, the Electoral College). She would tell President Trump that his pledge to “drain the swamp” of Washington insiders was a masterful bit of rhetoric, and well worth the effort besides. So was his trademark phrase, “Can’t be bought.”

Then Granny D would offer a few ideas, in case the president was actually inclined to “cut the threads of the big-money puppet show in Washington,” as she liked to say. First, he should rid himself once and for all of his business conflicts of interest and join the parade of past presidents in disclosing his tax returns (“we do have a responsibility, after all,” she would say). Then he should use his power of persuasion, in 140 characters or more, to urge his party in Congress to strike down “a system of corruption so perverse that the whole planet is going to feathers.” 

Conveniently, she would tell the president, a bipartisan bill was recently reintroduced to do just that. The “Government By The People Act” would end the endless corruption of billionaire-backed campaigns by establishing citizen-funded elections instead. Unlike most other bills, it actually lived up to its name! What better time than now, she would suggest, when “America thirsts for true reform?” If Trump was willing to lead, she would willingly follow.

Granny D smiling

Doris “Granny D” Haddock (Photo by Daniel Weeks)

Lest he doubt her sincerity, Granny D would inform the president that campaign finance reform was the reason she had walked 3,200 miles across America in her 90th year, undeterred by desert suns and mountain snows and her own arthritis and emphysema. It was why she would continue to “travel around and make trouble” right through her 100th birthday on Jan. 24, 2010. And it was what she wanted desperately to leave her 16 great-grandchildren when she was gone. “Democracy hangs in the balance.” 

Having addressed her first concern, Granny D would then introduce the president to her favorite little booklet, the Constitution. Citing his public pronouncements that “I alone can fix it” and “I am your voice” and his promise to “lock her up,” she would inform Trump that “in America, our dear Constitution is the amulet we wear to preserve ourselves against the teeth [of absolute power].” Having lived through the previous century with its “uncounted conflicts, massacres, tortures and atrocities [due to] abuses of power,” she would say, she did not need an autocrat in the White House making any such trouble.

To that end, she would commend to Trump a newspaper or three and a few good volumes of history. As for his demagoguery, she would inform the president that it is not so much “politically correct” as correct to accept science, reject torture, honor war heroes, protect religious freedoms, respect women and immigrants and people with disabilities… all in accordance with the Constitution.

Finally, Granny D would turn her attention to us, the American people. Our job, she would exhort, is to be “a beacon of justice and peace and self-determination in the world.” If Mr. Trump will get with the program, very well. If not, “as patriots we say no [and] let him tremble as we do so!” 

In case we should doubt the meaning of this moment, she would remind us of another time not long ago when a Republican president was busy starting conflicts, stopping science, cutting taxes and stripping services from citizens in need. “Our environment hangs in the balance… Our social justice values hang in the balance. Our idea of a strong middle class — which has been the rock undergirding our democracy — hangs in the balance.” 

For the nation to succeed, she would say, we need more than “worthy candidates who represent our interests and values.” We need “active citizens [who] thirst for a fair and just democracy” and are prepared to pay a price. “Are we putting our bodies in the way of an unjust system?” she would ask. For some, like her, that might include jail. For others, a march on Washington could be followed by “a gin and tonic and a pedicure.” After all, “this is a wonderful country and there is something for everyone.”

Granny D would insist that we make our “revolution against oppression and unfairness… a joyful revolution.” It was about courage, community, freedom, joy and big dreams. “What a wonderful challenging time in which we live,” she would say. “A time when so much is at stake and when we all have so much important work to do in taking back our freedom [and] our elections…”

Then, with a twinkle in her eye, she would exclaim, “It’s time to reclaim democracy!”

Daniel Weeks

Daniel Weeks is the former executive director of Open Democracy, a nonpartisan organization founded by Granny D. He worked with her on campaign reform between 2001 and her death in 2010. Follow him on Twitter: @DemocracyDan.