My Presidential Address

Obviously, I’d be voted out of office after my first term for being too centrist.

I.

My fellow Americans.

We live in troubled times. America is at a crossroads. Rarely, have we faced bigger challenges. Our mettle and our ideals are truly being tested. And yet, rarely have we been more polarized and more divided. A crisis that should have united us, we have allowed to divide us.

No one will be satisfied with what I have to say here tonight. I don’t have the ability to solve our problems or heal our wounds with words.

In the past month, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor, and George Floyd have come to the fore of our attention and national discourse.

I will not tell you to be calm. You’re right to be angry. I’m angry. Still, as your President, I’m expected to walk a fine line of compassion and empathy without appearing to be weak.

I’m expected to comfort and console some of you, be righteously indignant in solidarity with some of you, while somehow not offending our brothers and sisters on the political Right.

I condemn criminal acts of vandalism, rioting, and opportunistic looting, while identifying with the rage of dreams deferred, as Langston Hughes penned.

This isn’t about black versus white. This isn’t about black and brown and poor people versus the police. This isn’t about Millenials vs. Boomers. This is bigger than Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. This is about all of us versus injustice.

This is all of us versus the violation of the most basic of human rights. This is about all of us versus a system of longitudinal injustice and inequality where this can happen again and again while we resist and pay lip service to reforms.

It doesn’t matter if you’re from the big city or the heart of the Bible Belt. We all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have the right to a fair and speedy trial. We have the right to make it to a fair trial.

Our rights aren’t given to us by politicians. Our rights are inalienable. We aren’t guaranteed those rights because you or I are perfect and without sin or trespass. You don’t have to be a model citizen. There’s no bar to meet for your inalienable rights to be respected.

Cities across this great country of ours are literally and metaphorically on fire. While the protesters protest, others embrace violence, chaos, and even anarchy.

“The governors of these states should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

I can not condone destruction of life or property. I urge you all to channel that anger into constructive effort. Justice for George Floyd seems a long way away and your skepticism and cynicism is well-earned.

However, we can not let the country burn indefinitely. People need access to grocery stores and pharmacies. Destroying these resources makes it harder for everyone, particularly in the midst of a pandemic and for those without the means to travel many more miles for the basics of survival.


II.

To our men and women in blue, our law enforcement professionals. I want you to know that we have your back, as well. We do and will ask much of you. We expect you to run toward danger and death, and to be the first on the scene of all manner of atrocities, and we expect you to be there quickly. We have put you in a position to deal with the most disturbed and the most dangerous situations imaginable.

We hold you to a higher standard while criticizing you and expecting perfection. But we know you’re only human, and your experiences on the job will inevitably take its toll.

We appreciate you. We love you. We need to look out for you; you are our first responders.

You have more leeway than the ordinary citizen, because we expect you to make split-second life and death decisions. That is a heavy burden that most of us can not imagine and will never know.

With that, we also have to hold you to a higher standard because you and your community have to have trust, or at the very least, grudging respect.

We can not tolerate abuse or corruption. We simply can not. We have recently seen behavior that — and I hope we can all agree — is beyond the pale and it is devastating to your function in our society.

We want you safe, healthy, and effective so you can serve your respective communities. We want to give you the help and resources that you need to be alive, safe, and healthy on the job and off the job.


III.

As the President of the United States, I serve you, the people. Your wellbeing and ability to pursue your livelihoods, health, and happiness — the health of our union — is more important than whether I am reelected in November.

While my goal here today is to unite and to heal and — if I could have one prayer answered here tonight, it would be that we see each other with empathy, patience, and the knowledge that we are so closely connected to one another.

The denial of the right to live — the bare minimum of ideals — is “our” problem. Justice for some is no justice at all.

As a public figure, as with all of us in professional roles, we put on a behavioral uniform. In a meeting or conference call, we don’t speak the same to colleagues as we do to our friends over a beer and barbecue. But maybe it’s time I loosened my tie right now.

We’re so divided that we choose sides and issues, not because of any inherent quality, but because it’s the opposite of our political opponents. Our viscerally held political positions, even on minutiae, are often, in essence, viral.

As the President, if I were to say #BlackLivesMatter, and I will, some of you will hear it as a threat to your well-being — a threat, instead of what it is — an invitation. It’s an invitation to make sure that you, your loved ones, and fellow Americans are treated equally under the law.

When you defy your governor’s Stay at Home order, you deserve fair, equitable treatment even if law enforcement is involved. You don’t deserve a boot on your neck, a rough ride to the precinct, or excessive punishment.

If I were to qualify #BlackLivesMatter and say, “Of course, all lives matter,” some of you would take offense, insisting that it’s giving an inch.

I’m tired of rhetorical games. There’s too much at stake.

Many of you hate me for the comfort of having an enemy. Nothing I say will change that. That’s actually freeing for me.

So I say this. Black lives matter! And until black lives matter to you, then saying all lives matter is a cynical slogan and not a truly, closely held belief.

For hundreds of years, black Americans and others who are oppressed and disaffected — including many of our white brothers and sisters — have fought for equality and justice. Not revenge or payback. Not an eye for an eye. Justice, equality, and liberty.

A lot of progress has been made to that end, but it’s the progress itself that many find threatening.


IV.

As a boy and young man in the working class neighborhoods skirting Baltimore City, I have experienced racism. I’ve been threatened. I’ve been followed. I’ve been chased. I’ve been racially bullied and slurred. Some of our European American brothers and sisters were quick to threaten to call the police on sight. I’ve seen how some talk when they think no one is around to hear. I’ve been threatened with death. I’ve seen hatred in the eyes of strangers. I’ve been told that I don’t belong here or there. I had friends who let me know that their parents didn’t want black people in their house.

If I were to share the experiences of my relatives in the generation before me we would be here until Election Day. The stakes for some were literally life and death if they stepped out of line.

So if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that racism, bigotry, and prejudice still abound in our families and social circles and our society, and we know that beliefs don’t only exist in those social circles. Beliefs affect lives.

Individually, we all have some inside of us. It’s human nature to be wary of the “other”.

But as a society, our lesser beliefs have been ingrained in our political and economic systems. Legalized Jim Crow and segregation were the law. Some of those laws are still on the books even though they can’t be legally enforced.

We are collectively growing and learning. Together. It is stressful, painful and uncomfortable at times — and not without setbacks — but I’m heartened to see the support for one another. In these troubling times, it lifts my heart to see that the passion for justice knows no bounds and reaches across all demographics and even borders.


V.

George Floyd deserved better. He should be alive today. Rest assured, those who took his life will have their day in court.

We can also do better at honoring George Floyd. I’m calling for peace. A loud, boisterous, defiant peace, as may be the case.

I’m calling for peaceful protests. Not because we don’t have a right to be angry, and we’re all aware that, unfortunately, it’s conflict that most quickly affects change. But violence will always lead to violence, and even what is considered understandable will spiral into senseless and random tragedy, as it already has in too many instances.

Protest. I will protest with you. Peacefully.

A peaceful protest doesn’t mean meek. A peaceful protest can be loud. A peaceful protest can express all the frustration, pain, and the heartache of being disaffected and denied. A peaceful protest can be in your face. A peaceful protest will inconvenience people. A peaceful protest is righteously defiant and will push back against and break immoral laws and unjust practices.

A peaceful protest can change the world.

I recognize also that a peaceful protest will likely, ultimately, be met with violence and the violence in the face of peace, ironically, is what shocks the world into self-reflection and change.

So be careful, be safe, don’t be easily manipulated, check your sources and facts, don’t fall into traps, or give into mob mentality. Deescalate when you have to so you can go home and come back to fight for all of our rights another day.

Most of all, be patient with each other. Listen, learn, share, and allow room for mistakes and missteps.

We have to move forward and create something out of this tragedy. Justice will not happen today or tomorrow. We must find our equilibrium and channel our energy into rebuilding what was torn down, seeing to those who have been hurt or can no longer make ends meet. Check on the elderly and the less fortunate and those affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the disruptions in their towns.

I love you even if you don’t agree. Even if my words here tonight offend you, I love you like I would an ornery family member who makes family holidays interesting and challenging.

I invite you to come rally with us so that these protests against injustice can turn into the largest celebration of freedom and unity the world, if only for a moment, has ever seen — a celebration of liberty and justice for all.


Footnote

My office has prepared guidelines for state and local agencies to follow. Grants will be made available to organizations working to rebuild their communities, and bridge the divide between law enforcement and the citizens they serve….

Godblessusandgodblessamericawashyourhandswearamaskinvenueswhereyoucan’tphysicallydistancegoodnight.

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