Photo by Lili Kibel

Dear President Trump

A small child sits on the cold floor of her kitchen in the early morning, eating Cheerios and absentmindedly asking her father questions. She asks about war and famine and politics and governments — concepts of gravity that she may not fully comprehend. With each answer given, more questions arise all beginning with “why.” That child is me. As a curious international kid living in China, I never understood why different ethnicities couldn’t get along or why certain people thought they were better than others. Most of all, I couldn’t understand why adults struggled with respect.

Respect was, and remains, the word of my childhood. It was the word my mother told me when I was fighting with my sister. It was the word my father reminded me when I was in an argument with a friend. It is the word that sticks with me most and rings in my ears with every decision I make.

But were you taught the value of respect?

You are now one of the most powerful and influential people in the world as you claim the title of the 45th president of the United States of America. But this title bears the burden of responsibility. You now care for an entire nation. Everyone. Republican and Democratic. Young and old. Light and dark skinned. Christian and Buddhist and Muslim and more. Straight, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, and every other member of the LBGTQ community. Your personal qualms, prejudice, and pride must be set aside because the diverse people of America are your people. You must respect these people, no matter how vehemently you disagree with who they are.

But, as the people cry out for respect when you slander others on Twitter, are you listening to their words? The words of the women who wish to lay claim over their own body. The words of scientists who warn against climate change and future it entails. The words of LGBTQ people who simply want to be treated justly. The words of Muslims who crave to be seen as citizens instead of threats to society. These are the words of your people.

Alyssa Naigan, a 16-year-old studying journalism, comes from a political household with a Democratic mother and a Republican father. This unusual dynamic has led her to see the good and bad in both parties while maintaining respect for all points of view. When asked about the controversial topic of Planned Parenthood, Alyssa stated proudly, “I am pro-choice because I don’t see the situation as black and white. I think there’s many factors as to why people get abortions.” Yet as a woman who would eventually like the opportunity to begin birth control, there is a sprouting seed of fear because “[Donald Trump’s] new bill doesn’t only eliminate Planned Parenthood, but it also hurts people in general — especially women. Education wise, girls will not have the [sexual] education they have had about abortions, birth control, how to be safe, or even simple things like talking to people about rape.” As a woman who marched in Los Angeles for the Women’s March, Alyssa said, “taking away a woman’s right to take care of her body is insane to me.” Alyssa opened up about her march experience and said she and her 9-year-old sister “felt empowered” at the march because so many people were there for so many different reasons, but they banded together out of respect for one another.

As a man, birth control may not concern you, but it is vital for millions of women. Although the name is misleading, birth control is not only for birth control. Not only does it help prevent pregnancy, but it also aids and reduces “heavy bleeding, acne, cramps, bone thinning, cysts in the breasts and ovaries, endometrial and ovarian cancers, serious infections in the female reproductive system, and anemia,” as informed by Planned Parenthood. These conditions are uncontrollable and birth control is often one of the only medication to remediate these symptoms. Alexa Kasparian, a 17-year-old student pursuing acting, began birth control at the young age of 13 when she had a heavy period for a full month. For many women, birth control is a necessity, not a choice. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood is one of the easiest avenues to attain birth control and other necessities. Planned Parenthood is so much more than the “demonic” institution you label it. Planned Parenthood helps men and women alike when it comes to facts on sexual health, educational seminars, birth control, emergency contraceptives, educating and treating STD’s, pregnancy, abortion, sexual orientation and gender, relationships, cancer, and general health and wellness. Planned Parenthood “educates people in general” and “wants to help the community,” said Alyssa, a strong supporter of women having a choice on their future.

Choice remains a fundamental value of America. Yet people feel like they have less of a choice because of the drastic changes in the White House. Iman Ismail, a 17-year-old international student, feels the strain of politics even though she lives halfway across the world in the Philippines. As an outspoken, articulate, and bright student, her options for univerity are abundant — especially in American institutions. But now she feels that her opportunities have been snatched from her. “Due to the recent attempt to commission a Travel Ban, my parents traveling to the States is harder than ever, so, to hopefully relieve them of this pressure, I’ve decided to not attend university in the USA, and I plan on applying to the Middle East and Europe instead.” She no longer feels welcome because of the clothing she wears and the proud Muslim faith she displays, regardless of her American citizenship. Her life flipped somersaults in a matter of days. The disrespect she weathers from her president — from you — slices straight to the heart. With a heavy heart she tells me, “I feel it may be the appropriate time to start mourning the loss of something — of the slogan ‘Land of the Free’, of tourists and the money they bring, perhaps of Democracy itself.”

Change is something that many of us do not want to face, but often, it’s inevitable. Climate change is real — it’s a fact. The thousands of scientists who pour their lives into proving this, as well as finding means to combat it, are at a loss because you refuse to listen. “The Paris agreement was intended to bind the world community into battling rising temperatures in concert, and the departure of the Earth’s second-largest polluter is a major blow” (The New York Times). It was signed by 195 nations, but America abstained because we appear to appeal to money, not sustainability. Environmentalist and leader of the Global Issues Network at Concordia International School Shanghai, LeeAnne Lavender, is “someone who hopes we can still fix our problems with climate change and environmental damage.” She hopes “the U.S. can step back into a leadership position.” The United States has a lot of positional power. As the leader of our nation, you wield this power for the improvement of the people. Respect the experts who are unprecedented on the facts and figures of climate change because they know the truth and they are desperately trying to tell you.

I hope that you will bring this nation to prosper. I hope that you have good intentions. As you said yourself, “When you look at this country, it’s the most incredible place on earth,” (Time Magazine), but your lack of respect for the diversity of this nation cuts to my core. We are incredible because of our diversity, because of our differences, because of our open welcome to the downtrodden, because we are a unique meld of people. Respect the foundation of this nation.

Nevertheless, congratulations on your election. Though I cannot vote, I did not expect for you to be victorious in the polls. You stand before America as the president. This is quite a feat. You will shape America; you will shape my future. By the time you finish your first term, I will be 20 years old — a full adult. Four years is a long time; a lot may change. “Trump is going to change the way the government is and how much everything costs. Knowing that we can’t do anything because we are younger than 18 is pretty scary,” said Alyssa. Youth around me have echoed this statement. Even adults with voting power still feel powerless. To truly make America great again, respect needs to be offered to the people so they can know you as more than 140 characters. Prove to inquisitive children, like me, that adults are capable of showing respect to those who differ from them.

Best Wishes,

Emersyn Lyon