Dear Mr. President-Elect

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Dear Mr. President Elect

My Greek immigrant grandparents arrived in this country sometime in the early 1920’s from Istanbul when it was still Constantinople, and while no one talks about it, I’m fairly sure they didn’t just leave, but escaped. Ethnic cleansing is nothing new across the globe: WWII Germany; Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990’s; Syria today. For my grandparents, it was the problem of the Armenian extinction. About 1 million Armenians and half a million Greeks were killed between 1915 and 1923, but the number is sketchy because to this day, Turkey denies it even happened. (For a great book on the topic, read Black Dog of Fate, by Balakian.)

What was once the Ottoman Empire — the most culturally ambitious and religiously inclusive place the world had known, a stunning experiment of cooperation and trust — was losing ground as parts of it claimed independence, and with it, its religious diversity. When the Turks, who were Muslim, started killing the Christians, my grandparents split for America, the burgeoning City on a Hill that offered so much promise. They arrived before Lady Liberty who came from France in 1924, but way before then, everyone knew that America was the land of opportunity, the place to practice your religion and live your life as you saw fit, a place where working hard meant you could actually get ahead, the place to make a new start. Until they died, none of them could talk about the Turks without scowling or making the sign of the cross, and despite my peppering them with questions, no one would explain why. Sometimes it takes decades to solve a puzzle. (BTW, I visited Turkey when I was studying abroad and found the Turks to be a warm and gracious people.)

Some of my earliest memories revolve around political discourse, not just a couple people sitting around drinking a beer and talking genially about politics they way they talk about football, but yelling, screaming, fist-shaking, hand-wringing discussions. Being the homogenous people that Greeks are, they stuck together, and mostly every weekend we’d gather around my great aunt Thea’s dining room table for dinner or cake and coffee. (Thea means aunt. Greeks like to keep it simple.) My mother, who was not Greek, but the daughter of Italian immigrants from a small town south of Rome cringed a bit every time the party started. (BTW, my grandparents didn’t love the idea of my father marrying a non-Greek, but they got over it for the sake of family unity.)

My mother was by all measures a quiet woman, but she was no shrinking violet and while she had strong opinions, she chose to keep her own counsel. My father on the other hand was loud and boisterous and loved a good debate as much as he loved the coffee that accompanied it. So on any given weekend night, my grandmother, my aunt and uncle, and various cousins, friends, and relatives would gather around the table and talk about — what else? — politics. I was young, but I soaked it all in, so much so that there’s no denying this $#%!’s in my blood. After all, the Greeks have been arguing about politics since ancient times, Athens being the primary birthplace of modern democracy, and since we’ve not all gone on to paradise yet, or evolved to a state of utopia where we don’t need laws to govern us, the Greeks feel it is not only their God-given right, but their duty as human beings to have an opinion about things, a generally loud opinion. If you’d been sacked and attacked on your island shores and kicked out of others, you can damn well be sure you’ll always have your nose trained on the political winds. Unfortunately for my mother, she equated all that yelling with ill feelings so these evenings were not always pleasant for her. The “discourse” brought out the best and worst in my relatives and sometimes opinions would be swayed although not then and there because that would mean admitting defeat. You’d have to hit on a reason why you’d changed your mind and then argue as vociferously for the new opinion the next time. More often than not, people remained entrenched, and always there were fireworks of emotion.

Today, much of the world is in shock because of the election results and America feels a lot like Thea’s dining room table no matter which side of the aisle you’re sitting on. Right now, both halves of the country think that America, that bastion of hope and freedom and “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” has lost her way. How did this happen, you ask? It didn’t happen over night, but over decades: we just got greedy and stopped listening to each other.

There is a Cree Indian prophecy that says: “Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.” I am reserving discussion of this ginormous topic for another blog post. In the interim, I’d like to say to the President-Elect, if you love this country, and you want it to be “great again,” then think before you act, consider the consequences of your actions on the larger whole, and understand that losing the popular vote while winning the electoral college does not give you a mandate. We all have to live here — together. Let all of our opinions be heard and considered. Remember you can’t eat money, and you’re not going to sleep well if everyone is hating on everyone else. You control both houses of Congress now, but you don’t control the hearts and minds and souls of the American people, and you don’t control how history will remember you. Hero or villain, it is up to you.

About the weekends of my childhood, I should add that after the coffee was drunk and the baklava all gone, the cups and dishes and silverware washed and put away, and the table wiped, and after all the yelling and fighting and the, “How could you believe that?”; “What are you crazy?”; “You just don’t understand what this means for the country, for the world.”; and my favorite, “That’s it. I just can’t talk to you. I’m not coming here anymore!”, after all that rancor and what seemed to my Italian mother to be more animosity than her 108 lb. frame could bear, all my relatives down to a man (and woman), put on their coats, grabbed their hats and bags, and hugged and kissed each other before going out the door, saying, “See you next week. Same time?” Okay, maybe not every single time. Sometimes it did get so heated that it seemed fisticuffs were imminent, but even then, they were back the next week. That’s love, of your family, of your country, of the world.

The Greeks have three words for love: Agape — love of mankind; Eros — passionate love; and Philia — friendship, or love between equals. We need all of them now, Mr. President-Elect, if we are going to make it through these times. And in the meantime, to borrow (and bastardize) a line from Sting, I hope our newly elected, and long-serving officials love their children, too.

About pjlazos

writer, blogger, environmentally hopeful
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28 Responses to Dear Mr. President-Elect

  1. Debbie M. says:

    In the U.S., it is certainly time for honest debate. People want to be heard, but will we do the really hard work and listen to one another. Time will tell!

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  2. Dear PJ,
    Great post. As an Italian who when young would sit around the kitchen table after a holiday meal and listen to grandparents, aunts and uncles go at it. I would receive translation from my older brother who was well versed in the language. But behind it all was a love that surpassed any difference. But, liberty then was preserved because the only difference between republicans and democrats at the time was that one was for white collar workers and the other, blue collar workers. The seeds of identity politics had not yet taken root. That Algonquin group of immigrants knew what liberty meant. They each proudly and with gratitude entered by way of Ellis Island.

    Putting aside feeling and personality, I find President Trump contrary to both parties. Although he was elected as a republican his policies seem to ruffle feathers on both sides of the isle. If anything he is a populist/pragmatist. Either one bodes well for the concept: “of, by and for the people.” He offended both democrats and republicans equally in attendance with his inaugural address. But for those who truly understand liberty, it was illuminating. Words seem to be dark to some when they cast light upon the truth

    Today, neither Conservatism nor Liberalism defines liberty. If liberty’s aim is not toward the common good then it is not liberty. The two components of liberty are justice and charity. If one group gives themselves solely to one or the other component then there is an imbalance which cannot serve the goal of the common good. In doing so justice tends toward cruelty and charity toward sentimentality. This is the place in which we now find ourselves. My elder relatives would find this place alienating, for it is here where the liberty they once held dear is lost.

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    • pjlazos says:

      Oh my gosh, Alan, how very insightful and very true. Trump is alienating to both sides. I think that we, as a country, need to do some real soul searching and decide what it is we want and need from our country and each other. For example, is it liberty or safety? Is it wealth, or a happy and balanced life? Do we want to turn our control over to a government that will certainly take it from us or do we want to create our own reality based on the underlying principles of each man knowing what is best for himself which sounds contrary, but is not to that concept of liberty for all people. My elder relatives would also find this alienating and perhaps long for a simpler time. I’m hoping that collectively we can all get back to where we need to be, a country that’s all for protecting the individual and collective rights simultaneously.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you PJ.
        Once we realize that each of us has a soul then all else falls into place. Everyone has purpose, worth and is loved by someone. In holding this concept sacred, then government, business, workers and neighbor can’t help but strive for the common good. We can learn from our generations past: especially that much of the best of who we are has been left behind. And to achieve the common good those precious things must be restored.
        It’s been great sharing with you, P.J.
        -Alan

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      • pjlazos says:

        So true! Thank you, Alan. You as well. :0)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. BETH says:

    I suppose my ignorance of the Greek tendency to argue is showing here, but I thought the Italians argued about everything. I remember my first visit to Italy–the bus carrying us from the airport to the city stopped for half an hour on the main highway so the bus driver could argue with a motorist he deemed careless and disrespectful in his driving. It was not road rage like we have in the USA, but a genuine old-fashioned confrontation with and “teaching the driver” a thing or two. Then as we neared the city, impatient motorists drove on the sidewalk to get past other cars they thought were too slow. Perhaps the word ‘ignorance’ is key here. When we do not know each other fully, we tend to be prejudicial. We assume and judge without consideration. When we have not walked in their shoes or felt their pain, we tend to judge harshly.

    Unfortunately, our lack of reaching out to each other is causing us all to be ignorant. Do we even know or care about others besides ourselves? Sometimes self-examination can be difficult, but that is how we grow and change.

    I especially liked the last section of your article where you stated, “The Greeks have three words for love: Agape — love of mankind; Eros — passionate love; and Philia — friendship, or love between equals. We need all of them now, Mr. President-Elect, if we are going to make it through these times. And in the meantime, to borrow (and bastardize) a line from Sting, I hope our newly elected, and long-serving officials love their children, too.”

    Well-said, my friend. We all need to humble ourselves to seek the other’s good; that is friendship love. The Master Teacher called his apostles friends because he shared with them what he heard from the Father. Are we willing to humble ourselves to share with each other?

    Pray for the children and be willing to care for them ourselves if their parents will not.

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    • pjlazos says:

      Hi Beth! Just to clarify, the Italians are no slouchers in the arguing department. It just so happens that my mother, who was Italian, was quiet and not prone to fierce debate as was my Greek father. But yes, as a group, the Italians are right in there which explains why I love a good debate, I guess.
      Your comments are thoughtful and well-articulated. We absolutely need to look outside ourselves to see what’s happening with the other guy rather than always to looking to our own needs and desires. A friend who just retired from the army calls it “situational awareness,” a term they use in combat. Without situational awareness, you will likely end up dead. I do believe we could all use a dose of situational awareness training! Have a great day! pl

      Liked by 1 person

  4. joliesattic says:

    Reblogged this on joliesattic and commented:
    I really liked how she presents a human perspective on a touchy subject. She’s right, we are after all family. We can be stubborn or we can bend. The choice is ours to make.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like the quote ” you can’t eat money.” But gee whiz, do we really want to deny Trump the only thing that matters to him? 🙂

    Very nice article here and so interesting. I am the daughter of an immigrant parent who came to this country in the 1920’s.

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  6. maureenc says:

    I found your comments reblogged on Holistic Wayfarer. Like many people around the world I worry how the 45th POTUS will affect not only on your country, but also the rest of the world. Hopefully he will learn to speak and act more discreetly than he did before the election. There is more than enough racism and angst in the world without him “stirring the pot” even more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pjlazos says:

      Totally agree, Maureen! He could use to moderate his comments before speaking and check his hubris at the door. Maybe the gravity of the office he is about to inherit will bring about the change. Thanks for stopping by.🙏

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  7. Robyn Haynes says:

    A wonderful post! My hopes and heart goes out to all Americans. It’s diversity that has made America great.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. MariHoward says:

    Very well put, all of it. I love how you were able to use the example of your Greek relatives to put over the point about differing opinions and forgiving love which covers it all and unifies. My Grandfather was half Greek and I certainly remember his ‘rants’ at the dining table – political ones about Cyprus back in the 1950s/60s. I think he was missing out on having enough of the kind of relatives who’d rant back at him though!

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  9. joliesattic says:

    This was beautifully and eloquently presented. Jesus taught in parables and this bears some semblance to a parable. I know people will draw what they like, but yes, good advice we need to join in love and make this work and it won’t for sure work if hate continues to foment. And your three terms for love fit the bill for us to cultivate.

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  10. Reblogged this on A Holistic Journey and commented:
    “Remember you can’t eat money…You control both houses of Congress now, but you don’t control the hearts and minds and souls of the American people…”

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Sandra Fluck says:

    What a story you tell here about your Greek relatives and how, given their understanding and love for each other, they could say goodbye with a hug and a kiss even after heated political exchanges. Wrapping your message to our President-elect within this story is powerful: We need now, more than ever, all three meanings of love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pjlazos says:

      Thank you, Sandy. Informed, intelligent political discourse, even when it gets heated, has always been part of America, from the days of the Founding Fathers. Let’s hope it continues long into the future.

      Liked by 1 person

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