27/01/2017 06:00 GMT | Updated 28/01/2018 05:12 GMT

May We Have A Word, Mr Trump?

Douliery Olivier/ABACA USA/ABACA USA

It's been seven years since the legendary American reformer, Doris "Granny D" Haddock, passed away at age 100, but at such a time as this, she would most certainly have something to say. After living through two world wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation - and then walking across America for democracy in her ninetieth year, undaunted by arthritis and emphysema - Granny D knew what she stood for and wasn't afraid to speak.

As her home state of New Hampshire celebrates "Granny D Day" and America marks a momentous transfer of power, the president and the nation would do well to heed her words, remixed from her many speeches of 1999-2010.


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 (aided by that "quirk" of the Electoral College, as she called it). 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" and his Inaugural promise to "transfer power from Washington... back to the people."

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," as she liked to say. First, Mr. Trump 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 dispense with the big-money mavens in his "gilded cabinet," for she had seen enough of "robber barons [destroying] family farms and family businesses... and polluting our food, our land, water and air" in her day. She did not need them running the bureaus in Washington.

Finally and most importantly, Granny D would urge the president and Congress to strike down "a system of corruption so perverse that the whole planet is going to feathers" by passing campaign finance reform. She would point to a bipartisan bill she helped devise to do just that: the Government by the People Act. Unlike most other bills, it actually lived up to its name by replacing big money with citizen-funded elections. What better time than now, she would enjoin, when "America thirsts for true reform?" If Trump was willing to lead, she would willingly follow.

Granny D would conclude her interview by introducing the president to her favorite piece of parchment, the Constitution, and a few good volumes of history. 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 Mr. Trump that "in America, our dear Constitution is the amulet we wear to preserve ourselves against the teeth [of absolute power]." Having lived through a century of "two world wars [and] uncounted conflicts, massacres, tortures and atrocities" due to bigotry and "abuses of power," she would tell the president that it is not so much "politically correct" as "constitutionally correct" to reject torture, protect religious freedoms, and respect women, immigrants, minorities, and people with disabilities.

Then, 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!" (His twitter-tantrum following the recent Women's March would not have bothered her.)

In case we should doubt the meaning of this moment, she would remind us of another time when a president who lost the popular vote was busy starting conflicts, stopping science, cutting taxes on the one percent, and stripping services from citizens in need. Now, as then, "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 nonviolent civil disobedience and a trip to 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!"

The main thing, Granny D would insist, is that we make our "revolution against oppression and unfairness... a joyful revolution." We must never forget that our "great political struggle" is also a "struggle for the human soul" - for courage, community, freedom, friendship, and big dreams. "What a wonderful challenging time in which we live," she would conclude. "A time when so much is at stake and when we all have so much important work to do ... together."

Then, with a twinkle in her eye, she would exclaim, "It's time to reclaim democracy!"

Daniel Weeks served as Executive Director of Open Democracy, a nonpartisan organization founded by Granny D. He worked (and walked) with her between 2001 and 2010, when she died at age 100.