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Weiss: LRI Graduates Give Sage Advice to President Trump

Monday, September 04, 2017

 

Mayor Scott Avedisian

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”  -- Thomas Jefferson

With the dust settling after the surprising victory of GOP Candidate Donald Trump last November, the news analysis on the election results clearly revealed that America is a divided nation of red states and blue states, either leaning Republican or Democrat.  Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and into President Trumps 226 days in office, personal attacks are a very common occurrence on Face Book if the person disagrees with your posting.

Jeffersonian Dinners: Finding a Common Purpose

We have lost our way in agreeing to disagree on political issues.  We are no longer able to civilly discuss our differences on issues.  How can a politically divided nation relearn how to have civil political dialogue to find a bridge between our differing political philosophies and positions on policies.  Here’s Leadership Rhode Island’s answer.

Last January, LRI released its second book in three years. “Dear President Trump,” a compilation of 31 letters written by LRI alumni who attended 1 of 13 structured “Jeffersonian Dinners” held across the state in 2016.  The attendees began each dinner conversation answering the question, “When faced with ideological or principle-based differences with another, how did you and the other party find common ground and/or progress?”

Each letter compiled in this 32-page book was written “to the office/position and not the person,” as submissions and selections were made prior to the Presidential election on Nov. 8, 2016. “Given the emotional nature of this year’s presidential election, which might be best described as identity politics at its most divisive, we thought advice from accomplished Rhode Island leaders from different sectors and industries to our incoming president would be gladly received by the next President and the citizens of Rhode Island,” said Mike Ritz, Executive Director of Leadership Rhode Island, in a statement.

“There’s much wisdom and perspective inside.” In all, about 30% of the 111 dinner attendees – corporate executives, small business owners, directors of state agencies, elected officials, executive directors of non-profits, retirees, and veterans - submitted a 300-word letter which began with “Dear President.” Inserted between letters are quotes by each of the 44 U.S. Presidents, which were curated by Dr. Jane Nugent, a 1995 graduate of Leadership Rhode Island and LRI’s volunteer project advisor.

Sage Words of Advice

Here are a few snippets of advice in letters from LRI graduates: 

Tricia O’ Neil, LRI ‘09, Family Wealth Director and Financial Advisor at Morgan Stanley, asks the incoming president to remember: “You are no longer a Democrat or Republican; you are now the leader of the greatest country in the world.  Regardless of party, we are a rightfully proud country that continues to hold the truths of our Declaration of Independence, all the freedoms it stands for, as self-evident.  Sometimes we will agree with your stances and sometimes we will not, but if you talk to us with honesty, patience and understanding, and stay consistent and steadfast, we will all successfully grow together.”

Jerauld Adams, LRI ’14, President of North American Industries, Inc., urges the new president to: “Find the strength to negotiate a middle ground on issues and policies so that your team will lead responsibly and will gain respect.  Americans need you to be strong; they crave someone they can look up to.  As the earth grows smaller, we need a more united America.”

Mayor Scott Avedisian, LRI ’97, of Warwick, gives his thoughts to the incoming president, too: “When dealing with the opposition, please find ways to agree and to disagree without vilifying them.  Lead this nation by being an example of calm, allowing all to have their say and make decisions that exemplify the best in all people and all things.”

The “Jeffersonian Dinner” series, which provoked the idea for the book, will continue by Leadership Rhode Island in 2017. Leadership Rhode Island is currently in talks with other organizations outside of the state to collaborate on a national initiative for helping citizens talk through their differences productively and with civility, an action which Ritz says is desperately needed to heal a divided country after very contentious and negative election campaigns.

Adds, Matt Coupe, LRI’s Alumni & Community Engagement Liaison, the idea for Jeffersonian Dinners came out of a series of alumni focus groups held in early 2016 regarding membership benefits. “Alumni told us they wanted to connect with each other in more intimate settings than the large parties and networking events we often host, and they wanted to discuss topics of substance, says Coupe.

According to Coupe, Maryellen Butke, of Providence-based Namaste Consulting who graduated from LRI in 2008, introduced the concept of Jeffersonian Dinners, which had been developed by Jeffrey Walker at the Monticello Foundation, to LRI.   Walker wrote a book, called The Generosity Network, in which he describes the Dinners as being modeled after dinner parties that Thomas Jefferson had once hosted at Monticello. Jefferson’s idea was to bring people of different backgrounds together to discuss topics of importance, so he could hear multiple perspectives on various issues he was facing. 

LRI has recently conducted an online survey of participants, which showed an overwhelming consensus of agreement that the conversations held at the Dinners were valuable in and of themselves, even if they didn't always change someone else's way of thinking, says Coupe.  “We view this as a validation of the Jeffersonian Dinner model, since their purpose is to expose participants to different viewpoints, not necessarily to build consensus,” he says.      

 LRI continues to hold its Jeffersonian Dinners in 2017 and plans to continue for at least another year, says Coupe, with the goal of eventually host inviting LRI graduates and the general public to participate.  We want to eventually spread the word about the value of Jeffersonian Dinners outside Rhode Island with assistance from the Monticello Foundation and the National Association of Leadership Programs (ALP),” he says. 

Now, is the time to work together to build a better American and world by learning how to discuss our differences and finding the root of compromise.  Jeffersonian Dinners organized throughout the nation may just be the answer to bringing a politically divided country together.

Let’s hope that a copy of “Dear President Trump,” finds it’s way to Trump’s desk. It’s a great read.

Books may be purchased for $20 (domestic shipping included) online at http://bit.ly/dearpresidentbook or by credit card over the phone at 401-273-1574. About Leadership Rhode Island Leadership Rhode Island is a nationally awarded community leadership development nonprofit organization, founded in 1981, with over 2000 graduates across the state of Rhode Island. For more information about Leadership Rhode Island, visit www.LeadershipRI.org

 

Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, healthcare and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

 

Related Slideshow: RI Democrats React to Trump’s Budget - 2017

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Gina Raimondo 

RI Governor 

"Rhode Island is making strong progress to provide our people with the education and job training they need to be successful and to expand access to affordable, quality health care to virtually everyone in our state. 

President Trump's budget betrays Rhode Islanders by giving huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans while drastically reducing federal funding for vital programs that create jobs, raise wages, and protect low-income Americans. 

Even as we analyze President Trump's budget in the coming days to determine its specific impacts on Rhode Island, I appreciate the members of Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation for their leadership and advocacy, and I join them in calling on their colleagues in Washington, D.C. to stop the Trump administration from making massive cuts to health care, public schools, affordable housing, and other programs that Rhode Islanders rely upon."

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Jim Langevin 

U.S. Congressman

“In March, President Trump released a budget outline that I strongly condemned for its drastic cuts to programs that help everyday Americans. Unfortunately, the President’s full budget proposal continues these harmful policies by gutting programs that invest in our economy, create jobs and provide crucial assistance to families across the country. 

This proposal slashes funding for education, food assistance and health care for low-income seniors, children and people with disabilities. It makes cuts to worker training, environmental protection, and investments in medical research and advanced manufacturing. These are not mere luxuries, but programs that make meaningful differences in the lives of Rhode Islanders. 

Congress must reject this cynical and misguided budget. Instead, we should work together in a bipartisan manner, as we did on the recently passed 2017 funding bill, to find a balanced approach to funding priorities that will support families, promote economic growth and provide for our national security.”  

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David Cicilline

U.S. Congressman

“If a budget is a statement of your priorities and values, then Donald Trump’s budget shows he doesn’t understand the challenges facing honest, hardworking Rhode Islanders. This is a budget written by the wealthiest Americans for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. But it’s a setback for the middle class. It makes life harder for anyone who’s trying to punch a ticket to the middle class.”

Donald Trump has already proposed a huge tax cut for billionaires. But the budget he released today says everyone else is on their own. This budget eliminates hundreds of millions of dollars for job creation. It zeroes out funding for workforce training and good-paying manufacturing jobs in Rhode Island. And it makes it even harder for young people to succeed by cutting teacher training, eliminating afterschool funding, and making it harder to pay off student loans.”

This budget does nothing to address Rhode Island’s crumbling infrastructure. It eliminates the TIGER grant program, which is critical to supporting local infrastructure projects like the new commuter rail station in Pawtucket. And it cuts funding for public transit by $928 million.”

And most worrisome of all, this budget makes our towns and cities less safe. It actually cuts funding for firefighters. It cuts billions from the EPA and other resources to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe. And it slashes $978 million from the Army Corps of Engineers – meaning Rhode Island will be less prepared for hurricanes and have fewer resources to protect the quality of our waterways.”

Plain and simple, this is not a budget that any Member of Congress should be comfortable supporting. Along with my colleagues in the House Democratic Leadership, I will do everything I can to reverse these devastating cuts and shape a budget that invests in the future of our country and puts honest, hardworking families first.”

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Sheldon Whitehouse 

U.S. Senator

“This budget is reckless, plain and simple. The President proposes massive cuts to Medicaid, breaking yet another campaign promise. He seeks to decimate the federal government’s central command in the battle against the opioid crisis affecting communities from Burrillville to Westerly. He pursues tens of billions of dollars in cuts to student loans and loan forgiveness programs.

His plan would slash funding for research into life-saving cures; lay waste to endowments that support Rhode Island’s world-class cultural institutions; hamstring the EPA so big polluters can poison our air and water; and weaken NOAA, sapping critical resources for coastal economies like Rhode Island’s. The list goes on.

These senseless, irresponsible choices serve one purpose: to pave the way for tax cuts for the very wealthiest.  The good news is that this extremist proposal will go nowhere in the Senate. I look forward to moving past this political stunt of a budget and working on one the American people will support.”

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Jack Reed 

U.S. Senator

“President Trump’s budget is bad news for Rhode Island because it weakens our economy and places new burdens on families, businesses, and communities across the country. 

The Trump budget takes a less is more approach: less investment in education, health care, transportation and safety for the general public and more pollution, outsourcing jobs overseas, and tax breaks for the wealthy and well-connected.

This irresponsible budget would be a real setback for middle-class families and seniors in particular.  The $800 billion in Medicaid cuts could cause over 10 million low-income Americans to lose their health coverage.  If this budget were enacted, more elderly Americans could be forced to go from assisted living to living on the streets.  That is immoral and ill-advised.

The Trump cuts also threaten federal funding for public education, medical research, job training and economic development. These cuts are counterproductive and won’t achieve real cost-savings.  In fact, they would impede economic growth.

Families with limited incomes who are trying to make ends meet get hit hardest by the Trump budget.  It takes food, health care, and retirement security away from children, seniors, and people with disabilities while adding funds for an ineffective border wall and tax cuts for millionaires.  It eliminates the LIHEAP energy assistance program, Community Development Block Grants, and many other critical, cost-effective programs that have a positive impact on Rhode Island. 

While our military deserves to be well-funded, cutting diplomacy and foreign aid won’t help prevent war.  These are the wrong priorities for America and don’t reflect our core values.

I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fight these disastrous cuts and enact a more balanced, fiscally responsible budget that focuses on job creation and strengthening the middle-class.”

 
 

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