obamawriting Opinion

Ten Letters for the President | Obama and the Future

Before you read this, check out the podcast that inspired it. Another from the seemingly endless list of excellent podcasts from 99% Invisible. It’s only 16 minutes long, a few minutes fewer when you consider the ads. It’ll probably be longer and more interesting than this post regardless.

You are probably not aware of this, lord knows I wasn’t, but Obama makes sure to read ten letters each day that he is in Washington.

It’s an interesting thought. Often when I write to upper management I don’t expect to get a response. I’m not even considering the thought that someone will ever even see it. For me the expected outcome is that the letter will be lost to some automated bot. I basically presume that every company is Google. Where customers don’t really exist outside of the abstract.

Even recently when I contacted the corporate office of Verizon. I was absolutely stunned when they replied within a day of my message. And the email was such that I was basically certain that someone had actually read it and furthermore they’d read it thoroughly.

So imagine my surprise while taking my short exercise break today when I listened to this podcast. I wondered just how much this must weigh on President Obama. The President is, for better or worse, the face of the United States at any given time. They are the one that receives much of the praise and all of the blame for all three branches of Government. It’s not necessarily fair but I suspect that most people running are aware that they’ll be a figurehead.

Imagine sitting down everyday at your job and reading ten letters from your customers? Somewhat curated but ultimately chosen to get the biggest impact out of you. Imagine if there was an issue that you wanted to get better, like say Gun Violence, and it seemingly just gets worse? (I say seemingly because this is a nuanced issue).

How heavily that would weigh on me. I can’t imagine seeing all these concerns coming in. Joblessness, violence, fear. All these things that could theoretically be resolved if Congress would stop acting like a bunch of children. But you can’t stop them, not really. They’ll keep doing what they are doing and you know that you’ll be the one that ultimately gets blamed.

I know personally I took every bad experience incredibly personally at my last job. When I read support tickets I would routinely be troubled by them. The difference was that I was basically a dictator at that time. In many cases I was the final say on a lot of things. I went out of my way to make people’s lives better. In the worst case scenario though, my customers would just be having a bum video game experience.

Obama gets in letters from people telling him their lives are falling apart. And honestly there is nothing he can do about it. That’s a profound thing that I hadn’t even considered before. I figured letters sent in to the President just got filed away like the White House were a Fortune 500 company.

Now I look to the future. In about a month the Presidency will switch and a new person will be getting the letters. I can’t help but wonder. Does he even care? Trump has given off a persona at every turn of a man who basically cares about little outside of himself. Is that who he really is?

How will the new White House handle the letters? Will they see hands? Will he read them? Will he read ten a day?

It’s weird to think.

But this podcast puts a bit of something into perspective for me. I now get a bit of insight into the man that repeatedly stood dumbfounded and hurt before the US. Asking people to just give him an inch. To maybe, just maybe, stop adding to the pile.