Nine months after Belinda Clemens lost her husband, she still hasn’t been able to hold his memorial service. The coronavirus pandemic has forced her to grieve mostly alone.
Clemens carried that anguish to the ballot box in November, where she voted for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden with the fervent hope that he would wrestle the pathogen into submission. If the transmission rate is low enough by April, she may be able to celebrate her husband’s life before the first anniversary of his death.
Americans of all stripes are pouring their most debilitating sorrows and biggest dreams into the next administration, regardless of which candidates they pulled the lever for in November. They’re worried about equality of opportunity, immigration policy, our relationships with China and Russia, and more.
Hundreds of those people recently wrote to The Washington Post in response to a callout asking for their advice to Biden. A retired state employee in Arizona wrote that he voted for Biden, despite expecting to dislike his policies, because he considers President Trump a “neofascist demagogue.” A young Trump supporter urged the president-elect to bring the country together.
They and many others reflected on 2020, a year that brutalized the nation, and decided on a message that they wanted their next president to hear. Here’s what they had to say.
I am an independent, white male voter here in Arizona who did my little bit to help you win the state, knowing full well that I will despair over nearly all of your policies. Why? Because I refuse to allow my country to be ruled by a race baiting, neo-fascist demagogue. Your one and only job going forward is to do anything and everything you can to make sure that never happens again. You can start by constantly reminding the nation that we almost lost our democracy this year, and also by remembering that, if not for COVID-19, we almost surely would have done so. I wish you all the best in this endeavor.
— Patrick Fitzgerald, 68, Tucson
Always stay true to the compassion, empathy, dignity for all, and equality that you promote. Always extend human rights. Commit to nurturing the land and air and water and biodiversity, and oppose exploitation. Commit to peace and oppose division.
Lead with honesty, with caring, with imagination, with humility. Be led by love, truth and hope.
— Ron Cammel, 54, Peoria, Ariz.
Mr. Biden, I am writing this letter on January 6 as a mob attempts a violent coup in Congress. There is something I have felt you absolutely must do as president for months now, but today, it is abundantly clear to me what the stakes truly are.
You must prosecute Trump and his enablers to the fullest extent of the law.
You seem to be of two minds on this. On the one hand, you have said that you will not direct the Attorney General on how to conduct the Department of Justice. Given how fractured our nation is, I have taken this to mean that you are open to the possibility of investigating and prosecuting the corruption of the last four years. But on the other hand, you have repeatedly spoken of your desire to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans.
Frankly, Mr. Biden, what do you expect to happen if you do so?
My Senators, Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer, both voted against removing Trump from office when we had smoking-gun proof that he tried to extort the Ukraine into helping him undermine the 2020 election. My Congressional Representative, Jeff Fortenberry, voted against impeachment and then for an encore signed an amicus brief in support of the God-awful Supreme Court filing openly asking the SCOTUS to overturn the election results. This is to say nothing of the likes of Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, who are right this very minute openly refusing to certify the election results.
The Republican party is trying to steal the election from you. It is trying to steal the election from me. It is trying to steal it from all Americans, even those who voted for Trump, even if many of them have not realized it yet.
The only way to restore Democracy at this point is to ensure that those who attempted to undermine the election can never try to do so again. I do not believe the entire Republican party needs to be prosecuted, but neither do I believe for a moment that the corruption we saw in the last four years is limited only to Trump.
Please restore the rule of law.
— Kevin North, 29, Lincoln, Neb
Joe, please do all you can at the beginning of your Presidency to get New Deal policies passed that will enrich the “little guy” — give them a reason to look on the national government in a hopeful way as they did in the 1930’s.
— Allison Weinkranz, 70, Penn Valley, Pa.
Dear Joe Biden,
I am from Florida. I attend Florida International University and am an active, proud Trump supporter. I didn’t intend to write this message but I thought since you’ll be the next president it is important for you to hear what I have to say.
First of all, I hope that you fully realize that nearly half of the voters in the 2020 election voted for Donald Trump. The president received about 12 million more votes than he did in the 2016 election. That was largely because his voters and I are happy of his accomplishments. Accomplishments like building the border wall, peaceful relations with countries such as North Korea, destroying ISIS, lowest unemployment rate for minorities, being tough on China as well as the cartels, three Conservative justices, standing up for our military, backing our police, and successfully developing two coronavirus vaccines. These successes made America a better place. I don’t expect your administration to continue the president’s accomplishments but I hope that you keep what is the best for the country and not your political party.
Second, I really hope you mean what you said when you said you want to be president of all Americans. I don’t know if you realize but many in the Democrat party do not follow your words. Many are busy calling half of America voters, who support the president, racist. They are advocating that we become targeted and attacked. I hope your administration rejects that type of divisive tone and actually have leaders that really attempt to unite the nation.
Personally, your election means a reversal of some of Trump policies. It also represents the results of having a democratic republic. This election has shown the power and problems that comes with elections. Americans from both sides of the political spectrum have seen these problems. I hope your administration works with both major parties to increase confidence in the 2020 election and future ones.
— Christopher Brazela, 21, West Park, Fla.
Just always be truthful, it would be a welcomed change, besides the fact checkers verify and the truth comes out eventually anyway. Best wishes.
— Pat L., 74, Grant, Fla.
President-elect Biden, I have always admired your commitment to your family and your son Beau, who, like myself and my husband, who passed away on April 8, 2020, served in the United States Armed Forces. You have been put through so much by the current administration and I for one know that you will be a fantastic President. Please do not let those who have tried to already tarnish all the great work you have done for this country past and present. Please continue to work hard for the veterans and for the Armed Forces. It was you and President Obama that did so much for the veterans. By creating the Veterans Choice Act. It was you that was instrumental in brokering the ACA. I need you to continue to be the great leader, and humble person that you are as you lead our great country out of this pandemic.
I, like many Americans, spent my first Christmas without my husband — completely alone at home by myself. I have not even been able to have my husband’s memorial service because of the pandemic and how horribly the federal government has handled this pandemic. We as the United States of America should be leading in the most aggressive fight and showing the world as we always have that America protects and helps their people despite any political, racial or ethnic indifference.
President-elect Biden, I pray that you will show the world once again that America is serious about helping our allies and not allowing dictators from North Korea or Russia that they have an open door into America; to destroy our great country. Our country is at “war” with itself. Please end this “war” here in American against each other. Please end this pandemic, climate change, and help our veterans and continue with what you and President Obama have already done for the veterans. My prayers for you and your family.
— Belinda Clemens, 45, Roanoke
Take the high road, always. Thanks for proving to us that decency can win.
— Ben Goltz, 15, Anchorage
I hope this new administration will focus on legal immigration. I’m one of many Indians who are in line waiting for a green card. It’s proven again and again that legal immigrants boost the economy, create jobs and intellectual property — please consider this a priority. It will pay for itself.
— Mohan Nakka, 44, Sammamish, Wash.
Lead with integrity and compassion. Compromise wisely. Stand firm when necessary. But lead.
— Jim Bollenbacher, 62, Barrington, Ill.
When I picture the future, I see my granddaughter and what life will be like. Before the results were in, I feared what the future held; it was dark and full of troubles. Now there is a light breaking through. But I know it will not be easy.
You will need to bring us back together. Please don’t ever lie to us. What do I hope you will accomplish? What do I believe is reasonable? First, a livable wage for hourly employees. The trickle-down hypothesis has been proven wrong. Do not underestimate the power of greed. The American Dream is gone. People work hard but can’t feed their family. The idea of owning a home is gone. But I want this idea of a dream to return. I want the idea of our democracy and of our Constitution to return. Our government has lost its way. My hope and prayer is that you and Vice President Harris will return us to the path.
— Ann Whitley, 59, Fayetteville, Ga.
Trumpism is directly related to the fact that aside from giving billions of dollars to (primarily) corporate farmers, little to nothing has been done to help America’s small towns. Most of them once had at least one small factory supplying jobs other than farming. As most of those closed over the past few decades, these towns have struggled. Wages are depressed or nonexistent, there is a brain drain as the more talented have left, and their populations are aging. What they need more than anything, to be able to thrive, is that one small factory. If the Democratic Party could get behind helping them to get one, a LOT of good will could be generated in farm country.
— David Majors, 65, LaPorte, Ind.
Hope. This election means hope for me, just like the election of President Obama meant hope — for a more inclusive country, a more thoughtful administration, and an end to some of the things done during the prior administration’s watch.
Here are just a few of the things I’m hoping for:
- Hiring people with expertise, no matter what their political party. As someone who felt unimportant because my views did not mirror President Trump’s, I sense that if we want this to be an inclusive administration, we need people of every demographic working in it, including those whose views do not reflect the opinions of the man at the top [of] his party. We need more discussion and less finger-pointing.
- Maintaining a “the buck stops here” attitude.
- Signing a boatload of executive orders to overturn all the executive orders President Trump signed — no time to waste.
- Making sure that the communication staff sticks to providing information, rather than abusing the journalists; spinning every story; offering distractions to hide missteps; and lying, lying, and lying some more.
I’m confident this administration will be thoughtful — letting us know what is important and why, how it will make an impact on our lives, and what you considered and why you made the decisions you did. I’m confident that you will work on the issues that we face every day — the divisions that made 2020 so painful — and through the diversity of your team and the discussions you have, you will find solutions. I’m confident that we will soon feel pride in the face we show to the world.
I’m thrilled you won. I know you’ll be a real leader and make us proud of you, your team, and the United States of America. Best wishes.
— Janice M. Child, 70, Lansing, Mich.
Spread your ears everywhere and listen, without make-up; be fair by providing conditions for everyone who wants to grow, but motivate the effort and do not reward those who do not even try; fight the racists; impose decency, gender equality and ethical conduct. Love your Country. Surround yourself with the most competent, ethical, experienced team, who are experts in the field you assign each one of its members.
— Alejandro Lara, 57, Dallas
President-elect Joe Biden,
Now that you have won the White House and defeated Donald Trump, you need to actually use your position to enact meaningful policy, and not spend the next four years celebrating the defeat of the 'bad man'. Acting like you are a savior, or that your win means anything directly to the American people will be an appeal to identity politics and virtue signaling and will certainly fail in appealing to the American people. We need comprehensive Climate Action, now. We need a coronavirus contact tracing system, now, and financial support to the American people, now.
If you turn your back on progressives, we can expect more “Trumps” to return, sowing chaos into our nation against the failures of a complacent, corporatist establishment that thinks a “return to normalcy” will win over the American people. The political norm has been hurting Americans for decades. We need actual progress, not “bold new ideas” that are actually the same Obama era ideas that led us to Trump anyway.
— Sean Elliott, 26, San Diego
I would hope to see more unity in this country and healing from the past four years of racism, misogyny and fearmongering of other races. I would hope to see that Black Lives Matter advocates’ voices are being heard, that women’s rights are being heard, that LGBTQIA lives are being heard. We are all people, and I feel that we need to do better. I am a Hispanic woman, part of the LGBTQIA community, and the odds are already stacked against me. Nevertheless, I will persevere, but I will do so knowing that my rights are protected. I have faith in this administration, I have faith in the VP and the president-elect.
— Adriana Salazar, 29, Holland, Mich.
Sir, act with courage and integrity. Lead with all of us in mind.
— Pat Harnett, 56, South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
I hope your administration can get America back on a track that reflects who we truly are as a nation: open-hearted, kind, innovative, and inclusive. What I would like to see accomplished is swift, meaningful action on climate change and less investment in military weaponry but more investment in education and infrastructure, particularly our energy grid and cybersecurity. What your election means to me is that after four years of our country being torn apart and being treated like a banana republic, we have leadership that believes in the power of love rather than the love of power.
— Kate MacMahon, 73, Orange, Calif.
I hope this letter finds you well. First, I would like to wish you and Kamala lots of success these next four years. Although I turned 18 this year, I spared no effort to register to vote and do so from abroad. The sense of satisfaction following days of anxiety as I waited for the race to be called was worth all I went through to cast my ballot.
As much as I am glad to have you as my next president, I cannot stress enough the fear I had of Trump grabbing a second term and what it would mean to our democracy. Fortunately, the latter indeed proved to be resilient. However, I urge you to hold those who worked hard on undermining American values accountable. Your call for uniting the nation is a must, but I believe it should not hinder the prosecution of whoever supported overturning the will of the people. I believe that Trump not conceding, accompanied by a number of politicians refusing to accept the results of the general election over baseless claims, will set a precedent unless your administration punishes these actions. Otherwise, American democracy might be in peril in the near future.
Moreover, I urge you to put the dreams and aspirations of over 80 million Americans over unnecessary consent from the other side of the aisle if the Democrats manage to win control of the Senate in January. Also, I would appreciate it if you and Kamala focused on connecting with the millions of Americans living abroad; Americans that nonetheless never lost their fervent sense of patriotism. I, from Beirut, like many others outside the US, look forward to having more ways of engaging in whatever promotes what we stand for, and the need for a stronger connection with our government. Finally, I want you to know that your campaign's triumph gave me a reason to think of how I can build and manage a better future.
— Karim Salaheddine, 18, Beirut
Establish equitable and efficient vaccine delivery. Then focus on climate issues and never waver in your commitment to meet goals that move us to zero net energy by 2050 with concern always for under served communities.
— Pat Rathbone, 79, Watertown, Mass.
Dear President Biden,
While I’m sure you don’t remember me, you and your family were a part of my life for a long time. I went to school with your granddaughter Maisy from kindergarten until we graduated high school and I remember you in the audience at many school plays and landmark events we shared. You were always happy to chat and take photos with eager parents, but what I remember most is that you always went out of your way to be nice to me and my elementary school classmates in a setting where the grownups in the room mostly talked to each other.
When discussing your campaign with college friends who didn’t grow up around the vice president’s close family members, I was always able to say with certainty that you were a good person willing to make an effort for those often ignored. I hope that you bring this willingness with you as you ascend to the office of President of the United States, and make that same effort for all those who have been downtrodden and ignored over the history of our country.
Thank you for noticing us. Now, I hope that those less privileged than I have a chance at the same recognition.
— Lauren Adler, 19, Bethesda, Md.
The pandemic has highlighted a lot of inequity in our current system that in normal times many people would take for granted. The health-care crisis in America is at a tipping point. Many Americans can receive health insurance from their employers. When you were in office with President Obama, you brought forth the affordable care act. This in turn made health care accessible to many Americans who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to get health insurance through their employer. Years later, two things have happened. The cost of health insurance on the individual market has risen, and deductibles and out-of-pocket payments have gotten out of control.
Secondly, the covid-19 pandemic has shown that employer tied insurance is ethically and morally terrible. I currently work at a CUNY college in NYC as an adjunct professor. The college enrollment has gone down, and my union contract spells out that if I cannot teach up to six contact hours or two four-hour courses in my department, I do not qualify for employment-based insurance. An insurance policy on the Individual market that is almost equal to the plan that I have with the college would cost me nearly four times a month what I am paying now. I know that you are staunchly against Medicare for all and eliminating the private health insurance market. I know that you want to create a public option. Myself and my fellow Americans, who are freelancers, gig workers, and those who work in sectors that don’t offer health insurance, absolutely need some kind of universal health coverage that can support us when the private market health insurance costs way too much.
Often on your Twitter feed and other colleagues of yours say that “healthcare is a human right.” I hope that you live by those words and create a plan that is as close to Medicare for all that you are comfortable with and attaching your name to.
— Daniel Fishel, 34, Ridgewood, N.Y.
Remember the fireside chats of President Roosevelt. Don’t depend on Twitter and other social media. Talk to the American people.
— Kathie Oechsner-West, 68, Chehalis, Wash.
President-elect Joe Biden
Please remember those of us who voted for you not only wanted Trump out, but want a cleaner, more just America. I hope that you will consider progressive reforms like taking meaningful, decisive action toward making America less dependent on fossil fuels. I hope that your Catholic faith will guide you and allow you to acknowledge and address the problems of police brutality and racial injustice that pervades many American cities. I hope that you take action to end the school-to-prison pipeline and end systemic poverty in our country. I hope that you will continue to defend and protect asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants. I hope that you will listen to and learn from Medicare for All proponents — this program would save money, be a massive boon to most Americans, and would save many of them from drowning in millions of dollars of medical debt. I hope that you will continue to speak up in defense of trans people, whose safety is in jeopardy every day they show the world their authentic selves. I hope that you will end the forever war in Afghanistan and safely bring our troops home. I hope that you and Vice President Harris will commit to not just returning to the way things were before Trump was elected, but to make America safer and more prosperous.
I know you want to unify the country, and I think that's an admirable goal. But please, don't let that keep you from doing the right thing and holding the Trump administration, including our soon-to-be-former President, accountable for the immense amount of damage they have done to this country over the last 4 years. Americans, along with the rest of the world, need to see that you will not meekly sweep authoritarianism under the rug. Fascist ideology has no place in a democracy.”
— Hilary A., 28, Fairfax City, Va.
President Biden, I’m a long time supporter of you (south Jersey native). I have faith in your character and dedication to America. I need you to get this country out of the grips of 2 crises, the covid pandemic and this push of anti-democratic beliefs. You are uniquely the right person at the right time for this challenge. Take care with your safety and get things done. We all want our lives back.
— Robert McLaughlin, 65, Dunedin, Fla.
This election was a victory for the survival of the American republic after years of democratic backsliding. For that, I thank you, Mr. President, your victory has allowed America to live another day. However, much work needs to be done, especially in regards to the pandemic and economy. The Trump years of unprecedented national debt and deficit increase and the widening wealth/income gap is appalling. His border policy, which needs an investigation of human rights abuses, needs to be reversed immediately. Most importantly, I hope you can begin the detoxification of Washington. Sir, I hope you can restore the rule of law and respect for the Constitution that has been tarnished after Trump leaves office. The insanity of the politicization of the DOJ, the enabling of the QAnon conspiracy, and the sycophancy of the Republican Party to allow this man to continue his actions is appalling, especially when he won’t concede the election. I don’t wish for you to actively pursue an investigation of a former president, but I do reckon there needs to be accountability.
But foreign policy also matters. Trump has fundamentally ruined America’s reputation and geopolitical power in every part of the world. We’ve become a mockery. We’ve alienated our allies at a time when we truly need them. We are losing geopolitical influence in the Mideast, Europe, and the Pacific, as our enemies grow stronger. The indifference to Russia by Trump is appalling. The skepticism of China is warranted, but how Trump went about it has only given the Chinese more geopolitical influence and regional power. Iran and N. Korea are probably going to have nuclear arsenals soon. We cannot abandon our allies in Europe, as a deterrent to Russia, and in Asia, as a deterrent to China and to enforce an economic stranglehold on their influence. The time for these spats, trade wars, and demonization to end. Reconciliation needs to begin.
— Johnny Nguyen, 18, Des Plaines, Ill.
The Washington Post also asked readers to write letters to the incoming vice president on the eve of her inauguration. Readers remarked on the historic nature of her vice presidency and called for a more unified country.