Dear Prime Minister Ardern,
I write to ask your advice.
Your country had its worst day in modern times on March 15, 2019 when a deranged right-wing terrorist attacked and murdered 51 people and wounded 40 more in the Christchurch mosques.
We had our worst day yesterday when a President attacked our democracy and encouraged a mob to invade the Capitol buildings. A woman shot by police died. Our democracy was wounded.
Before bothering you, I reached out to the smartest guy I know in Washington, DC. That's Don Graham, the former owner and publisher of the Washington Post. He and I were interns together at Newsweek magazine in 1973, but his journalism career obviously turned out more noteworthy than mine.
I asked him if we could arrest Donald Trump and sentence him to life in prison, as you did the March 15 killer. No, said Graham. He pointed out that almost half the country supported Trump.
"You cannot ignore half the people of the country," he told me yesterday, as police regained control of the Capitol. He was speaking from his home not far away.
Graham knows something about police and security. Before assuming leadership of his family's media empire, he worked as a cop in Washington DC.
"You've got to find a way of saying we are a country. We have to talk to each other," he said.
"New Zealand faced a hideous event, where a monster killed a lot of people over religious hatred," he continued. "New Zealand confronted that magnificently and we hope we can do as well."
I must admit I'm out of ideas today. I thought I had a good handle on what was going to happen here. I predicted in this column that Covid-19 would kill Trump's re-election bid. It did. I said Joe Biden would win. He did. I said Trump was pulling a coup. Sure looks that way. I said Trump would dispatch armies of lawyers to challenge the results. He did. I said Trump's legal challenges were bogus and would fail. They have. I said there would be armies of thug protesters in DC responding to Trump's call. There were. I said there was a very real chance of violence today. It happened. I said the Capitol would be well defended. Oops. Got that last bit wrong.
So the question I ask you is: How can we bring America together?
I realise you have your own nation to worry about and I don't mean to be cute or presumptuous. But sometimes, I think, it's easier to see what's wrong from outside the house. How do we reach out to half our people, who are in the grip of what looks to the other half of us like a dangerous would-be tyrant? From our point of view, their alternate reality is insane. They believe he has done a swell job fighting Covid, or that there is no Covid problem, while we know the disease is utterly out of control here and our death toll has topped 360,000 as of today. They believe a clean election was rigged. Many believe in the bizarre political conspiracy theories of QAnon.
If this was an argument about dinner options, it wouldn't be that I wanted Italian food and they wanted Chinese. It would be that I wanted Italian food, and they wanted to eat metal nuts and bolts in hot machine oil. How do you compromise on that? Bolts in red sauce?
As you know, as everyone everywhere but slightly less than half of us here can see, we have been misled by a conman. The Washington Post has documented more than 20,000 whoppers since his inauguration. He continues to insist that the election was stolen from him. But there was no election theft here. Our various states have checked and rechecked the results.
Sixty courts rejected his claims, including our Supreme Court — twice. The only election fraud anyone can find are the bogus charges of election fraud promulgated by Trump.
But with about 74 million of us voting for Trump, and even assuming millions have changed their minds after today, we still need a strategy to pull us together.
I assume the most likely scenario is that the election will be certified by Congress, which resumed its work last night.
And then Trump will slink away to Florida or another foreign country.
But then what?
You have proven yourself the ablest manager of crisis in any developed nation.
You said that "leadership is not about necessarily being the loudest in the room, but instead being the bridge or the thing that is missing in the discussion and trying to build a consensus from there."
Is there a bridge we are missing?
I have no doubt that President-elect Biden and the American people would be extremely grateful for any ideas you might have in this regard.
Dick Brass, Washington