Karen Wu is a sophomore at Harvard-Westlake High School. (Photo courtesy of Karen Wu)
Harvard-Westlake High School

Message to my next president: Decency is our starting point

Dear future president,

My golden West Coast is burning. I could barely see the sun for days. COVID-19 has skewered America, exacerbated by failures in our healthcare system. As I write this, congressional stimulus talks are at an impasse, a blow to the lives of ordinary Americans. Climate change hovers over us and inequity chokes our nation. 

If we are to untangle this web of issues, we must start by bringing decency into our politics.

Recalling old lessons from kindergarten teachers and parents, we must treat our opponents with basic respect and courtesy. We must acknowledge that all human life has intrinsic worth, and we must accept when we are wrong. Our politicians must not be beholden solely to their base or party, but to all Americans.

Only then will we be able to work towards solutions.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It will not happen overnight, or maybe even over a year. But as president, you must start by modeling these aspirations in your own conduct. 

And of course, decency does not mean we must abandon our values. Disagreement will always be fundamental to democracy, but disagreement and decency are not mutually exclusive. The friendship of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Antonin Scalia taught America that lesson. My own debates with my friends taught me that lesson.

I want future generations to have the privilege of learning the same lesson from those in our nation’s capital.

As my family watched the first presidential debate, my little sister ambled in. She gave the TV screen a glance of youthful disinterest and strolled out. I’m glad she didn’t stay. If she had, maybe a little voice in her head would’ve whispered that this is what democracy is — shouting and interruptions.

I hope that I can, in good conscience, encourage her to stay when the future president comes on TV again.



Karen Wu


Los Angeles