To President Trump From A Pediatrician: Please Don't Hurt Our Children

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Dear President Trump:

I have been reading about the Women’s Marches all over the country and the world, unprecedented protests on your first full day of being president. Clearly, a lot of people are worried that we are headed in the wrong direction. Clearly, a lot of people are scared.

I am, too. I’m worried about so many of the things you’ve said you’d do, because they could hurt so many people. But as a pediatrician and parent, I am most scared for the children of our country.

Maybe what you said was just campaign rhetoric. Maybe it’s not going to become reality. But as someone whose life is devoted to the health and well-being of children, I can’t just hope you didn’t mean what you said; it’s not a risk I can take. I need to take you at your word. So please, President Trump, don’t hurt our children.

Don’t make it harder for them to get health care. I have to say, as a doctor I was really disappointed that within hours of being inaugurated you signed an executive order giving federal agencies the power to undo portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Now, I’m not saying the ACA is perfect. It absolutely could use some work. But let’s not forget that 20 million people who didn’t used to have health insurance have it now because of the ACA; signing that order without safeguards in place was irresponsible. When families in my practice lose their health insurance, do you know what happens? They stop coming. Because health care, even basic preventative services, is really expensive; without insurance, it’s simply not affordable.

This could mean children with untreated infections, children with chronic diseases who don’t get the medicines they need, children who don’t get immunized, children with treatable diseases who don’t get diagnosed in time... this could really hurt children and have long-lasting effects.

Don’t erode trust in vaccines. Some of what you’ve said about vaccines ― like that they cause autism, or are better given spaced out rather than according to the recommended schedule, is simply untrue. I was happy to hear that you didn’t actually ask Robert F. Kennedy, Jr to lead a commission on vaccines ― because the people you need to listen to and learn from when it comes to vaccines are doctors and scientists. There is a tremendous amount of ongoing research out there on the safety of vaccines; you should learn about it. You might also want to learn about how many lives have been saved by them, because they work.

Once people are scared, it’s hard to undo that. As president, you need to be careful about what you say and do; if you scare people away from vaccines, or cast doubt on the schedules that were developed to protect children, you could cause children to get sick or even die.

Speaking of listening to the right people…

Don’t make it harder to fight climate change. Your pick for the Environmental Protection Agency said the other day that it’s not clear how much human activity has to do with climate change. It’s actually really clear: we are very much to blame. It’s our emissions and other activities that have lead to rising temperatures, rising waters ― and guaranteeing a very different and dangerous planet for our children. The measures that can make a difference don’t always work for industry, we all get that. But as a president, you need to take the long view ― and think about what your decisions mean for our children and the generations to come.

Don’t make youth feel denigrated or persecuted. You’ve said a lot of negative things about a lot of groups of people, such as Muslims, immigrants, Mexicans, African-Americans, LGBTQ people, people who are overweight or disabled ― even women generally. A lot of people have felt insulted ― or frightened. When you are young, it’s hard to understand and deal with this. And when you are young, it’s hard enough to feel different from the mainstream without feeling like you’ve got your president and your country against you ― or that your family could be taken from you, or that everything you’d hoped for could be gone. We need to strengthen our youth, help them to feel confident and safe, if we want them to grow into healthy, capable adults. What you have said so far has been really hurtful to millions of people. Which brings me to my last and possibly most important plea…

Don’t normalize hate. Your vitriol is truly amazing. The sheer number of groups and individuals you’ve insulted is stunning. Now, you are allowed to feel however you want to feel, of course. But as president, you need to remember that you are setting an example. Please, think before you speak and be civil. It would also be nice if you wouldn’t normalize lying (or remarkable truth-stretching), but I’ll settle for not normalizing hate. There are far too many lessons from history to show what happens when hate gets normalized (does Nazi Germany ring a bell?). Normalizing hate puts us all in danger ― and is not how we want to raise our children.

We all want America to be great. But greatness isn’t just about wealth and power. True greatness is also about integrity, tolerance and taking care of everyone, especially our most vulnerable.

Please, President Trump, don’t hurt our children.