Resolutions for 2017: From Donald Trump, Tribal Leaders and Myself

As we look at a fresh year, here are my resolutions for 2017, along with some for tribal leaders and president-elect Donald Trump.

Editor’s Note: Ray Cook, the Boss Blue Pencil of the Op-Ed Page, sent me an email wanting a dozen New Year’s Resolutions, tout suite. I wrote back and asked the typical writer question. From whose point of view? My own? Tribal Government? A major politician?

He wrote back that it was a good question and how about four of each?

Here’s a bit of advice for wannabe writers: What a blue pencil guy proposes don’t make him take no noses, to borrow a phrase Lee Hays once used to refer to fellow Weaver Pete Seeger. Herewith, four of each.

Resolutions for myself:

  1. I resolve to get my weight under control.

This one I could cut and paste from most of my life, but it’s gotten to the point that if I don’t accomplish it I’ll be lucky to be around to do it again next year.

  1. I resolve to be nicer to establishment Republicans.

I used to think they were crazy, with stuff like lower taxes mean more income for government and ketchup is a vegetable for the school lunch program. This year is as if the ghost of Ronald Reagan slapped me upside the head and hollered, “Crazy? I’ll show you crazy!”


  1. I resolve to cling to fact-based reality with white knuckles.

When you practice the pundit trade in post-truth America, the temptation to adopt the new rules is palpable. You can hit much harder when you don’t get hung up on whether you have the facts right.

Now we have a POTUS who has so many “pants on fire” scores from the fact checkers they must be thinking of retiring the trophy.

There was a time when a mistake was a big deal. I’ve made them and I know. Now, getting caught in a knowing and purposeful lie won’t sink your boat.

So why not go with the flow? Superstition, I guess.

I’ve always thought mistakes come back to bite and lies have unthinkable consequences. It always seemed to me that it’s harder to get a good reputation than it is to lose one.

  1. I resolve to work on my autobiography.

It’s getting to be now or never. What has kept me away from the project is the fairy tale aspect. It’s a story very hard to get anyone to believe but it will be a particular challenge to write it in a manner that reaches the people who most need to hear it.

I’m not the only kid in Indian country raised by relatives below the poverty line and a complete failure in the public schools. In that circumstance, you are not short of people telling you that you are a failure before you get started and you have no future.

One of my careers was teaching so I could be a talent scout. Writing my own story might be my last chance to persuade other Indian kids that they are human beings, not statistics, and they can prevail.

I understand that reading is out of fashion and finding a publisher would be a challenge, but to be put off by those arguments would be to give in and become a statistic. I’m too old to surrender.

Resolutions for Tribal Government Leaders:

  1. Resolve to call your closest opponent in your last contested election and ask him or her for advice on your next major decision.

The reason for this is to commit yourself to tribal unity in a way nobody needs to know but you. Remember, it’s what’s in your heart that counts.

  1. Resolve to appoint somebody who is well qualified but a publicly well-known political enemy to an important position in tribal government.

This resolution requires a public act, and it’s your chance to point out what disunity has done to the indigenous people of the Americas. Unity has to start somewhere.

  1. Resolve to prepare a shadow budget to go with your real budget; the shadow budget being one that assumes not a dime comes in from the federal government.

This POTUS may be determined to demonstrate that you cannot exercise sovereignty from a condition of dependence. If so, it’s up to you to prove that, as usual, he has his facts wrong, because you can rise above dependence.

  1. Resolve to stay on the issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux at least as long as they do and maybe even longer.

Indian resistance to settlements on their property has been doomed by disunity. The unity we’ve shown behind the Standing Rock Sioux in their fight to stop the Black Snake is a thing of beauty.

Better 824 years late than never!

Resolutions for President Trump:

  1. Resolve to lose the Twitter machine to make America great again.

You can break things with 140 characters, but your duty now is to fix things. Public policy is too subtle to be tweeted. Tweets are for slogans and slogans may win elections but they can’t get anything done.

  1. Before you speak about an issue—let alone act on it—resolve to think over how it affects people not like you.

A health savings account is not useful for people who can’t save because they are living hand to mouth.

No tax deduction is of any consequence to people who do not itemize deductions, and that is most of the people you’ve been hired to govern.

  1. Resolve to remember that the POTUS has more eyeballs on him than a TV star and it matters what the owners of those eyeballs think.

You cost the shareholders in Lockheed-Martin over a billion dollars with one tweet.

You say it’s valuable in business to be unpredictable.

It’s valuable in government to be predictable. When the window of time to decide whether to launch ICBMs is measured in minutes, it’s really important that your adversaries be confident that you are rational and predictable.

  1. Resolve to learn when to take advice and then take it when you need to without apology.

Some of our best presidents were often not the smartest person in the room, but they were good at surrounding themselves with smarter people and sussing out the best advice. FDR and JFK come to mind.

Bush 43 famously said he did not like having smart people around him because they are bureaucratic empire builders and they never take “no” for an answer. He was correct on both counts, but dealing with those downsides will be rewarded.

Remember what turned the McCain-Obama election? The economy plunged into a deep recession and was still circling the drain. Neither candidate knew a thing about macroeconomics. The winner was the one who could gather the most advice the quickest and turn it into policy.

Remember the last leader who claimed to know more about managing war than his generals? That was Adolf Hitler.

Remember the last leader who completely ignored a firm consensus of all his intelligence sources? His name was George Armstrong Custer.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.