I write on Inauguration Day in the United States of America, a national occasion on which we, the citizenry, watch the peaceful transfer of power to lead the nation from one president to the next. We will be accompanied in that exercise by current President and First Lady Barack H. Obama and Michelle L. Obama and former Presidents and First Ladies James E. "Jimmy" Carter and E. Rosalynn Carter, William J. "Bill" Clinton and Hillary R. Clinton and George W. and Laura L. Bush.
As I thought about writing, I found myself focused on this concept of the peaceful transfer of power that is a hallmark of our centuries of history, and I can say unequivocally how powerful a feature of our democracy it is to me. I recalled the experience I had with my family when we served as Peace Corps Volunteers in the Republic of the Philippines. When we arrived in country, President Ferdinand Marcos was in his second four-year term, having been elected in 1965 and reelected in 1969. On September 21, 1972, with a forthcoming presidential election and growing political unrest across the country, Marcos declared martial law, suspending civil rights and establishing military control over the nation, and seized control of the media. We awoke that day to empty streets, and daylong television consisting only of cartoons. Eerie days followed, as we respectfully tried to understand what it meant to live in a country in which we were guests, not citizens, under martial law.
We left the Philippines long before martial law was lifted in 1981, but watched with the world in 1983 as Marcos' leading contender for the presidency, Benigno Aquino, returned to the Philippines after self-exile in the United States, only to be murdered as he came off the plane in Manila. Finally, Aquino's wife, Corazon, became president in 1986, with the Marcos family exiled to the United States, a plan that allowed the Philippines to avoid the bloodshed long envisioned as a solution to the reign of Marcos. The country's constitution now precludes a repeat of this governmental disaster.
This important historical event demonstrates to me that politics is a high-stakes endeavor, and that elections are very important because they have significant consequences. While we have a firm history of the peaceful transfer of power here in the United States to rely on, we still find ourselves in a time described by all quarters as unprecedented--both the election itself and the run up to the inauguration.
Regardless of which candidate we supported, we all have been experiencing national division on many fronts, indicating widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo. There are sorrows we share, such as the torture of a disabled man at the hands of four assailants in Chicago, or the death of a policewoman in Orlando in the midst of arresting a dangerous escapee, or brutal police arrests. There are many of us who worry about the plight of immigrants, criminal justice reform, global warming, and the strengthening of our educational system. Meanwhile, many Americans are struggling to get a good job back after years of underemployment, or to own a home once again after the foreclosure losses suffered during the Great Recession.
Can this dissatisfaction change for the betterment of all Americans, without bringing about the continued feelings that some Americans are winners and some Americans are losers, and that is just the way it is in this country? Or, can we come together, pooling our passions and energies to work for a more just America?
It is my hope that we can see in our history that most elections are divisive, so the peaceful transfer of power must be the turning point toward greater collaboration and recognition of the needs of all of the people, not an opportunity for continued adversarial public discourse. Let us adopt the encouragement of Alexandre Dumas--"All for one and one for all, united we stand, divided we fall."
In his farewell address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called upon Americans to be an educated and involved citizenry, committed to understanding and monitoring the large military-industrial, and yes, congressional, complex that we have inherited. And in his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy exhorted all Americans to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
Let us all contemplate what it means to be an engaged citizen in the days ahead as we look for ways to be united, and not divided; to bring our own convictions, ideas, and solutions to the table--not sitting idly on the sidelines. This country deserves our every individual effort to make possible the dreams we have for our great nation.