Let there be no doubt. We stand in the face of danger. Danger to our nation, to our values, to our liberties, to all that our nation stands for. We have done this to ourselves. We underestimated the risk. We did not work hard enough. We did not have the foresight to imagine that this could actually happen to us. It is our fault.
We must not make the same mistake again. Having turned our lives, our safety, and our children’s futures over to the whims of a thoughtless, reckless, ignorant, and immoral huckster, we must stand guard and fight back against peril
These are, indeed, perilous times. We should not underestimate the threat. We must remember that at different times throughout our history we have owned slaves, denied women the vote, segregated children because of their race, burned crosses, lynched innocent black men, interned almost 100,000 American citizens because of their Japanese ancestry, imprisoned thousands of Americans because they criticized the first World War, blacklisted tens of thousands of our fellow citizens because of their political beliefs during the age of McCarthy, and driven millions of our fellow Americans into the closet and treated them as strange freaks of nature because we ignorantly despised their sexual orientation. We are capable of great ugliness and hatred. Let us not kid ourselves.
We as a People have made a grievous mistake. This is a nation built on the promise of freedom, of equality, of dignity, of civility, of respect for the rule of law, and of the continuing search for moral progress. We have accomplished great things. We have ended slavery through a horribly painful Civil War. We have ended lynching. We have outlawed racial segregation. We have enacted laws designed to guarantee civil rights and voting rights and equal rights for historically oppressed members of our society. We have learned from our mistakes. We have struggled over time to see the light and to make this a stronger, fairer, and more decent nation. We have a long way to go, but we have much to be proud of.
Yet now we have taken a huge step backwards, even though a majority of the American people clearly rejected that step at the ballot box. But rules are rules, and rules should be respected. Individuals, though, need not be respected merely because they hold titles. They must earn our respect. They must earn our trust.
Donald Trump might turn out to be a decent president. But in his initial steps, he has cast grave doubts on that prospect. With decisions and appointments he has made in the days since the election he has already turned toward the dark side. Immediately after the election, President Obama, being the good and generous man that he is, asked us all to give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt. But in his initial actions our president-elect has already generated even more doubt about his understanding of and commitment to the most fundamental values of our nation. He has waved a flag of intolerance, injustice, and incivility.
“Courage,” Louis Brandeis once wrote, “is the secret of liberty.” We must remember that. We must be courageous. We must speak out. We must not be careless. We must not assume the best. We must not take our freedom for granted. If we do, there is a grave risk that we, our children, and our children’s children will suffer greatly for our indifference.
Listen to those who have thought hard about these dangers. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil,” Edmund Burke proclaimed, “is for good men to do nothing.” “Eternal vigilance,” declared the abolitionist Wendell Phillips, “is the price of liberty.” ”No man,” explained General Douglas MacArthur, “is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation.” “The future,” warned President Ronald Reagan, “doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted. It belongs to the brave.” Remember those words.
Perhaps things won’t be so bad. At this moment, though, we should prepare for a struggle for the very soul of our land. This election turned out the way it did because too many good-hearted, well-meaning, thoughtful, and caring people didn’t take the danger seriously enough. Let us not make that mistake again.