This Presidents’ Day, we remember those who have served honorably to build and to defend government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We commemorate the service of:
- General Washington who with his infantry camped through a dangerous winter at Valley Forge, to stage the most improbable victory against the most powerful empire in world history.
- Abraham Lincoln, who recognized that a free country cannot allow any of its people to be deprived of freedom.
- Franklin Roosevelt, who when his nation faced total deprivation remained steady, spoke frankly to the people, offered a New Deal, and who later marshaled the nation and its allies to overthrow fascist dictatorship.
- Ronald Reagan’s demand to the Soviet Premier: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
- Barack Obama, and the many ways large and small by which he worked for the dignity of the nation and its people.
And, we recognize the service of all those who serve us every day, at every level, regardless of who holds the nation’s highest office.
We must also remember that central to our nation’s civic life is the moral obligation to work constructively to oppose, outflank and overcome illegitimate forces that seek to undermine the integrity of our democracy.
In the wake of yet another massacre by yet another wanton terrorist whose acts they have facilitated, the National Rifle Association is actively working to widen the spread of deadly weapons in our communities.
Responsible gun owners know this globally unprecedented nonstop arms-trafficking campaign does not speak for them.
The NRA’s wantonness and anti-patriotism is so devoid of moral boundaries, it has been targeted by the Kremlin as a weapon of choice for attacking the integrity of American public discourse and disrupting our political system. After the Parkland High School massacre, NRA messaging was “amplified” by what is now known to be a coordinated campaign by Kremlin-linked “bot-nets”, spreading disinformation, hate, threat and division, on social media.
Our Constitutional order is being put to the test.
In his farewell address, George Washington described the presidential election as the designation of “a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States”. This democracy belongs to all of us. We all have a responsibility to work together for something better than the politics of the moment.
So, this Presidents’ Day, we must honor not the president but the people who are working to make sure we bend the arc of history toward justice:
- The young leaders who have emerged from the Parkland High School shooting to become the nation’s moral voice of reason.
- The courageous women of all ages who have come forward to demand an end to sexual predation of all kinds.
- Robert Mueller and the public servants working with him, whose task is so gravely serious and whose work ethic has been so steadfast and focused.
- Those members of the free and independent press who refuse to make up stories or submit to propaganda, who insist on telling truth.
- The leaders of the US Climate Alliance, who have committed to work for a climate-smart future, on which the wellbeing of all human societies will ultimately depend.
- And so many others who work every day to defend the rights of the most vulnerable, to right historic injustices, to make possible that “more perfect union” that is our national mission.
In her song “Not So Soft”, singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco writes that “we’re all rehearsing for the presidency” and laments “the fear that lives in a forest of stone.” The fear of our frailty haunts all who seek to own and honor the instruments of self-government. We absorb the sense of responsibility that comes with informed human freedom, empowered and protected by the rule of law.
We carry inside us a sense of what it must require of a person to lead this nation honorably. We know what strengths and what kind of service we must demand, and that we must continually grow into a stronger, more just, inclusive society of free people.
In his last speech as president, Washington warned that “the continual mischiefs” of hyperpartisanship “distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration… with ill-founded jealousies” and foresaw that “foreign influence and corruption” would “find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions”.
In his farewell address, Barack Obama described the founding promise of the nation as “a radical idea”:
The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, and toil, and imagination — and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good.
To be free is to dream, sweat and toil without unfair constraint, but also to be empowered to strive together for good. Individual freedom cannot be sustained if we do not recognize this fundamental responsibility to one another “and our Posterity”.
This Presidents’ Day, remember to live your democracy.