So now we continue with our close reading of the Obama farewell speech, despite the Trump Administration removing the transcript from its location at whitehouse.gov/farewell. Along with pages on LGBT rights, climate change, health care, and civil rights.
Our transcript source is now The New York Times, for as long as it is allowed to post it.
We left off in part 1 with President Obama talking about his time as a grassroots political organizer in Chicago:
Now this is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.
After eight years as your president, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government.
—Those last two sentences are so critically important: we must participate in our democracy in order to uphold it. It doesn’t matter what kind of change you want. You have to act for it, and support others who take action.
That action should be informed by nothing other than our founding principles:
of due process before the law…
of equality of opportunity…
of no discrimination based on race, creed, or sex…
…of liberty and justice for all. Any change, any movement, any one that does not support these things is un-American. So erasing gay people and non-white people is not supporting our democracy. It is un-American.
It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.
What a radical idea, the great gift that our Founders gave to us. 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.
—These founding principles are indeed a gift and an imperative. We have to work to maintain them—they are not self-perxetuating. We will have them for as long as we want them. When Americans top wanting everyone in this country to be treated as equal, our democracy will end.
For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom.
It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande. It’s what pushed women to reach for the ballot. It’s what powered workers to organize. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan — and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.
—All of those examples in the second paragraph are concrete manifestations of “liberty and justice for all.” All of the people mentioned are true Americans.
So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional. Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.
—It would seem the president had been reading our blog! Especially our About page.
When we face people saying they want to make America great again, we must ask them what they mean by that. Whose lives will be made better? What should be changed? What exactly isn’t great? How can we solve problems by expanding civil rights rather than curtailing them?
We’ll leave off here for now. Next time, the ridiculous red herring of “the peaceful transfer of power.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Today we’re re-running a post written at the very start of this blog, for reasons that will become evident as you read, on the second day of living in anticipation of a new presidency that is dedicated to perverting and destroying America’s founding principles.
From this point on, the HP is going to increase its focus on civics, our founding principles, and the fight for liberty and justice for all under the Constitution, because all Americans will need that information going forward into a Trump presidency that will not only allow that man to exercise his ill-judgment, but open the door to all Americans who have no faith in their nation’s founding principles. To destroy those principles is treason. The HP fights treason in all forms.
So, with a quote from the great Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison’s antislavery newspaper, we begin this new era:
I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen;—but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.
America is an experiment. From the time of its first white settlement, America has been a place where people came to experiment with doing things differently. It’s been a place to gamble, to see if you could be one of the lucky ones who became landowners or lawyers or independent merchants. You gambled on the weather, politics, your own skills, and your own ability to commit to the experiment of living in America, and being an American.
During the 18th century, the experiment deepened, as Americans began to speculate that they could form the first democratic nation in modern times. Intense experimentation went on from the 1760s to 1787, as Americans adapted and invented forms of government fit for the scope of their needs, the gaping hole of their inexperience, and the high and intense expectations for their future.
On and on went the experiment: could we create a strong and stable centralized government? Could we grow without destabilizing? Could we solve the problem of slavery? Could we truly create a melting pot in which to forge Americans out of peoples of all nations? Could we give women the vote? Could we accept Jewish people as true Americans? Could we desegregate? Could we assure civil rights regardless of sexuality?
America’s story is one of constantly tackling the big—the biggest—problems, ahead of everyone else, with very little to guide us but those founding principles that nag at our conscience. And each time we’ve made progress, extending civil rights to more and more people, it’s been because that old spirit of taking a gamble, of performing the ultimate experiment, took over and led us to the right decision.
As we think today about what divides Americans, I think it boils down to the fact that some Americans no longer want to experiment. They want to close the lab down. We’ve gone far enough into the unknown, making it known, they say; now let’s stop—let’s even go backward. We were wrong to conduct some of our experiments in liberty, and that’s the source of all our problems. Gay people shouldn’t be treated equally. Black people shouldn’t run the country. Women shouldn’t hold high office. Muslims shouldn’t be granted habeas corpus.
Whenever one of those Americans talks about the problem with our country today, they talk about how we should be like we once were, back when white people who defined marriage as one man-one woman and were Protestant veterans built this nation. They feel they are losing their birthright, their legacy.
But those Americans are wrong. What their ancestors really were was scientists. Experimenters. Radicals who always considered the impossible possible. To define those ancestral Americans as merely white or straight or Christian strips them of their most stunning feature, their near-supernatural qualities of optimism and defiance and willingness to go into the unknown and make it their home, to make the amazing the norm. They defied the status quo. That’s how they built America.
Americans who want to end the experiment are few, but boisterous. They clamor at the national microphone. But Americans who know that there is no America without the experiment will keep at it, and they will persevere. Barack Obama is such an American, and his election is proof that the lab is still open, and that America in general will always be at the drawing board, expanding its concept of liberty and justice and equality until we finally fulfill the founding principles that created this nation so long ago.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
Americans have lived up to their founding principles and elected Barack Obama president. The fact that Mr. Obama is the first black president is, on its own, reason enough to celebrate eternally. But there is more.
The greatest thing about Barack Obama is that he appealed to those American founding principles, consistently and openly. He called on us to fulfill our mandate to offer justice and liberty and equality to all Americans, and to offer all the world honesty, fairness, and democracy. Barack Obama reminded us constantly that as Americans we are called to fulfill very lofty and demanding principles, and that we can only achieve happiness, security, and success when we do so.
In an election where there was so much talk about who was a “real” American, we learned once again that the only real American, the only true American, is the American who upholds our founding principles.
I can only quote the man himself, in his victory speech of November 5, 2008:
“And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.”
Who could have said it better? Every Founding American is alive again in our country today with these words.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
There’s a great opinion piece in the Times today about the state of the nation. You can read it for yourselves; the takeaway is that the president we need today is the president who can tell us that we’re not doing very well, that we are not living up to our founding principles, and that our current way of life is unsustainable.
Of course, that’s the president we always need.
We need that person to not only tell us how we are failing, but to offer a viable, principled plan for improvement that s/he will push through a reluctant Congress and withstand withering criticism for supporting.
I’ve carped in other posts about politicians’ inability or unwillingness to brook any criticism from “the people” (usually a few people pretending to speak for all people). Politicians should be leaders, taking on the tough job of forcing Americans to do the right thing. But they seem more and more to be followers, hoping the people will tell them what to do.
And there’s the even-worse-case scenario, in which major politicians, like the president, trample our founding principles to further their own personal goals.
The truth about America is that we are great when we live up to our founding principles of representative democracy focused on promoting and protecting natural rights. When we don’t do that, we are awful, because we were founded with a very idealistic mission, and so we fall from a great height when we let that down.
The myth about America is that whatever we do, we are living up to those principles, that it just naturally happens and that we are good no matter what we do because we are America. Representative democracy goes against human nature. Every generation, we have to re-learn the principles of justice and democracy we are founded on, and re-dedicate ourselves to fulfilling them. These principles can’t really be inherited. They have always to be adopted, over and over.
Our job as Americans right now is to do what our politicans won’t: demand that we adhere to our founding principles. We have to take the lead.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )