Letter to the editor: Time to renew involvement in ‘American Experiment’
January 20, 1937. Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the solemn oath of the office of the Presidency for the second time on a new constitutionally mandated date and my father was born in a small town in the Midwest. Because of that coincidence, inaugural events played a special role in my family and my father’s life. Although not an overtly political man he would remark on another year and another presidency gone and look forward to the opportunities a new year and a new presidency would bring.
My mother assures me I was present when they watched JFK take the oath on television. I have not missed the peaceful transition of power since. I recall eight years ago, when I joined 1.8 million people in Washington, D.C., when Barack Obama took his first oath of office. In spite of bone-chilling cold, crowded buses and trains, security checks and hours standing in lines, the crowd was enthusiastic, cheerful and full of hope. My father died in 2005, but he was with me on January 20, 2009, and I thought of him when I heard the Chief Justice begin the oath. We were ushering in something very new.
My dad would be disappointed to know that I won’t be watching on January 20, 2017. It’s a very small and quiet gesture, but one I think he would understand. I respect the right of the nearly 63,000,000 people who cast their vote for the president-elect to have their moment. It’s still a free country. Instead I’ll do something that reminds me of my dad and the things he held dear. Things I believe truly embody the American spirit: fairness, honesty, compassion and perseverance. These are things that made him, and make me, proud to be an American.
On that cold January in 1937, FDR said, “Government is competent when all who compose it work as trustees for the whole people. It can make constant progress when it keeps abreast of all the facts. It can obtain justified support and legitimate criticism when the people receive true information of all that government does.”
Eighty years later, those words could not be more resonant. Stay informed, please! Don’t stop watching or reading the news. Don’t rely solely on social media for your information. Dig deeper; deep enough to know the truth of what is happening. And be open. Whatever side you may be on, you will not always be right.
Until recently, I hadn’t read the Constitution since 1975. If you find yourself in the same position, please read it again. It’s important to know, regardless of your politics, what you are defending. Now is also not the time to be quiet. If you don’t like what happens, then talk about it. Our communities, our friends and our neighbors are more important than ever before. Be involved and ask questions. We live in a place that celebrates the dignity of the individual and the sanctity of the greater good. Remind yourself of that when you become discouraged. Remember that when promises are broken, as well.
Many great men, and an equal number of not-so-great men, have sworn to uphold and defend our Constitution. Every student of presidential history has their own list, and not a single one of those men was adored by every American. But each of them played an important role in what historians have called the American Experiment. I take comfort knowing the Experiment continues.
I hope we will all embrace the most famous inaugural line in our nation’s history on January 20. I was too young to comprehend when I first heard it, but I’m not today. “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”