The Inaugural Address America Deserved to Hear
We define our nation by our people, and our people are good.
After one of the most divisive elections in American history, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. He used his opportunity to speak to the world to paint a bleak picture of America, using words like carnage, depletion and despair. A deep sense of uncertainty exists about what the future holds. These are the words Americans deserved to hear from a true leader.
My Fellow Citizens:
For the 58th time in the history of our resilient Union, the citizens of our nation — and indeed, the citizens of the world — observe how the power of democracy can unite a diverse people. Through shared beliefs in a free society and equal treatment under the law, I look out at this mass of faces, and I see one America.
As we reflect on the story of our Republic, we are reminded of how our ancestors dedicated their lives, and too often gave their lives, to the cause of freedom. Daring and undaunted, families boarded merchant ships with little more than a compass and a deep determination to find a better life. They sought a life where hard work would provide enough for their loved ones and where they could pursue their religious way of life free of government intimidation.
They sought refuge in an unknown land, and with righteous ideas and the guidance of their Creator, they established the most respected nation on earth.
Some two hundred and forty-one years later, their tireless work — the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution — still forms the foundation of our country. However, rather than coarse aggregate reinforced by stubborn steel, our foundation is bound together by shared ideas and prevailing values.
But today, we see how such a foundation can be susceptible to corrosion.
There are fraudulent patriots within our society and self-proclaimed antagonists in the world who wish to hinder our progress toward a more perfect Union. These enemies of the good would celebrate cracks in the foundation of America.
Some might say that fractures have begun to appear. Our politics no longer enjoys the pride of compromise. Elected officials represent narrower and narrower constituencies, cobbling together enough dogmatic support and corporate donations to fuel their endless campaigns for re-election.
Yet the storm of discord is not an act of God that is out of our control. As much as we might want to blame Washington, we need only draw on the wisdom of President Lincoln to understand how to fix this problem: we are a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Each of us helps establish who serves in Congress and who lives in the White House. It is up to every voter to elect officials who truly represent them in every sense of the word.
To the farmer in Nebraska and the school teacher in Louisiana, to the winemaker in California, the pastor in Utah and the engineer in Michigan, we are all Washington, DC.
At a time in our history when we can connect with each other in ways that our Forefathers would never imagine, we choose instead to insulate ourselves from ideas that differ from our own. From this place of comfortable isolation, we launch personal attacks and sacrifice personal relationships to advance partisan causes.
Our nation has always enjoyed a beautiful diversity, but our differences have not always had us question our neighbors’ patriotism nor their humanity. Now, with each passing election, the fissures in our national foundation become deeper, even as we acknowledge that vilification and condemnation have never been the cornerstones of great nations.
Manipulated by powerful interests who benefit from a divided people, we have replaced our personal character with a digital caricature. We have lost the art of human connection. And so the moment has come to step away from the television, to turn down the radio and to log-off of the mobile device. Embrace the nuance of conversation and develop a genuine curiosity about lives that are different from your own.
This is the way forward.
We can begin to heal as a nation by building strong relationships in our neighborhoods, by creating a new dialogue in our diners and in our barber shops. When we share the details of our personal stories and the tenets of our personal faith, when our children not only share the same classroom but also the same lunch table, this is when we will begin to foster more compassion in our communities. And we will drive more dysfunction out of our government.
We define our nation by our people, and our people are good.
Of course, the greatest threat to democracy comes when attempts to undermine our nation’s founding principles are veiled as mere partisan plans to strengthen the country. Proposals based in racism, ableism, xenophobia, misogyny and nativism should find no shelter in any political party that claims to advance American values.
When such treasonous acts make their way into the sunlight of self-rule, we respond not by attacking people but by attacking ideas. And we attack these ideas by filling the streets with protesters and filling the halls of government with constituents.
Some of our greatest citizens rose up against a long train of abuses perpetuated by a distant and unrestrained British Crown. The dedication by these revolutionaries to fundamental human rights serves as our guide to bear ultimate allegiance to those truths that we hold to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal, that our Creator endowed each of us with the right to live out our personal truths free of unwarranted restrictions and in pursuit of genuine happiness.
As such, it is our duty as American citizens to oppose any leader — not on grounds of party but on grounds of Liberty — who advances hate and injustice and who “is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
Our most regrettable moments as a nation have come when we veered off the path of equality and sought out reasons to treat our fellow man as less than God created him.
There are some who today would have you believe that we ought to eject hardworking members of society from our country because of their birthplace and who their parents are. But we need only look to the Founding Fathers to understand that these values of intolerance are not American values.
William Paterson dedicated himself to this young nation. He studied at what would become Princeton University, and then when the War for Independence erupted, he joined fellow New Jersey patriots on the battlefield. With victory secured, he helped draft the Constitution and then became one of just thirty-nine delegates to sign it. He went on to serve in the roles of New Jersey Attorney General, Senator and Governor, and then he sat as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States for thirteen years.
William Paterson was also born in County Antrim, Ireland. His parents brought him to the Colonies when he was just two years old. He was one of our very first DREAMers, and our nation is all the better because of him.
Whether it is the 1740s or 2017, there is one American truth that is stitched into the fabric of our nation: immigrants strengthen this land — they do not weaken it.
This administration will dedicate itself to eradicating discrimination from our social and governmental institutions. But we do not confuse the founding ideals of this land with those fringe concepts that depend on falsehoods and fear.
Our country has seen darker days, and in response, we have always risen up stronger and smarter and more determined to honor the generations before us who have sacrificed so much for our Liberty. We shall rise up again.
As fervent as a government must be to protect its borders against invasion and its citizens against harm, that same government must be equally dedicated to maintaining strong borders around its most fundamental values. This is our call today, and we will answer it.
So as the world observers the ongoing power of the oldest single governing document ever created, I say this to friends and foes alike: The United States Constitution will bind our purpose with our action as we continue to lead into the future. If you strive to advance the causes of empathy, equality, democracy and freedom, then you will discover our nation at your side.
But if ever an adversary finds occasion to inject themselves into the mechanisms of our self-governance or to contaminate our free exchange of ideas, there will be no doubt as to why we remain the most powerful nation on earth.
My fellow citizens, never forget that the best that resides inside each of us will always be the best we have to offer as a nation. You carry the shining promise of America within you.