As Thomas Paine wrote in The American Crisis in 1776: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” And women’s and children’s souls as well, he might have added. Those of us whose souls will be tried are a cross-section of our country and will become more numerous as the next few years unfold.
But this country, which was just coming into existence in Paine’s time, has been through much worse than Donald Trump. Buck up, Americans!
The Battle of the Brandywine (that other 9/11 disaster), Valley Forge, the Civil War, the great 20th-century depression, Pearl Harbor–those names will continue to awe and challenge us long after we have survived one disturbed individual in a position of leadership, whose unpredictable impulses will soon have to be restrained by men and women of good will and of all political persuasions who honor our national traditions.
We must resist Trumpism in our personal and political lives, but we must never despair or doubt the future. Our democracy has always been an ongoing creation, the quest for a “more perfect union.” We are all part of that effort, every day, whether we realize it or not.
In Abraham Lincoln’s words spoken in our own state in 1863, we are still today “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”; and we are still “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”
The next few years can give us a new consciousness of what we are and what we can be. We know what Liberty is; we proclaim that all people are created equal. We can act more in accordance with our principles when we see the contrary beliefs, the long delusional undercurrent of our history, openly held up in public life.
Beginning January 20, it will be time to start to take our country back, in the historical sense of becoming truer to our origins and founding principles, extrapolated over time, than we ever have been before.
Of course this newish nation can still endure. On July 4, 1776, our Founders declared: “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” That is the real American exceptionalism: that ordinary people step forward to take responsibility for the common welfare.
We have done it before and we can do it again. But it does mean we all have to do more than complain to our friends, read and write blogs, and boycott Trump-affiliated brands and stores.
[From Wikimedia Commons: John Trumbull’s painting, “Declaration of Independence,” depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. The painting can be found on the back of the U.S. $2 bill. The original hangs in the US Capitol rotunda.]