One Man Didn’t Break America and One Person Can’t Fix It

The last three years have been difficult. But as human beings, we adapt and move on because we can’t afford to let the daily onset of outrage keep us from our daily tasks. Just when we think we’ve found a way to cope, the current occupant of the White House sinks even lower into his hateful utterances, and we feel thrown off course once again.

Such has been the case with Trump’s repeated lies about four congresswomen as justification for his resurrection of one of the oldest racist tropes: telling people of color to go back where they came from because they don’t belong. As Kevin Drum documented, the last few years have been filled with events seen as new lows for Trump. This is merely the latest.

But there is something even more disturbing than having a hateful racist president. It was on display at a rally last night in North Carolina.

The crowd chanting “send her back” reminds us that what Donald Trump has done is expose the ugly racist underbelly that is still alive and well in this country. Contrary to what Trump and his Republican enablers would have you believe, liberals actually love this country and it is painful to see that kind of racism displayed so openly by our fellow citizens.

In light of this latest outrage, Karen Tumulty has written an open letter to Barack Obama suggesting that what we need right now is for him to speak out. She assumes that he has been reluctant to do so because, as a respecter of norms, he doesn’t want to criticize his successor. But during his farewell address, which occurred just days before Trump was inaugurated, Obama hinted at why he wouldn’t do so by giving us a prescription for how to handle what he knew was coming.

I first came to Chicago when I was in my early 20s, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life.  It was in neighborhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills.  It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.  This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and 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.

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.

This is the great gift our Founders gave us.  The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination – and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good…

In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but “from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth;” that we should preserve it with “jealous anxiety;” that we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one.

We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character are turned off from public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent.  We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.

It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.  Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title:  Citizen…

My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you.  I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my days that remain.  For now, whether you’re young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your president – the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.

I am asking you to believe.  Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.

I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:

Yes We Can.

Yes We Did.

Yes We Can.

What Barack Obama knew when he was elected president and recognized on an even deeper level as he left office is that one man alone isn’t responsible for what is happening in this country right now and one man alone can’t fix it. To look for a “savior” is to open the door to tyranny. But to put our faith in democracy and self-government is to believe in the collective “we.”

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.