As the sun has set on the Trump presidency, it’s morning again in America. The country is divided along partisan lines and the level of vitriol is high. We witnessed a horrific day of insurrection and an end to a tumultuous one-term presidency. President Joe Biden, who seeks to usher in an era of calm and positive reform, will now have his work cut out for him. It is on us, however, to ensure that our country moves forward.
It is said that in 1787, as Benjamin Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention, someone shouted out, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” “A republic, if you can keep it,” replied Franklin. The anecdote is more relevant today than it has been in living memory.
Donald Trump used his populist rhetoric to stoke fear and animosity, obtain power, and use it to bend people to his will. His words and actions, compounded by divisive and attention-grabbing media coverage, contributed in large part to a deterioration of American politics and society. But it is up to us whether this deterioration is retired to the confines of history.
America was founded upon noble principles of freedom and equality, and these principles are universal, rather than grounded in any preference for ethnicity or socioeconomic position. The practice is where it gets complicated. America is a project that requires careful attention. It can be exploited or nurtured, and its success or failure is not inevitable. America’s success requires all of us to fulfill its promise by pursuing notions of truth in spoken and written word, thoughtfulness in our actions, and recognition of ourselves in others. Our republic depends on it.