It’s time we embrace the better angels of our nature
To the American people:
Thank you for the honor of electing me to serve as your president.
The last year has battered us with a storm of pandemic and civil violence that none of us foresaw, a tempest that contributed to an ugly and dispiriting election campaign. The hardships and challenges we’ve faced have forced us to confront problems that for too long we’ve tried to ignore. Now we have an opportunity not to point fingers and lay blame, but to seek enduring solutions.
To you, the members of my party, I say: Do not look at these election results as a license to wield power, but as a trust to discharge honorably; not allowing us free rein to pursue ideology but imposing a duty to restore balance and civil discourse. Do not to interpret this electoral victory as a sword to subdue political adversaries but as a plowshare to turn over the fertile soil of collaboration and partnership.
And to you, members of the opposition party, I ask you not to view this new administration as beginning yet another four-year-long exercise in trench warfare, but as the opportunity for rational debate and constructive disagreement. I challenge you to challenge us on the battlefield of ideas by employing the weapons of logic and reason and intellectual integrity.
Some of us believe in idealism and visionary progressivism, others in pragmatism and traditional values. Either way, the time has come for us to agree that those concepts and ideals can coexist. Indeed, each will flourish by walking hand-in-hand with the other.
We need to agree that meritocracy is not at odds with charity, that capitalism is not incompatible with social responsibility, that compassion is not antithetical to justice. We need to agree that our nation is strongest when we listen respectfully to positions that our minds and hearts resist while articulating our own positions clearly so we can earn the respect of those who disagree.
My fellow Americans, I ask that you devote the same passion you invest in defending your own rights toward taking responsibility for defending the rights of others. I ask you to remember that change takes time and that the arc of history has guided us forward to a more just and equitable society than could have been imagined in any previous generation, despite our shortcomings and the hard work that still stands before us. The need for improvement does not diminish the grandeur of how far we have come.
We are a nation truly blessed with resources and opportunity if we choose to make the most of our blessings. That means that it is the obligation of those who are disadvantaged to look first to themselves to improve their fortunes, and it is the obligation of those who enjoy good fortune to look for ways to uplift those who yearn for a better life.
History provides us with the call to greatness by remembering the foundations of freedom on which our country is founded. History also reminds us of the danger of human failing when we exploit freedom to deny others justice, no matter how pure our intentions, and when we allow our prejudices and biases to corrupt the institutions necessary for a free and fair society.
There are times when individuals must set aside, at least temporarily, even their legitimate grievances to allow the system to do its job. And there are times when the many must set aside their comforts and their rights to ensure the welfare of individuals. That will always create an awkward and inconvenient tension, but it speaks to the heart of our humanity.
As we look forward to a new decade, I pledge to do my best to navigate the ship of state through the uncertain waters that lie ahead, to tack sometimes right and sometimes left as the winds and currents demand, to listen to all good counsel, regardless of party and look always toward the heavens so we can keep our bearings and stay true to the course our forebears charted for us.
In this way, together, we may weather the stormy passages we will surely face and find our way to the safe harbor of justice for every person, prosperity for every community, and a brighter future for our children.