WARNING: THIS IS A LENGTHY POST. MORE OF AN ESSAY THAN A BLOG
WHO ARE WE? WHAT DO WE STAND FOR AS A NATION?
THE SEARCH FOR A UNIFYING VISION
For several years now, I have yearned for a leader to articulate a renewed and contemporaneously relevant Vision for our Nation which would elicit the passionate support of a majority of our citizens.
I hoped that the recent Presidential campaign and the election of President Trump would move us toward a uniting Vision. Clearly, it has not.
I have never seen us more divided, not only or even so much in terms of policies, but in our personal relations and attitude toward one another. Disagreements have become intensely personal. The toxic antagonism now not only reigns between parties but within parties. The cleavage between Democrats supporting Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton; the cleavage between moderates within the Republican Party who are seeing so many of their traditional policies being thrown under the bus as they struggle to support the newly-elected President, alongside the millions of voters who support his populist appeal are just two examples.
It would be a misreading of history to look at these tense intra- and inner-party disputes as first-time events. They are not. There were major splits in the Republican Party, for example, between supporters of Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Taft; between George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey.
And there have been many toxic splits between the parties: recall Kennedy versus Nixon; Truman versus Dewey; Kerry versus Bush.
And there were plenty of personal barbs thrown around in these and other campaigns, some centuries ago; candidates accused of corruption, even fathering illegitimate children.
However, with rare exceptions, the political rhetoric did not descend to where it is today: impugning the very moral and ethical fiber and patriotism of the opponent.
Civility--even the pretense of mutual personal respect--has virtually disappeared and been replaced by toxic accusations, often unproven.
This is not only dispiriting in its own right. It is getting in the way of needed debate and action on the most fundamental issues we face as a Nation. They are not new issues:
1. What should the relationship of the United States be to the rest of the world? To what degree is it our responsibility and in our interest to work with other Nations to confront poverty, failed states, the threat of terrorism and disease and nuclear and environmental catastrophe?
To what degree do we have a role and the responsibility as a leading Nation, committed to freedom, to play a leadership role in the world because it is right to do (we’re all part of one world) and because it is in our interest? And what does carrying out that role entail in terms of supporting allies? Providing aid to other countries? Supporting multi-Nation treaties and organizations? Fighting climate change?
2. What is the role of Governments (at the Federal, state and local level) to assure that citizens have the Rights so precisely enumerated in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence? We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
What is the role of Government to assure good health care? To what extent should that be left up to States as opposed to being guaranteed by the Federal Government?
To what extent should the Federal Government have a role in ensuring every child receives education to enable and to fulfill his or her God-given potential? What should that role be?
Before going further, a personal disclosure. I am what most people would call a Progressive--a Liberal Independent. “Liberal” on most social issues, such as marriage equality and the right of a woman to choose. “Conservative” on most fiscal issues, including the value of open markets and fair trade; “conservative” on recognizing the danger of uncontrolled debt.
I share the view that the politics of the Progressive Center need redirection and re-energizing. More than in the past, the Progressive Center needs to be non-partisan. It needs to be seen as serving the “common man,” not only the professional elite! It needs to be seen and, in fact, be taking action to serve people whose lives are displaced by the impact of globalization, world trade and technology. In its legitimate commitment to reduce barriers to having equal opportunity for disadvantaged groups, the Progressive Center must serve and respect all people. It must avoid a posture of moral superiority versus those that don’t fully share its values. Such a posture flies in the face of the mandate to understand and respect others. The Progressive Center must respect and cherish the patriotic love of our Nation even as it recognizes our inextricable relationship to the world.
I believe that Government (at the Federal, State and Local levels as appropriate) must accept the challenge posed by the reality that upwards of one-third of our young people today are growing up in poverty and, for that and other reasons, will be unprepared to enter the workforce of the future and lead productive lives.
In searching for a renewed, relevant vision for our future as a Nation, with its attendant Purpose and Values, I decided to review the Inaugural Presidential Addresses of eleven Presidents who have led our Nation since the beginning of the 20th Century. I have drawn extracts from these Addresses which I believe fairly present the Goals, Principles and Values which these Presidents brought to their position.
Seven of the Addresses are from Republican Presidents (Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump). Four are from Democratic Presidents (Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama). The economic and political situation at which each of these Presidents began their term and saw it unfold differed greatly. And, for that reason, so, too, did their action priorities.
However, what I believe you will find to be notable is the commonality of Purpose and Values which these Presidents expressed as they relate to our relations to: 1) one another and 2) to other Nations of the world. The one exception is the address of President Trump with respect to the relationship which he espouses for our Nation with the rest of the world. His exclusionary mantra—“America First”—stands apart from the vision of the ten other presidents.
This is a very dangerous and threatening difference. As the recently retired career diplomat Daniel Fried has written: Ours was a new Nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. That rough sense of equality and opportunity embedded in us, informed the way we brought our American power to the world, America’s Grand Strategy. We have, imperfectly and despite detours and retreat along the way, sought to realize a better world for ourselves and others, for we understand that our prosperity and our values at home depend on that prosperity and those values being as secure as possible in a sometimes dark world.”
The aspirations and commitments expressed in these newly elected Presidents’ Inaugural Addresses were often diluted and sometimes thwarted by events unforeseeable at the time of the Inauguration. The Great Depression, following Herbert Hoover’s Inauguration; “9/11,” following George W. Bush’s Inauguration; the devastating war in Vietnam, following Lyndon Johnson’s Inauguration; and the Korean War, following Harry Truman’s Inauguration are prominent examples of what I am talking about. That reality notwithstanding, I would submit that the aspirations, values and commitments expressed so consistently by the incoming Presidents in their Inauguration Addresses represent what our Nation has stood for since its creation and what it should and will stand for in the future.
Excerpts from these Inaugural Addresses are shown in the attached. They are lengthy but I believe very worth reading.
I leave it to the reader to draw your own conclusions from these Inaugural speeches. For me, the first thing I would say is that I find them inspiring in the moral purpose which animates them. They rekindle my pride in our country and what we stand for. For me, these key themes emerge:
· The call to respect the dignity of every person. The recognition that we are inextricably bound to one another. This Preface to the Declaration of Independence says it simply and eloquently. “We are all created equal, as defined by our natural Rights; thus, no one has Rights superior to those of anyone else.”
We are all equal under the law and as children of God.
· The recognition that, as a Nation, we are inextricably bound to the rest of the world. We are so bound as a matter of our own self-interest, economically and politically. As a leader, we are responsible to work with other Nations to advance the cause of world peace, without which we will not be at peace.
· We will acknowledge and respect the rights of other countries to live as they choose, while hoping that our own example of the pursuit of freedom for all and economic vitality can be a light for others.
· Our country will always face challenges, internally and externally, economically, politically, and globally. But just as we overcame them in the past, we can overcome them today provided we face reality, we speak truth and we come together and are faithful to our most fundamental values and to one another.
Finally, it is notable that, in these seminal letters, no Presidents found it necessary to speak to the importance of integrity. Telling the truth to the American public as best one could was taken for granted. So, too, while certain Presidents (e.g., Reagan, in addition to Trump) assailed Government as being too large and being “the problem,” no President assailed the very integrity of Government and its institutions as President Trump is doing today. This, too, is very dangerous.
Of course, one might argue, some do, that the moral foundation enunciated by our earlier presidents, the belief that our safety and future as a Nation is inextricably entwined with the welfare, condition and peace of the surrounding world are no longer “fit for our times.” There have been leaders who felt this way in the past; who advocated “America First” in a way that largely turned our backs on the world around us. That was a mistake then and it would be a fatal mistake now.
Theodore Roosevelt – March 4, 1905
My fellow-citizens, no people on earth have more cause to be thankful than ours, and this is said reverently, in no spirit of boastfulness in our own strength, but with gratitude to the Giver of Good who has blessed us with the conditions which have enabled us to achieve so large a measure of well-being and of happiness. To us as a people it has been granted to lay the foundations of our national life in a new continent. We are the heirs of the ages, and yet we have had to pay few of the penalties which in old countries are exacted by the dead hand of a bygone civilization.
Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with the other nations of the earth, and we must behave as beseems a people with such responsibilities. Toward all other nations, large and small, our attitude must be one of cordial and sincere friendship. We must show not only in our words, but in our deeds, that we are earnestly desirous of securing their good will by acting toward them in a spirit of just and generous recognition of all their rights. But justice and generosity in a nation, as in an individual, count most when shown not by the weak but by the strong. While ever careful to refrain from wrongdoing others, we must be no less insistent that we are not wronged ourselves. We wish peace, but we wish the peace of justice, the peace of righteousness. We wish it because we think it is right and not because we are afraid.
Our relations with the other powers of the world are important; but still more important are our relations among ourselves. Such growth in wealth, in population, and in power as this nation has seen during the century and a quarter of its national life is inevitably accompanied by a like growth in the problems which are ever before every nation that rises to greatness. Power invariably means both responsibility and danger. The conditions which have told for our marvelous material well-being have also brought the care and anxiety inseparable from the accumulation of great wealth in industrial centers. Upon the success of our experiment much depends, not only as regards our own welfare, but as regards the welfare of mankind. If we fail, the cause of free self-government throughout the world will rock to its foundations, and therefore our responsibility is heavy, to ourselves, to the world as it is to-day, and to the generations yet unborn. There is no good reason why we should fear the future, but there is every reason why we should face it seriously, neither hiding from ourselves the gravity of the problems before us nor fearing to approach these problems with the unbending, unflinching purpose to solve them aright.
We know that self-government is difficult. We know that no people needs such high traits of character as that people which seeks to govern its affairs aright through the freely expressed will of the freemen who compose it. But we have faith that we shall not prove false to the memories of the men of the mighty past. They did their work, they left us the splendid heritage we now enjoy. We in our turn have an assured confidence that we shall be able to leave this heritage unwasted and enlarged to our children and our children's children. To do so we must show, not merely in great crises, but in the everyday affairs of life, the qualities of practical intelligence, of courage, of hardihood, and endurance, and above all the power of devotion to a lofty ideal, which made great the men who founded this Republic in the days of Washington, which made great the men who preserved this Republic in the days of Abraham Lincoln.
Franklin Roosevelt – March 4, 1933
This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen
More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.
Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it.
Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.
Herbert Hoover – March 4, 1929
This occasion is not alone the administration of the most sacred oath which can be assumed by an American citizen. It is a dedication and consecration under God to the highest office in service of our people. I assume this trust in the humility of knowledge that only through the guidance of Almighty Providence can I hope to discharge its ever-increasing burdens.
If we survey the situation of our Nation both at home and abroad, we find many satisfactions; we find some causes for concern. We have emerged from the losses of the Great War and the reconstruction following it with increased virility and strength. From this strength we have contributed to the recovery and progress of the world. What America has done has given renewed hope and courage to all who have faith in government by the people. In the large view, we have reached a higher degree of comfort and security than ever existed before in the history of the world. The influence and high purposes of our Nation are respected among the peoples of the world. We aspire to distinction in the world, but to a distinction based upon confidence in our sense of justice as well as our accomplishments within our own borders and in our own lives.
But all this majestic advance should not obscure the constant dangers from which self-government must be safeguarded. The strong man must at all times be alert to the attack of insidious disease.
The United States fully accepts the profound truth that our own progress, prosperity, and peace are interlocked with the progress, prosperity, and peace of all humanity. The whole world is at peace. The dangers to a continuation of this peace to-day are largely the fear and suspicion which still haunt the world. No suspicion or fear can be rightly directed toward our country.
Those who have a true understanding of America know that we have no desire for territorial expansion, for economic or other domination of other peoples. Such purposes are repugnant to our ideals of human freedom.
The idealism of America will lead it to no narrow or selfish channel, but inspire it to do its full share as a nation toward the advancement of civilization. It will do that not by mere declaration but by taking a practical part in supporting all useful international undertakings. We not only desire peace with the world, but to see peace maintained throughout the world. We wish to advance the reign of justice and reason toward the extinction of force.
In our form of democracy the expression of the popular will can be effected only through the instrumentality of political parties. We maintain party government not to promote intolerant partisanship but because opportunity must be given for expression of the popular will. But the government is that of the whole people; the party is the instrument through which policies are determined and men chosen to bring them into being. The animosities of elections should have no place in our Government, for government must concern itself alone with the common weal.
The questions before our country are problems of progress to higher standards; they are not the problems of degeneration. They demand thought and they serve to quicken the conscience and enlist our sense of responsibility for their settlement. And that responsibility rests upon you, my countrymen, as much as upon those of us who have been selected for office.
Ours is a land rich in resources; stimulating in its glorious beauty; filled with millions of happy homes; blessed with comfort and opportunity. In no nation are the institutions of progress more advanced. In no nation are the fruits of accomplishment more secure. In no nation is the government more worthy of respect. No country is more loved by its people. I have an abiding faith in their capacity, integrity and high purpose. I have no fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope.
In the presence of my countrymen, mindful of the solemnity of this occasion, knowing what the task means and the responsibility which it involves, I beg your tolerance, your aid, and your cooperation. I ask the help of Almighty God in this service to my country to which you have called me.
Harry Truman – January 20, 1949
I accept with humility the honor which the American people have conferred upon me. I accept it with a resolve to do all that I can for the welfare of this Nation and for the peace of the world.
The peoples of the earth face the future with grave uncertainty, composed almost equally of great hopes and great fears. In this time of doubt, they look to the United States as never before for good will, strength, and wise leadership.
It is fitting, therefore, that we take this occasion to proclaim to the world the essential principles of the faith by which we live, and to declare our aims to all peoples.
The American people stand firm in the faith which has inspired this Nation from the beginning. We believe that all men have a right to equal justice under law and equal opportunity to share in the common good. We believe that all men have a right to freedom of thought and expression. We believe that all men are created equal because they are created in the image of God.
From this faith we will not be moved.
The American people desire, and are determined to work for, a world in which all nations and all peoples are free to govern themselves as they see fit, and to achieve a decent and satisfying life. Above all else, our people desire, and are determined to work for, peace on earth--a just and lasting peace--based on genuine agreement freely arrived at by equals.
We have encouraged, by precept and example, the expansion of world trade on a sound and fair basis.
Almost a year ago, in company with 16 free nations of Europe, we launched the greatest cooperative economic program in history. Our efforts have brought new hope to all mankind. We have beaten back despair and defeatism. We have saved a number of countries from losing their liberty. Hundreds of millions of people all over the world now agree with us, that we need not have war--that we can have peace.
The initiative is ours.
In the coming years, our program for peace and freedom will emphasize four major courses of action.
First, we will continue to give unfaltering support to the United Nations and related agencies, and we will continue to search for ways to strengthen their authority and increase their effectiveness.
Second, we will continue our programs for world economic recovery.
In addition, we must carry out our plans for reducing the barriers to world trade and increasing its volume. Economic recovery and peace itself depend on increased world trade.
Third, we will strengthen freedom-loving nations against the dangers of aggression.
Fourth, we must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas.
More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery. Their food is inadequate. They are victims of disease. Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas.
For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve suffering of these people.
I believe that we should make available to peace-loving peoples the benefits of our store of technical knowledge in order to help them realize their aspirations for a better life.
We invite other countries to pool their technological resources in this undertaking. Their contributions will be warmly welcomed.
All countries, including our own, will greatly benefit from a constructive program for the better use of the world's human and natural resources.
Only by helping the least fortunate of its members to help themselves can the human family achieve the decent, satisfying life that is the right of all people.
Slowly but surely we are weaving a world fabric of international security and growing prosperity.
We are aided by all who wish to live in freedom from fear--even by those who live today in fear under their own governments.
We are aided by all who want relief from lies and propaganda--those who desire truth and sincerity.
We are aided by all who desire self-government and a voice in deciding their own affairs.
We are aided by all who long for economic security--for the security and abundance that men in free societies can enjoy.
We are aided by all who desire freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to live their own lives for useful ends.
In due time, as our stability becomes manifest, as more and more nations come to know the benefits of democracy and to participate in growing abundance, I believe that those countries which now oppose us will abandon their delusions and join with the free nations of the world in a just settlement of international differences.
Steadfast in our faith in the Almighty, we will advance toward a world where man's freedom is secure.
To that end we will devote our strength, our resources, and our firmness of resolve. With God's help, the future of mankind will be assured in a world of justice, harmony, and peace.
Dwight Eisenhower – January 20, 1953
Almighty God, Give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong, and allow all our words and actions to be governed thereby, and by the laws of this land. Especially we pray that our concern shall be for all the people regardless of station, race or calling.
May cooperation be permitted and be the mutual aim of those who, under the concepts of our Constitution, hold to differing political faiths; so that all may work for the good of our beloved country and Thy glory. Amen.
The world and we have passed the midway point of a century of continuing challenge. We sense with all our faculties that forces of good and evil are massed and armed and opposed as rarely before in history.
Since this century's beginning, a time of tempest has seemed to come upon the continents of the earth. Masses of Asia have awakened to strike off shackles of the past. Great nations of Europe have fought their bloodiest wars. Thrones have toppled and their vast empires have disappeared. New nations have been born.
For our own country, it has been a time of recurring trial. We have grown in power and in responsibility.
In the swift rush of great events, we find ourselves groping to know the full sense and meaning of these times in which we live. In our quest of understanding, we beseech God's guidance. We summon all our knowledge of the past and we scan all signs of the future. We bring all our wit and all our will to meet the question:
How far have we come in man's long pilgrimage from darkness toward the light? Are we nearing the light--a day of freedom and of peace for all mankind? Or are the shadows of another night closing in upon us?
Great as are the preoccupations absorbing us at home, concerned as we are with matters that deeply affect our livelihood today and our vision of the future, each of these domestic problems is dwarfed by, and often even created by, this question that involves all humankind.
This trial comes at a moment when man's power to achieve good or to inflict evil surpasses the brightest hopes and the sharpest fears of all ages.
At such a time in history, we who are free must proclaim anew our faith. This faith is the abiding creed of our fathers. It is our faith in the deathless dignity of man, governed by eternal moral and natural laws.
This faith establishes, beyond debate, those gifts of the Creator that are man's inalienable rights, and that make all men equal in His sight.
In the light of this equality, we know that the virtues most cherished by free people--love of truth, pride of work, devotion to country--all are treasures equally precious in the lives of the most humble and of the most exalted.
This faith rules our whole way of life. It decrees that we, the people, elect leaders not to rule but to serve. It asserts that we have the right to choice of our own work and to the reward of our own toil. It inspires the initiative that makes our productivity the wonder of the world. And it warns that any man who seeks to deny equality among all his brothers betrays the spirit of the free and invites the mockery of the tyrant.
The faith we hold belongs not to us alone but to the free of all the world.
We know that we are linked to all free peoples not merely by a noble idea but by a simple need. No free people can for long cling to any privilege or enjoy any safety in economic solitude. For all our own material might, even we need markets in the world for the surpluses of our farms and our factories.
So we are persuaded by necessity and by belief that the strength of all free peoples lies in unity; their danger, in discord.
To produce this unity, to meet the challenge of our time, destiny has laid upon our country the responsibility of the free world's leadership.
So it is proper that we assure our friends once again that, in the discharge of this responsibility, we Americans know and we observe the difference between world leadership and imperialism; between firmness and truculence; between a thoughtfully calculated goal and spasmodic reaction to the stimulus of emergencies.
We wish our friends the world over to know this above all: we face the threat--not with dread and confusion--but with confidence and conviction.
In pleading our just cause before the bar of history and in pressing our labor for world peace, we shall be guided by certain fixed principles. These principles are:
1. Abhorring war as a chosen way to balk the purposes of those who threaten us, we hold it to be the first task of statesmanship to develop the strength that will deter the forces of aggression and promote the conditions of peace. For, as it must be the supreme purpose of all free men, so it must be the dedication of their leaders, to save humanity from preying upon itself.
2. Knowing that only a United States that is strong and immensely productive can help defend freedom in our world, we view our Nation's strength and security as a trust upon which rests the hope of free men everywhere.
3. Honoring the identity and the special heritage of each nation in the world, we shall never use our strength to try to impress upon another people our own cherished political and economic institutions.
4. Recognizing economic health as an indispensable basis of military strength and the free world's peace, we shall strive to foster everywhere, and to practice ourselves, policies that encourage productivity and profitable trade.
5. Conceiving the defense of freedom, like freedom itself, to be one and indivisible, we hold all continents and peoples in equal regard and honor.
We must be willing, individually and as a Nation, to accept whatever sacrifices may be required of us. A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
These basic precepts are not lofty abstractions, far removed from matters of daily living. They are laws of spiritual strength that generate and define our material strength. Patriotism means equipped forces and a prepared citizenry. Moral stamina means more energy and more productivity, on the farm and in the factory. Love of liberty means the guarding of every resource that makes freedom possible--from the sanctity of our families and the wealth of our soil to the genius of our scientists.
And so each citizen plays an indispensable role.
The peace we seek, then, is nothing less than the practice and fulfillment of our whole faith among ourselves and in our dealings with others. This signifies more than the stilling of guns, casing the sorrow of war. More than escape from death, it is a way of life. More than a haven for the weary, it is a hope for the brave.
This is the hope that beckons us onward in this century of trial. This is the work that awaits us all, to be done with bravery, with charity, and with prayer to Almighty God.
My citizens--I thank you.
Richard Nixon – January 20, 1969
Each moment in history is a fleeting time, precious and unique. But some stand out as moments of beginning, in which courses are set that shape decades or centuries.
This can be such a moment.
For the first time, because the people of the world want peace, and the leaders of the world are afraid of war, the times are on the side of peace.
Eight years from now America will celebrate its 200th anniversary as a nation.
What kind of a nation we will be, what kind of a world we will live in, whether we shape the future in the image of our hopes, is ours to determine by our actions and our choices.
The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker. This honor now beckons America--the chance to help lead the world at last out of the valley of turmoil and onto that high ground of peace that man has dreamed of since the dawn of civilization.
This is our summons to greatness.
Standing in this same place a third of a century ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a nation ravaged by depression and gripped in fear. He could say in surveying the Nation's troubles: "They concern, thank God, only material things." Our crisis today is in reverse.
We find ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but failing into raucous discord on earth.
To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit.
And to find that answer, we need only look within ourselves.
When we listen to "the better angels of our nature," we find that they celebrate the simple things, the basic things--such as goodness, decency, love, kindness.
Greatness comes in simple trappings. The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.
To lower our voices would be a simple thing.
In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.
We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another--until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.
For its part, government will listen. We will strive to listen in new ways--to the voices of quiet anguish, the voices that speak without words, the voices of the heart--to the injured voices, the anxious voices, the voices that have despaired of being heard.
Those who have been left out, we will try to bring in.
Those left behind, we will help to catch up.
For all of our people, we will set as our goal the decent order that makes progress possible and our lives secure.
As we reach toward our hopes, our task is to build on what has gone before--not turning away from the old, but turning toward the new.
But we are approaching the limits of what government alone can do.
Our greatest need now is to reach beyond government, to enlist the legions of the concerned and the committed.
What has to be done, has to be done by government and people together or it will not be done at all. The lesson of past agony is that without the people we can do nothing--with the people we can do everything.
To match the magnitude of our tasks, we need the energies of our people--enlisted not only in grand enterprises, but more importantly in those small, splendid efforts that make headlines in the neighborhood newspaper instead of the national journal.
The essence of freedom is that each of us shares in the shaping of his own destiny.
Until he has been part of a cause larger than himself, no man is truly whole.
No man can be fully free while his neighbor is not. To go forward at all is to go forward together.
This means black and white together, as one nation, not two. The laws have caught up with our conscience. What remains is to give life to what is in the law: to insure at last that as all are born equal in dignity before God, all are born equal in dignity before man.
As we learn to go forward together at home, let us also seek to go forward together with all mankind.
Let us take as our goal: Where peace is unknown, make it welcome; where Peace is fragile, make it strong; where peace is temporary, make it permanent.
Let all nations know that during this administration our lines of communication will be open.
We seek an open world--open to ideas, open to the exchange of goods and people--a world in which no people, great or small, will live in angry isolation.
We cannot expect to make everyone our friend, but we can try to make no one our enemy.
With those who are willing to join, let us cooperate to reduce the burden of arms, to strengthen the structure of peace, to lift up the poor and the hungry.
But to all those who would be tempted by weakness, let us leave no doubt that we will be as strong as we need to be for as long as we need to be.
I know that peace does not come through wishing for it--that there is no substitute for days and even years of patient and prolonged diplomacy.
I also know the people of the world.
I have seen the hunger of a homeless child, the pain of a man wounded in battle, the grief of a mother who has lost her son. I know these have no ideology, no race.
I know America. I know the heart of America is good.
I speak from my own heart, and the heart of my country, the deep concern we have for those who suffer and those who sorrow.
Let this message be heard by strong and weak alike:
The peace we seek--the peace we seek to win--is not victory over any other people, but the peace that comes "with healing in its wings"; with compassion for those who have suffered; with understanding for those who have opposed us; with the opportunity for all the peoples of this earth to choose their own destiny.
Our destiny offers not the cup of despair, but the chalice of opportunity. So let us seize it not in fear, but in gladness-and "riders on the earth together," let us go forward, firm in our faith, steadfast in our purpose, cautious of the dangers, but sustained by our confidence in the will of God and the promise of man.
Ronald Reagan – January 20, 1981
In the eyes of many in the world, this every 4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.
Mr. President (Jimmy Carter), I want our fellow citizens to know how much you did to carry on this tradition. By your gracious cooperation in the transition process, you have shown a watching world that we are a united people pledged to maintaining a political system which guarantees individual liberty to a greater degree than any other, and I thank you and your people for all your help in maintaining the continuity which is the bulwark of our Republic.
The business of our nation goes forward. These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained inflations in our national history. It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes thrift, and crushes the struggling young and the fixed-income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people.
The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we as Americans have the capacity now, as we've had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom.
In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.
We hear much of special interest groups. Well, our concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected. It knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses political party lines. They are, in short, "We the people," this breed called Americans.
Well, this administration's objective will be a healthy, vigorous, growing economy that provides equal opportunities for all Americans
If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth.
We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we're in a time when there are not heroes, they just don't know where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates.
We shall reflect the compassion that is so much a part of your makeup. How can we love our country and not love our countrymen; and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they're sick, and provide opportunity to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?
Can we solve the problems confronting us? Well, the answer is an unequivocal and emphatic "yes." To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I did not take the oath I've just taken with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world's strongest economy.
In the days ahead I will propose removing the roadblocks that have slowed our economy and reduced productivity. Steps will be taken aimed at restoring the balance between the various levels of government.
I believe we, the Americans of today, are ready to act worthy of ourselves, ready to do what must be done to ensure happiness and liberty for ourselves, our children, and our children's children. And as we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.
To those neighbors and allies who share our freedom, we will strengthen our historic ties and assure them of our support and firm commitment. We will match loyalty with loyalty. We will strive for mutually beneficial relations. We will not use our friendship to impose on their sovereignty, for our own sovereignty is not for sale.
Above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.
I'm told that tens of thousands of prayer meetings are being held on this day, and for that I'm deeply grateful. We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free. It would be fitting and good, I think, if on each Inaugural Day in future years it should be declared a day of prayer.
The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind of sacrifice that Martin Treptow (a soldier who died in World War II) and so many thousands of others were called upon to make. It does require, however, our best effort and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds, to believe that together with God's help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.
And after all, why shouldn't we believe that? We are Americans.
God bless you, and thank you.
George W. Bush – January 20, 2001
As I begin, I thank President Clinton for his service to our Nation, and I thank Vice President Gore for a contest conducted with spirit and ended with grace.
We have a place, all of us, in a long story, a story we continue but whose end we will not see.
It is the American story, a story of flawed and fallible people united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals. The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding American promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, that no insignificant person was ever born.
Americans are called to enact this promise in our lives and in our laws. And though our Nation has sometimes halted and sometimes delayed, we must follow no other course.
Our democratic faith is more than the creed of our country. It is the inborn hope of our humanity, an ideal we carry but do not own, a trust we bear and pass along. Even after nearly 225 years, we have a long way yet to travel.
While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth. And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent but not a country. We do not accept this, and we will not allow it.
I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity. I know this is in our reach because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves, who creates us equal, in His image, and we are confident in principles that unite and lead us onward.
America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.
Today we affirm a new commitment to live out our Nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion, and character.
We must live up to the calling we share. Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment; it is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. And this commitment, if we keep it, is a way to shared accomplishment.
Together we will reclaim America's schools before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives. We will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent. And we will reduce taxes to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans.
We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge. We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors.
Our public interest depends on private character, on civic duty and family bonds and basic fairness, on uncounted, unhonored acts of decency, which give direction to our freedom.
Sometimes in life we're called to do great things. But as a saint of our times has said, "Every day we are called to do small things with great love." The most important tasks of a democracy are done by everyone.
Much time has passed since Jefferson arrived for his inauguration. The years and changes accumulate, but the themes of this day, he would know: our Nation's grand story of courage and its simple dream of dignity.
We are not this story's author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet, his purpose is achieved in our duty. And our duty is fulfilled in service to one another. Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today, to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life. This work continues, the story goes on, and an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.
William Clinton – January 20, 1993
On behalf of our Nation, I salute my predecessor, President (G.W.) Bush, for his half-century of service to America.
Today, a generation raised in the shadows of the cold war assumes new responsibilities in a world warmed by the sunshine of freedom but threatened still by ancient hatreds and new plagues. Raised in unrivaled prosperity, we inherit an economy that is still the world's strongest but is weakened by business failures, stagnant wages, increasing inequality, and deep divisions among our own people.
We earn our livelihood in America today in peaceful competition with people all across the Earth. Profound and powerful forces are shaking and remaking our world. And the urgent question of our time is whether we can make change our friend and not our enemy. This new world has already enriched the lives of millions of Americans who are able to compete and win in it. But when most people are working harder for less; when others cannot work at all; when the cost of health care devastates families and threatens to bankrupt our enterprises, great and small; when the fear of crime robs law-abiding citizens of their freedom; and when millions of poor children cannot even imagine the lives we are calling them to lead, we have not made change our friend.
Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America. And so today we pledge an end to the era of deadlock and drift, and a new season of American renewal has begun.
To renew America, we must be bold. We must do what no generation has had to do before. We must invest more in our own people, in their jobs, and in their future, and at the same time cut our massive debt. And we must do so in a world in which we must compete for every opportunity.
To renew America, we must revitalize our democracy. This beautiful Capital, like every capital since the dawn of civilization, is often a place of intrigue and calculation. Powerful people maneuver for position and worry endlessly about who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, forgetting those people whose toil and sweat sends us here and pays our way. Americans deserve better. Let us put aside personal advantage so that we can feel the pain and see the promise of America. Let us resolve to make our Government a place for what Franklin Roosevelt called bold, persistent experimentation, a Government for our tomorrows, not our yesterdays. Let us give this Capital back to the people to whom it belongs.
To renew America, we must meet challenges abroad as well as at home. There is no longer a clear division between what is foreign and what is domestic. The world economy, the world environment, the world AIDS crisis, the world arms race: they affect us all.
While America rebuilds at home, we will not shrink from the challenges nor fail to seize the opportunities of this new world. Together with our friends and allies, we will work to shape change, lest it engulf us. When our vital interests are challenged or the will and conscience of the international community is defied, we will act, with peaceful diplomacy whenever possible, with force when necessary.
My fellow Americans, you, too, must play your part in our renewal. I challenge a new generation of young Americans to a season of service: to act on your idealism by helping troubled children, keeping company with those in need, reconnecting our torn communities. There is so much to be done; enough, indeed, for millions of others who are still young in spirit to give of themselves in service, too. In serving, we recognize a simple but powerful truth: We need each other, and we must care for one another.
We rededicate ourselves to the very idea of America. We rededicate ourselves to the very idea of America, an idea born in revolution and renewed through two centuries of challenge; an idea tempered by the knowledge that, but for fate, we, the fortunate, and the unfortunate might have been each other; an idea ennobled by the faith that our Nation can summon from its myriad diversity the deepest measure of unity; an idea infused with the conviction that America's long, heroic journey must go forever upward.
And so, my fellow Americans, as we stand at the edge of the 21st century, let us begin anew with energy and hope, with faith and discipline. And let us work until our work is done. The Scripture says, "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." From this joyful mountaintop of celebration we hear a call to service in the valley. We have heard the trumpets. We have changed the guard. And now, each in our own way and with God's help, we must answer the call.
Barack Obama – January 20, 2009
Every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents.
So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises. The time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to carry forward that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less.
Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man -- a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.
And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more.
As we consider the role that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who at this very hour patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.
We honor them not only because they are the guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service -- a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.
It is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all. For as much as government can do, and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.
What is demanded, then, is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed.
Donald Trump – January 20, 2017
We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.
Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.
Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.
For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
We are one nation – and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.
The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.
For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry.
We've defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own.
We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.
From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.
America will start winning again, winning like never before.
We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.
We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.
We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.
When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.
A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.
So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words:
You will never be ignored again.
And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again. Thank you, God Bless You, And God Bless America.