Tuesday, December 15, 2015

President Obama at the Archives: "Oh, How Quickly We Forget"

"How quickly we forget. One generation passes, two [generations pass] and suddenly we don't remember where we came from.  And we somehow suggest that there is 'us' and there is 'them,' not remembering we used to be 'them.' On days like today, we need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like that again."
President Barack Obama, December 15 2015

Today, President Obama welcomed newly naturalized citizens in a speech at the National Archives, the building in Washington, D.C. where they keep the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence under pressurized, humidity controlled glass cases. 

The building is one of my favorites in Washington, with the words: "What is Past is Prologue" etched in the stone facade above the entrance.

But the assault on the Constitution we must fear and guard against is not of the physical variety, of humidity or mold--it will always come in the form of action and ideas. 

When Donald Trump calls for the exclusion of immigrants and even tourists because they are Muslim, that is what tears at the fabric and soul of the American Constitution. But what really sets fire to that document is the response by Americans who think themselves patriots and winners, as they respond to the purveyors of fear and tacit loathing with cheering and mindless joy.

We are so lucky to have as President a man who can write and speak among the best politicians we have ever had. Lincoln was one of the best writers in the 19th century. Since Lincoln, we have only rarely been blessed with a President who has risen to the level of Obama. Roosevelt could inspire, finding just the right words in a very dark time. 

Reagan could deliver the lines prepared for him by his script writers, but the ideas contained in those lines, the disparagement of government, the facile sloganeering, the idea that government is the problem not the solution were poisonous to the body and soul of government and the nation.

Oh, how I will miss President Obama. I already miss him, even before he has left office, just thinking with a mild revulsion at those characters on the Right who might well replace him. 

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