We are on the precipice, of that we are sure. Of what exactly, there are hints and whispers and clues, but the haze of the future is unknowable. Of course, we never really know what lies before us, but the cone of uncertainty at this moment is so wide that it seems to stretch in almost every conceivable direction.
There are plausible scenarios that auger for a fundamental redefinition of this nation and this world. I have felt this before, during World War II and the Cuban Missile Crisis, to name two particularly precarious chapters in American and global history. In both cases, there was a chance that outside forces would exterminate, quite literally, our nation and its ideals.
Today, the feeling is quite different. The challenge is dire but it is internal. The choice is ours to make, at least to the point that the votes and the will of the people will prevail. I do not mean to underestimate the threats to a fair and free election. But we should also approach that question with a degree of calm and sense of purpose. For all the intimidation and suppression of the vote, it has never been easier in most places in this nation to cast a ballot. The early and mail-in vote numbers, staggering in their aggregate and state-by-state breakdowns, are evidence of this.
For many years now, I have taken to this platform and others, to urge my fellow citizens to take a long view of history, to recognize the peril we have faced in the past, to shine the bright light of justice on our divisions and inequalities, and to, above all, remain steady. Now that steadiness must be unleashed at the polls.
But part of being steady is to recognize that beyond the current horizons, others loom. This nation will have to find a way to heal, no matter how improbable that seems today. Healing doesn’t mean forfeiting one’s values. It does not mean watering down the structural, policy, and cultural changes we will have to make. But it does mean not losing a sense of one’s humanity, humility, and empathy.
I remain, as I almost always do, an optimist. This is an optimism forged by a lifetime of experience and a belief in the basic decency of most people. I pray for a reduction of tension, a loosing of party politics as the core definition of our populace, and a return to a nation of ideas and ideals.
Do what you can to make this moment count. Vote. Encourage others to do so. And at the same time, remember we are Americans and our future is one that is better in seeking the bonds of unity than in stoking the fires of division. Am I sure this will be our destiny? No. But I have seen many in history make a grave mistake in betting against this nation and its people’s ability to right its wrongs, move towards a path to justice, and regain a steady charting of the future.
Courage. I am honored to be here with all of you in a spirit of #WhatUnitesUs.