This quote is attributed to Benjamin Franklin in 1787 after the Constitutional Convention was winding down. A woman asked,
A Republic. If you can keep it. (Emphasis is mine).
I have been thinking about this quote a lot today, the day after the 2016 election. Old Ben Franklin had some wise sayings, but it’s this one that has been running through my thoughts as I slog through the endless social media debate about who was going to be the better president. The republic was out in full force last night as we could see on the electoral maps the networks like to show us. The republic was shouting loud and clear as supporters for both candidates gathered to see the end of this year-long struggle to get their candidate elected. The republic was there when Hillary made her email mistakes and was there when Trump advocated grabbing women by their genitals. The republic demonstrated it’s vibrancy during the primaries and the republic was feeling the “Bern” and the republic watched as candidates on the right and left dropped out in favor of party nominees.
The republic was born out of the idea that people shouldn’t be ruled over by a monarch who would tax us without letting us be represented in Parliament. The republic existed even though it didn’t allow everyone born here to participate in it (minorities and women). The republic was there when white people owned slaves and when Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps in the 1940’s. The republic was there when destructive foreign wars were started and it was there when terrorists attacked us on 9/11. The republic has seen us through recessions and depressions, turmoil and tranquility, war and peace. The republic has been here since 1789 when our Constitution was ratified, and it has grown and changed to make democracy the driving (but certainly not perfect) force for our country.
But will we be able to keep it?
This is the second election in my lifetime where the candidate with the most popular votes has lost the Presidency. So we will now have two presidents in less than 20 years who do not have a clear mandate to run the country. We should really take that a little more seriously. Our republic is divided, and it has been for a long time. This was very evident in the Trump and Clinton campaigns. The Trump line was that our country “is screwed up and has been for a long time. I will fix it.” The Clinton line was “our country is going strong, let’s make it stronger.” These are two pretty opposite beliefs that millions of people were willing to align themselves to, for better or for worse. There were some pretty ugly things said and done in this campaign, no side is innocent. However, “the people have spoken” and Donald Trump has been elected. It will be very difficult to keep our republic with this man sitting in the Oval Office.
I know that Hillary is not a popular person in many circles, and no matter what you think of her you should be alarmed at the kinds of things President-elect Trump wants to do. He has openly talked about eroding first amendment free speech rights, he believes that killing terrorist’s families is acceptable despite the 8th amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and he wants to ban Muslims in violation of the 14th amendment. He would crack down on judges who don’t agree with him, give cop killers the death penalty, and strip immigrants of their citizenship and seize their assets. He has said many racist and sexist things that many don’t take seriously, but when he has the executive power that is bolstered by a friendly House and Senate he will have practically unchecked power to do whatever he wants. Trump does not demonstrate any knowledge or respect of the Constitution at all. How can we entrust this man with keeping our republic?
The answer is that we can’t. We cannot trust him to defend the rights of anyone but himself and those who look like him (white males). We cannot trust him to defend the rights of minorities, rights that have been hard-won over many years and generations. He will seek retribution on anyone who offends him, and he cannot be trusted to use his power to be a force for democracy in our country. He wants to limit our speech, limit our rights, and exact revenge on those who dare question him. His policies are unconstitutional, and those policies are not going to strengthen our republic. They are going to weaken our republic. I hope it doesn’t break.
So if we can’t trust President Trump to keep our republic, who do we entrust to preserve it? Simple. We entrust ourselves. Each individual in this country can vote. Each individual can speak out. Each individual can write. Each individual can speak with their classmates, co-workers, and neighbors about what we can do to keep our republic. Each person can stretch themselves to get to know someone of another race, gender, nationality, or sexual identity better so that we can learn as much as possible about how other Americans live. About how other Americans want to keep our republic.
We can keep our republic by organizing. It doesn’t matter if you are organizing a soccer team, the PTA, or for labor rights. Do something. Be an example of how to treat others with respect, dignity, and love. Boost people up high, don’t tear them down. Be a leader. Take charge of anything that is worth doing, whether that is your career, your volunteer interests, or politics. Treat your employees fairly. Don’t be afraid of different religions or viewpoints. Embrace change and diversity. Raise your children to respect ALL people and raise them to have empathy for those who don’t have as much as they do. Be a force for positive change and when you see injustice do everything you can to correct it. Let your voice be heard, and make sure that your actions further freedom, democracy, equality, and peace.
Our republic has been with us for a long time and it has been up to each generation to make it better. There is no reason to think that it can’t get better just because we now have a President Trump. He has been elected by the people of this republic, but don’t confuse that with being required to agree with him. Remember that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. It has been dissent that has caused the long hard battles that have kept our republic going. It will take hard work for our republic to make it through a Trump presidency, but we can do it. You can do it. Everyone can do it. It is up to us. I have faith in my fellow citizens that they will do the right thing and work to have the republic we deserve.
We have a republic. Now we must keep it.