More precious than the American Dream is the American Myth: the optimistic notion that, in America, the sphere of freedom grows larger with time; that the arc of history, as Dr. King proclaimed, “bends toward justice.”
This myth is inscribed in countless locations throughout American history: from the Constitution’s “more perfect Union” to Abraham Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom”; from Seneca Falls to the March on Washington. And it is confirmed by those we have chosen to make the villains of our national history: men and women like Andrew Jackson, Jefferson Davis, George Wallace, and Anita Bryant who stood athwart – or turned back – the forward march of freedom.
As undecided voters head to the polls on November 8th to select the next President of the United States, they would do well to remember this myth – to reflect on its place in their hearts and in their sense of historical justice.
For, in years to come, we will be judged according to the measurements of this myth. We will be celebrated to the degree that we fulfilled its mission and admonished to the extent that we frustrated it.
So I ask undecided voters: are the gains you expect to reap from Donald Trump worth the judgment of generations? Are his promises worth more than your legacy?
Too often, Americans have answered questions like these selfishly and shortsightedly. In the country’s early decades, white Americans wrung fortunes from stolen land and stolen labor. In the Progressive Era, they built landmark reforms on the foundations of Jim Crow. And during the New Deal, they laid the groundwork for a postwar middle class that intentionally excluded Americans of color. In ways both large and small, many chose their own narrow gain over the American Myth.
Today, we face a similar dilemma. Do we want to add yet another chapter to this grim narrative? Or do we want to transcend it?
Do we want to be remembered as the generation of voters that elected America’s first black president, cheered the legalization of same-sex marriage, and elevated more women to elective office than any other before it?
Or do we want to be remembered for handing the White House to a man who paints Mexicans as rapists; Muslims as terrorists; and African-Americans as thugs. Who objectifies women; mocks the disabled; and praises foreign strongmen.
For, if eight years after electing Barack Obama, we should abet the rise of Donald Trump, we will find ourselves cheek-by-jowl in the ledgers of justice with those who consigned the Cherokee to the Trail of Tears; who rent the union in the name of slavery; and who mocked the Constitution by raising the banner of Jim Crow.
We will be no better than those who force-fed Alice Paul; no worthier than the Ku Kluxers who closed the “golden door” to Europe’s huddled masses; no nobler than the white Birminghamians who locked up Dr. King and turned the city’s fire hoses on its children.
And so, in our own name, in the name of justice, and in the name of the American Myth, we must stop Trump. We can only do this by voting for Hillary Clinton – the one candidate, for better or worse, who can realistically defeat this menace.