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Home | Opinion | Rep O’Rourke: America and “the Better Angels of our Nature”

Rep O’Rourke: America and “the Better Angels of our Nature”

I’m writing to you as I fly back from the inauguration:  Greetings from seat 14D.

I have to begin by telling you that despite my deep disappointment in the results of our Presidential election in November, today’s inauguration deepened my faith in this country and my gratitude to be an American.

Where else could so much power — over the world’s largest economy, it’s most fearsome military and the bureaucracy that makes it all run — be peacefully handed over by one leader to a rival who has vowed to undo the very work that his predecessor spent 8 years carrying out?

Personally seeing Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the same stage, solemnly fulfilling their constitutional obligations, is to witness our unique experiment in democracy and the power of our institutions.

As difficult a moment as this transfer is for so many, it is something to honor.

It’s my belief in our institutions that compelled me to attend today’s joint meeting of Congress which hosted the inauguration. And it is my belief in our democracy that will guide me as we look for ways to work with the new administration whenever it is to this country’s advantage.

And it’s that same faith that tells me that together we have the power to stop or reverse those policies that will harm the United States.

I congratulate Donald Trump as he assumes the Presidency, and I want him — for the sake of the country — to be successful. His newly confirmed Secretary of Defense, Gen. James Mattis, and his pick for the VA, David Shulkin, show promise and give me hope that our work on the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees will find willing partners.

But some of the themes in today’s inaugural address show us how important it is that we stick together to stop what could be a dangerous slide towards isolation and paranoia.

Despite the heroic sacrifice of the Greatest Generation — those brave men and women who survived the Great Depression, won World War II and secured for America a leading place in the world and the international commitments to ensure that we keep it — President Trump committed this country to, in his words, “only America first”.

His inaugural address deepened his obsession on erecting physical and economic barriers with the rest of the world and stoking anxiety and fear about the threats that face us. The world has been down that road before, and it doesn’t end well.

If we were looking for inspiration, we will have to look beyond this speech. “American carnage” is the phrase he used to describe our state of affairs, while also promising to “bring back our borders.”

Where will we bring back our borders from? If he’s talking about our border with Mexico, he does so at a time that El Paso is the safest city in America and the U.S.-Mexico border — by any measure — has never been more secure.

While there are those who have not benefited from this economy, and Trump is right to remind us of that, it was painful to hear a description of America that doesn’t match reality for many, especially the part of America where I was born, that I have the honor to serve and where Amy and I raise our children — we can, and must, find inspiration and comfort in those institutions that worked the way they were intended to today.

And we can find it in each other.

Watching the leadership from different parties and parts of the U.S. come together at the inauguration today, and afterwards squeezing onto a D.C. metro on my way to the airport, with people wearing “Make America Great Again” hats pressed up against protesters and D.C. citizens (who voted against Trump 96% to 4%); and even being on this airplane flying back with people who came to celebrate, protest or just witness the inauguration — that all gives me hope that we will not only survive the focus on fear and the divisions that this election laid bare, but that we will find a way to come together and do something inspired by hope and fearlessness.

It just depends on what Abraham Lincoln referred to in his first inaugural, “the better angels of our nature.”

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