The person who won the popular vote for President of the U.S. by a robust margin of three million votes last November stepped to the podium for her first major public address last week, speaking to the graduating class of her college alma mater, to project her best sense of what the American democratic passion and purpose in the world is all about.
In light of the hell that Trump is seeking to make of Washington and the world, it is heartening and reassuring to hear such words from Hillary Clinton, and as millions of students prepare to graduate from their respective schools this season, they’re words that apply to all of them, and to all of us.
Here’s part of what she said last week:
“Here’s what that means to you, the Class of 2017. You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason. Just log on to social media for 10 seconds. It will hit you right in the face. People denying science, concocting elaborate, hurtful conspiracy theories about child-abuse rings operating out of pizza parlors, drumming up rampant fear about undocumented immigrants, Muslims, minorities, the poor, turning neighbor against neighbor and sowing division at a time when we desperately need unity. Some are even denying things we see with our own eyes, like the size of crowds, and then defending themselves by talking about quote-unquote ‘alternative facts.’
“But this is serious business. Look at the budget that was just proposed in Washington. It is an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us, the youngest, the oldest, the poorest and hard-working people who need a little help to gain or hang on to a decent middle class life. It grossly under-funds public education, mental health and efforts even to combat the opioid epidemic. And in reversing our commitment to fight climate change, it puts the future of our nation and our world at risk. And to top it off, it is shrouded in a trillion-dollar mathematical lie. Let’s call it what it is. It’s a con. They don’t even try to hide it.
“Why does all this matter? It matters because if our leaders lie about the problems we face, we’ll never solve them. It matters because it undermines confidence in government as a whole, which in turn breeds more cynicism and anger. But it also matters because our country, like this college, was founded on the principles of the Enlightenment – in particular, the belief that people, you and I, possess the capacity for reason and critical thinking, and that free and open debate is the lifeblood of a democracy. Not only Wellesley, but the entire American university system – the envy of the world – was founded on those fundamental ideals. We should not abandon them; we should revere them. We should aspire to them every single day, in everything we do.
“And there’s something else. As the history majors among you here today know all too well, when people in power invent their own facts, and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society. That is not hyperbole. It is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality – not just our laws and rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs.
“Right now, some of you might wonder, well, why am I telling you all this? You don’t own a cable news network. You don’t control the Facebook algorithm. You aren’t a member of Congress – yet. Because I believe with all my heart that the future of America – indeed, the future of the world – depends on brave, thoughtful people like you insisting on truth and integrity, right now, every day. You didn’t create these circumstances, but you have the power to change them.
“…Many feel left behind, left out, looked down on. Their anger and alienation has proved a fertile ground for false promises and false information. Their economic problems and cultural anxiety must be addressed, or they will continue to sign up to be foot-soldiers in the ongoing conflict between ‘us’ and ‘them.’
“The opportunity is here. Millions of people will be hurt by the policies, including this budget that is being considered. And many of these same people don’t want DREAMers deported or their health care taken away. Many don’t want to retreat on civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights. So if your outreach is rebuffed, keep trying. Do the right thing anyway. We’re going to share this future. Better to do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists.”
Maybe when it all comes out, when the level of collusion of the Trump operation with the Russians is fully exposed, then the Supreme Court will disqualify Trump’s tainted election and declare the second-place finisher the winner.
Such would be the proper and rightful outcome.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected].