Those of you who have read America, America over the last two years likely know how much I value Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address. On November 19, 1863, almost exactly 160 years ago, our greatest president delivered 272 words that set forth a vision for democracy. That address, on a Pennsylvania battlefield that saw over 51,000 casualties four months earlier, continues to provide me inspiration about our unfinished task as Americans.
In his first sentence, President Lincoln told the estimated crowd of 15,000 that “four score and seven years ago” the new nation was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” In his second sentence, he raised the question—amid the bloody horrors of the Civil War—whether such a nation “so dedicated, can long endure.” He also honored the “brave men, living and dead, who struggled here” and the responsibility that their sacrifices made necessary—“to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
And in his ninth and final sentence, Lincoln articulated with extraordinary clarity, power and brevity the fundamental idea of democratic self-governance and our central duty as freedom-loving Americans. On that 19th of November (and every day since), he urged us “to highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln’s words, one of the greatest speeches in the English language, have lost none of their potency. They have only gained relevance at a time when the country faces dark forces bent on ending the will of the people and concentrating power in the hands of the few for their own benefit. I hope his words can strengthen our resolve against an aggrieved minority and its demagogic leaders who are more than ready to usher in democracy’s demise.
On this day, when we salute the service of our nation’s veterans, the Gettysburg Address offers a bracing reminder that no matter how troubled our body politic may be amid rising despotism, no matter how determined may be the autocracy peddlers to turn away from Lincoln’s imperatives, we have the capacity and the duty to overcome this.
What about you? Who or what gives you hope for democracy? It may be a historical figure or event. Maybe it’s a neighbor or friend or family member. Perhaps it’s something you read or someone who displayed their dedication, big or small, to democracy’s survival.
As always, I look forward to reading your observations and for the opportunity of this community to learn from each other. Please do be respectful in your comments.
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*Photo: Abraham Lincoln and his handwritten Gettysburg Address at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Via Getty Images.
What gives me hope? Your voice and those of Robert Reich, Joyce Vance, and Preet Bharara. The spine of Jack Smith. The courage of E. Jean Carroll. The millions of voters who just stood down the Neo-Nazi Red Wave in five states. The appeals courts that have thrown back Trump's tawdry motions at record speeds. The Constitution. The judges and prosecutors--Chutkan, Willis, Kaplan, Engoron, et al.--who face potential violence from Trump's "kindly" followers who do things like try to overthrow the government of the United States. The dogged, if slowly moving, Department of Justice, that carefully gathered the facts in the January 6 and classified documents cases, evidence that virtually ensures criminal convictions of Trump barring the kinds of OJ-like jury nullifications we've seen before. I think we're going to make it--but it's going to be tough, and it's going to hurt, and it's going to be close.
The Alpha generation gives me hope. I have two grandsons - aged 11 and 12. I watched them at a Halloween party a couple weeks ago. There was such a diverse group of children there. All races, all religions. They were all happy, dancing, and having fun. When I grew up there was massive segregation. I don’t see that happening much anymore. My hope lies with this new generation.
What reassures me that Democracy is safe: In retirement, I have volunteered side-by-side and audited classes with students at the nearby State university for a decade. I listen and engage. They are informed, concerned, and aware.
Much of my hope lies with Gen Z. They are engaged. They are organizing. They are passionate about the future for themselves and the world. They have seen so much ugliness but it has spurred them to action instead of despair. Boomers had that energy once but too many of us sold out. However, the rest of us are supporting these kids in every way possible.
> Who or what gives you hope for democracy?
The absolute biggest inducement is the sheer horror of the alternative. To be honest, not as 100% as stark as failing to address climate change, but terrifying nevertheless. Then again, I'm also sure that if democracy in the USA is not addressed, then neither will climate change. We live in terrifying times.
Good morning, Steven. A history teacher in junior high school had the class memorize the words to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and be prepared to recite it in class. I still know every word and now more than then realize it’s importance. It helped me understand who Lincoln was (is). History was my least liked subject all through school. But for some reason I eagerly memorized Lincoln’s words.
As a life-long reader of history - mostly American History - I am aware of other periods when our country appeared to be on the verge of a serious collapse. Obviously, the Civil War was the most momentous of times, but we have had others where significant portions of our countrymen waivered from democracy. In the 1920's, the KKK gained s significant foothold in our society, winning over white supremacist's when whites were still in the majority, threatening rule by a theocracy not unlike today. Then there was McCarthyism in the 1950's when many of the same group of far right wingnuts tried to overthrow the country through the scare of Communism, using the same conspiracy theories as the Klan did designed to scare the American people into something they weren't sure what to call it.
So, we have been there before and we have come out of these strange times stronger. But, we must always remain vigilant and aware that the main idea that won over these miscreants was nothing but the truth - ma'm - nothing but the truth (I just aged myself - how many remember Sergeant Friday?). Liars figure but figures don't lie. When you tell the truth, you never need to cover up.
I lived in a former Communist country for 20 years (returned back to US w COVID) and saw what dictatorships and power-mad people and governments can do. The impact lasts for decades.
When I saw our country beginning to fall in that direction in 2018, and saw it was part of a global trend (eg, Hungary, Brazil, Moldova, Serbia, etc), I had the wind knocked out of me . Yet, GA has renewed my feeling of + excitement and hope. Senator Rev Warnock started my hope when he was elected and re-elected, and Stacy Abrams greatly surprised me. The charges and indictments in GA, NY, FL, DC and (hopefully) other places have put a bounce back into my step. Thank goodness for these careful and brave Prosecutors and for the fair judges (so far--except FL).
The Rule of Law has to hold us and our country together.
Vermont's Town Halls. Greenwich Ct Town Mtgs. Back benches in the House of R who vote rationally but are not back benches. Elem and High Sch history teachers who study original documents. And people like you devoted to enlightenment, perspective and dialogue!!!
Is goodness "real"? Is goodness "practical"? Is goodness inherently "American"?
Lincoln thought the answer was Yes.
We experience good, kind, courteous behavior every day--interacting with each other on a respectful basis. The Golden Rule is golden because it works in the real world. The minority of humans who treat others with disrespect quickly fail, in their career or their business.
Can America be transformed by DJT into a hating, disrespectful society, with citizens emulating his horrible example? No way. When we check out at the grocery store, if the clerk is rude we don't go back. And the company fails. Trump's denegrating, hateful, outrageous behavior doesn't work in the real world. Bent individuals like him can't win against the common courtesy that we happily grant to each other. Courtesy and kindness are self-sustaining. Hate is self-defeating.
Re-reading CS Lewis' "That Hideous Strength" gives me hope for America. He reminds us of the asymmetry of the superior power of good over the seeming power of evil. The bluster of evil can win some battles along the way. The bent ones are loud and bullying and rude. Ultimately they are weak and must be defeated. The fighters for good must never stop. We must be "dedicated to the unfinished work" so the America we love "shall not perish from the Earth."
People like you, Steven, reminding us of our history and who we are, give me hope for Democracy.
The other people on Threads stomping out disinformation everyday give me hope.
The many intelligent people and writers on Substack fighting the good fight everyday, give me hope.
My son, Gen X, pledging to vote for Joe Biden gives me hope.
Our whole community being committed to Democracy gives me hope 💙💙💙
I have hope because I (and all of us) STILL have access to important tools to strengthen our democracy - among them voting, freedom of speech, access to decision makers, and public education. Yes, I know there are very real threats. It's our job as citizens to mitigate those threats so that more of us value, fully realize and use the tools now and going forward.
Like many others during 2016-2020 I experienced vacillating stages of grief. I did not have the full context of American history that reveals how our democracy eroded to the point that a fascistic strong man could rise to power... and this ignorance contributed to my powerlessness and anger! I had marched, protested, etc. and (perhaps arrogantly) considered many of the battles fought and won.
Thanks to historians including this substack writer and Heather Cox Richardson, along with other voices- Joyce Vance, Neal Katyal, Simon Rosenberg, and Jeff Kuo to name a few-I could educate myself, understand why we are here, and consider what to do about it.
Make no mistake, I very much resent having to take up arms after more than seven decades on the planet! However, I am preparing to do so. I'm formulating a plan for my engagement in 2024. Looking at the environment from the perspective of local, regional, statewide, and national politics, I'm making conscious decisions about where to place my resources. This means developing goals, objectives, and strategies. What are the groups with which I'll interact and the supportive actions I'll take? In my professional life I often remarked that "planning is the illusion of control" (and it is), but planning is also my way of empowering myself. So another answer to the above question is that my own sense of agency gives me hope for our democracy! I pray that this substack's fellow readers will find a way to take on the struggle that works for them. We have a big year ahead.
Ultimately, I've come to appreciate that ALL OF THIS is part of living out our amazing experiment in governing ourselves- the fight is real and the final results are not guaranteed. To make it work we must do the work.
The younger generation becoming politically active and taking more seriously the threat to our country than so many others. The so called “independents” supporting women’s health and reproductive in Kansas, Ohio. We see this in Georgia, with two D senators!
I have always felt that The Gettysburg Address is the closest we come to a secular prayer in the United States. It gives me strength and hope that whatever happens, our democracy will survive - regardless of any tinpot dictator demagoguery.
At the car shop yesterday, I was killing time reading on an old red bench that had seen better days when this older Black gentleman sat down across from me. He was all neat and tidy, with his cap that said he'd been in Vietnam. I've got a lot of family who've been in the military, so seeing him there, just sitting and not saying much, felt kind of familiar. I broke the ice and asked him about his time in 'Nam. Turned out he did three tours. I thanked him for his service. He kind of looked down and then back up, and said it meant a lot. He mentioned folks didn't get much thanks when they got back from that war.
I placed my hand on his shoulder as I was leaving. He grasped my hand, squeezed it. I walked on out the door.
I've read all of the beautiful comments and agree, so I will try not to be my usual verbose self.
What gives me hope for our democracy? Our right to vote, and our exercising that vote. Last Tuesday demonstrates what can be accomplished when voters who care about our rights and our democracy go to the polls. As a Virginian, I'm thrilled to see Glenn Youngkin's plans thwarted by the entire state legislature having been turned blue.
What gives me even more hope is that even in this time of adversity, we still have dedicated volunteers manning our polls. Last Tuesday, every poll worker at our local precinct was a retiree, proud to be doing their part. Here and in other parts of the country, grassroots organizations worked hard to get the word out, knocking on doors, making calls, sending postcards—to ensure voters are informed and go to the polls. This is how we protect our democracy from what Trump, and worse—Project 2025—plan for our country. Working together to keep this country's grand experiment safe and thriving. This is the great hope I have for our country now, when we vote November 2024, and beyond.
What gives me hope? Good people. There are a lot of us who do not want democracy to die. Dr. Morgaan Sinclair's comment gives me hope. All the people standing firm against trump and his merry band of fascists gives me hope. I have to hope. I don't see any alternative.
One of my first reads every morning is Heather Cox Richardson’s posts here on Substack. And I’m now reading her new book Democracy Awakening. She constantly reminds us of where we’ve been and why we’re here.
I enjoy Lincoln’s second inaugural address, especially the closing paragraph. With malice towards none and charity for all...
I would have hoped that Johnson would have embraced such a philosophy. The only way we as a nation will come together is to follow those simple words.
I don’t think the American people want to give up democracy.
There are several things that give me at least some hope for the future of democracy here. First are the young people that are the ages of my great-niece and great-nephew (12 and almost 18). My great-nephew recently completed his project to receive his Eagle Scout designation and I see his concern for those coming after him with his involvement in younger Scouts in his area.
The second thing is my fellow volunteers at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank - retirees, high school groups and employees of various companies - coming together to help those in the area served by the GCFB have access to good food and other things they might need to help them get through what may be a tough time for them.
The third thing that gives me hope are the voters of the State of Ohio who have fought back against the radical (and gerrymandered) Republican super-majorities in the state legislature to enshrine women's reproductive rights in the State Constitution. Even after the 13% margin of victory last week for the amendment, Republican state lawmakers are trying to find ways to limit the effect. There is no end to their underhandedness.
If I had to pick put a single person or group, it would be Taylor Swift, her Swifties, and their generation. The huge response to her entreaty for voter registration should have brought a smile to all of our faces.
Yes, I see the anti-semetic incidents that have taken place on some of our campuses. Yes, I see other abuses perpetrated by a few young people, but I also see their determination to keep our planet and our society fit to live in.
I hold myself responsible in part for our current state of affairs. Like many others of my Boomer generation, I left my 1960s passion behind for a 60-100 hour work week in the drive to "suceed". That and personal responsibilities left little energy or attention to note or address the atrophy that was taking place in our society or the right wing anti-democratic monster that was growing in our midst.
Call me a cockeyed optomist, but I don't believe this generation will fall into the same mire.
I agree that Lincoln is our greatest President. His speech still inspires us. I've visited his memorial in D.C. and felt like I was in a cathedral of democracy. Today, I think Biden is an inspiration for democracy and social justice. I loved it when he joined the UAW picket line, something no other president has done (or seriously considered, I'd guess). He understands the needs of the people, and the importance of keeping this a self-governing country.
Good morning Steven, and thank you.
I have this indelible belief that each one of us has an intuitive moral compass.
Of course we may lose sight of it along the different choices we make as we go along. Still we are all alike. It takes courage to use that moral compass again, but it happens. Donald Trump has now had many followers who stopped following him.
The courage of so many involved, such as Jack Smith, and his team, so many people we shall never know, this is so inspiring.
There was a curious little meme on Twitter which said, “ I am all alone, what can I do ? ...so said 7 billion people.” You just realize it is easier than we think.
The deeds of Franklin Delano Roosevelt with the majority of his legislation aimed at improving the lives of the lower financial half of our population have always had my admiration. From initiatives like Social Security to the Civilian Conservation Corps he made sure that Democracy benefited everyone. President Biden needs to inspire that same portion of the USA and only has a little less than 12 months to do it. His Infrastructure legislation and his financial aid package to the micro chip industry will not be felt to any degree by the “common” man/woman for many years. The President is behind the 8 ball not having Democratic control of the House but he has got to find ways of trying to assist those that need the most help.
Concur with all these. I see focus and determination in the eyes of young people. I’m grateful and support it.
Investigative journalists. My neighbors. My daughter, more than anything, except the whole cosmos, of course...
My father was too young for WW I, too old for WW II. He grew up on a farm, but his mother had been a teacher from age 16, allowed back then. She taught at a time when the classics and philosophers were revered , words of wisdom learned and practiced. Although PopPop wanted him to take over the farm, Grandmother's strong German will presided, and my father rec'd BA & MA in History at Penn State, much to her pride. He became superintendent and teacher of history in the small town of Blanchard, PA. during the war and became the influence and mentor of the fight for democracy to the many boys who were called to serve, visiting their families, attending their funerals. I have pictures of him helping his "kids" collecting and loading on trucks, rubber tires. I also have a few unused ration cards for gas for his '41 Chevy.His patriotism rubbed off on my brother who, upon graduation from college, entered the Air Force, went to officers' training, instructed many who were sent to Korea. Dad had a heart attack, brother came home through the Red Cross, and fortunately, death was turned away, but Father truly believed God had given him that trouble to save his son whose unit was called to Korea while he was home, probably saving his life. The bond between the two was so strong that brother entered Emory University seminary , then reentered the service as a life long chaplain and in turn, administered to those who returned injured and prayed with families of those who had suffered the onslaught of Chinese troops and given their lives. As a little girl, my father took me to Gettysburg where I saw the battlefields and watched the movies that showed the movement of soldiers in the battles that had taken place. Family influence continued, and I, in turn rec'd BA & MA in History and taught same . So often, history is taught only through wars, presidents and dates. Since I have always been a reader, I tried to incorporate the more interesting parts of our nation's history. Every year I did a section on Lincoln, Mary, the death of their sons, his trials and tribulations, the effect his death had on the nation. On occasion, Hollywood made movies about WW II, and sometimes, I would take a whole class on a Saturday afternoon to see one.
As there has been tension in the Middle East ever since Britain gave up possession for the creation of Israel, I always lived in fear of my son being called, as his generation had to sign up for the draft at age 18. Fortunately, no one went anywhere. But now, I know how so many mothers must be worried for their children as that war seems to be coming to pass to include our country.
How alarming it is to have a donald trump wishing to be again, president of this great, democratic country whose sons and daughters have sacrificed to maintain it and others. With Sir Bone Spurs calling our soldiers losers, suckers and worshiping dictators throughout this earth, I can only pray that he is passed over and America will continue to be the light of the world
The rule of law and our beautiful (if imperfect) Constitution, for starters.
Tanya Chutkin, Fani Willis, Letitia James, Marc Elias, Glenn Kirschner, the Meiselas Brothers, my wife.
The husband and wife team of digital creators at Eleven_films give me hope and everything Morgan Sinclair said!
My huge family clearly understands the current threat to democracy and young middle and old are all staying informed and engaged. I am the matriarch and I trust them to Vote Blue!
YOU give me hope!
Wish I had time to read but I take care of my elderly parents and only have time to listen as I run around completing tasks.
I do hope that my cousin did not die in vain. His LST was torpedoed just as they had completed a delivery mission. LST (695) was departing San Pedro Bay in the Leyete Gulf, Philippines, when struck. But, today, with a growing fascist movement in our government ... I have a growing concern.
Thinkers and writers like you give me hope. My children give me hope, because I talk with them about liberalism, democracy, and our country. They know how I feel and I hope that carries them and moves them to act on their own thoughts aided by the people who speak far more eloquently than I do on the subjects listed. I am both angry and hopeful. This democracy is important to the world and we are responsible for our democracy.
Thank you, Steven, for asking this question. Until I read the comments, I didn't have an answer. I'm going to be rereading these comments over and over during the next year.
Marc Elias who has secured the right to vote for millions of Americans and has done more for voting rights than any single person in the last 3 decades. If we lose the right to vote we lose everything and nothing else matters....not gun safety, not climate change, not social security/medicare, not the right to chose.....none of that matters if we lose the right to vote and have our votes count. Because no other issue will be addressed by Fascist Authoritarianism.
You Steven, your perseverance in optimism, and the wisdom of Heather Cox Richardson, Joyce Vance and Robert Reich, and Judd Ludlum.Helping us to sort out the larger picture. Keeping us grounded, centered in history and the wisdom of our founders. Sorting out the justice system as Jack Smith and the appointed judges move us slowly toward the proof we are a nation of laws and all are innocent until proven guilty in a court of laws. Finally, President Biden and his weathered wisdom and international negotiating skills, and his hand chosen assistants at work 24/7 for democratic values and returning power to the people.