In honor of our Republic, if we can keep it

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Steve Rothman
The Record (New Jersey)

November 12, 2016

Our country is a work in progress.

But that has always been the case with America.

In the 1800s, abolitionist Wendell Phillips said there is no guarantee, absent the watchfulness, hard work and insistence of a thoughtful people, that our experiment in freedom and self-government will continue successfully.

In 1787, outside the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a fearful patriot asked Benjamin Franklin about our new country’s future. Specifically, Franklin was asked what had transpired in the secret deliberations that determined whether our new government was to be of a democratic or monarchial nature.

He replied: “A republic, if we can keep it.”


These and many other concerns confront the half of American voters who did not vote for Donald Trump on Nov. 8, and many more of those who did.

Can our new U.S. president, Donald Trump, govern well our diverse and great nation of recent and longer-established immigrants?

Can he successfully lead the strongest economic, military and democratic power the world has ever known?

Can he do so with the grace, intelligence and strength that is so desperately needed, after he has run a campaign built on race-fear, vulgarity and ignorance of basic facts about the world, our military and our people?

While there will be months if not years of analysis and speculation as to how he could have pulled off this victory, that so many on both sides of the political aisle never thought possible, it appears now that his win was indisputable. We congratulate him.

We pray that President Trump will surround himself with men and women of good character, experience and ability. We hope they will be diverse in background and knowledge. After all, we live in a country comprised of citizens of many social circumstances, skills and life experiences. We also live in a varied and complex world, filled with powerful friends and enemies.

While it is the president’s prerogative to place in positions of power and influence alongside him those he trusts, many of us hope that he will reach beyond and perhaps leave behind Steve Bannon, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Sarah Palin, to name a few. After all, these are divisive figures who do not meet most Americans’ criteria for our best and brightest.

I’ve heard argued that there must be something worth admiring and trusting in a man, like our new president-elect, who defied all political wisdom, galvanized an electoral majority and defeated one of the most well-funded, though greatly flawed candidates, to win the right to lead the world’s greatest democracy. They say all will be fine. Let us pray that is so.

Still, I know the worry so many Muslim-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, women who have been sexually harassed, former U.S. prisoners of war, former generals, servicemen and women in harm’s way, former Trump business associates, and many of the rest of us feel today.

We do have a system of checks and balances. But the electorate’s decision to give this new president a House and Senate of his own party, who will be filling vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court and in our military and economic command, certainly gives one pause — not because it is one party rule per se, but because of the completely unknown policy trajectory of our new national chief. After all, while he is a longtime public figure, he is new to policymaking.

And so we wish President Trump and his family well. We hope and expect that people of good will and intelligence who are already in place in our government and military, those whom President Trump will appoint, and each and every American, will work hard to ensure that our beloved country will not be taken in a harmful direction.

Today we have a successful, though imperfect, democracy that has the ability to keep improving.

Eternal vigilance, as Benjamin Franklin and Wendell Phillips would say, remains the price of liberty.

Steven R. Rothman is a former Democratic congressman from New Jersey’s District 9.