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A clarion call from 13 presidential centers; save our democracy

September 17, 2023

By Mike Weland

In an unprecedented cry of warning, 13 of the 14 U.S. Presidential Centers earlier this month issued a joint statement calling on the nation to reaffirm its embrace of the principals of our democratic republic as enunciated in the founding documents that established our nation's form of governance, that we return to civility and honesty in our governmental discourse, and to restore trust in public service.

"The George W. Bush Presidential Center is joined by fellow presidential centers and foundations to reaffirm our commitment to the democratic values on which this country was founded, wrote David J. Kramer, Executive Director of the George W. Bush Institute in introducing the statement. "As we constantly strive toward a more perfect union, it is important to recognize inherent human dignity, foster conditions for liberty, advance equality, and promote the general welfare of the United States.  When united by our founding ideals, Americans should reaffirm the importance of democratic values, civic responsibility, civility, and a pluralistic society."

Only directors of the Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas, didn't sign, issuing instead a statement, “The Eisenhower Foundation has respectfully declined to sign this statement. It would be the first common statement that the presidential centers and foundations have ever issued as a group, but we have had no collective discussion about it, only an invitation to sign.”

While not naming names or pointing fingers, the unprecedented clarion call comes at a time when a faction of the government, declaring itself "conservative," calls liberals, Democrats, mainstream media and immigrants enemies of the state, whose representatives in both state and federal legislatures have actively attempted to curtail voter participation, to stifle dissenting voices, to ban books, curtail rights to bodily autonomy, to deny basic human rights to those citizens it proclaims deviant. That promotes on multiple fronts the establishment of white Christian nationalism, that fights a war on "woke" and other imaginary "threats" rather than do the honest and essential work of governance.

“I think there’s great concern about the state of our democracy at this time,” said Mark Updegrove, president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation, which supports the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. “We don’t have to go much farther than January 6 to realize that we are in a perilous state.”

A democracy in which the catalyst of the radical right ascension, twice impeached, soundly defeated former president Donald J. Trump, the only one-time U.S. president to be indicted on felony charges; 91 counts in four jurisdictions, the sole former president to be found guilty of defamation and sexual abuse, stands today as undisputed front runner of the party he so debased to be its nominee for president in 2024.

It's a well timed cry for sanity, for clarity, as Trump has already promised a reign of terror if he is elected again, and his faction of the U.S. legislature promises to continue abdicating its responsibility to stand as a bulwark against an autocratic executive. He promises, and they promise to let him, "be our retribution," because "they aren't coming after me, they're coming after you! I'm just standing in the way." Another verifiable lie.

In his first term, Trump gutted common sense environmental regulations and so enabled wealthy corporations to amass record profit. He didn't "take a salary," but he fleeced our government and its citizens and accepted prohibited emoluments from enough foreign governments to stave off another bankruptcy. To this day, he fleeces his donors.

If elected again, he promises to dismantle the departments of our government whose public servants stand to defend the interests of the people they serve, the Department of Justice he once professed to admire until his attorney general and long-time sycophant, Bill Barr, who could finally no longer abide the hypocrisy, told him his wild conjectures were "bullshit," to his once vaunted FBI, an agency he praised until their investigation turned to him.

This nation doesn't need retribution. It needs instead the courage and fortitude to stand for up decency, for democracy, for trust, for the precepts envisioned by the founders; that all men are created equal, that we ever work to set aside our enmities and overcome our iniquities and work together to form a more perfect union. We don't have to be friends with those we disagree, don't have the right to demand they comport with our beliefs, our morals, nor the ability to impose same on others who don't share them.

But we do have the ability to rise above, to learn to appreciate divergent points of view, diversity. To hold in check our propensity to insist on our own beliefs and biases and so enable us to learn and appreciate the beliefs and biases of those who are our neighbors, our fellow citizens.

Our nation's founding documents didn't just establish an ideal of governance for our nation, it set for us a task, 225 years ago, to prove that governments of the people, by the people and for the people could be instituted among men, and overcome our most base instincts of clan supremacy, of needing enemies. A form of government that serve all men, of all nations, well.

In ancient Greece, Plato concluded that democracy risks bringing dictators, tyrants, and demagogues to power. That authoritarians, even fascists, would always arise to take over.

At present, not only in the United States, but in nations around the world, Plato's prediction is playing out. The left is blamed, but what are they doing? Nothing but being scapegoats of a faction adept at lies, at propaganda, at blaming the "opposition" of that which they themselves are guilty. Of fomenting division, inflicting unwarranted hate, eliciting imaginary boogeymen to dread where none exist while ignoring those that do.

This nation stands again on a precipice. May we stand up and heed the warning of officials from 13 presidential centers, below:
The unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, are principles that bind us together as Americans. They have enabled the United States to strive toward a more perfect union, even when we have not always lived up to those ideals.

As a diverse nation of people with different backgrounds and beliefs, democracy holds us together. We are a country rooted in the rule of law, where the protection of the rights of all people is paramount. At the same time, we live among our fellow citizens, underscoring the importance of compassion, tolerance, pluralism, and respect for others.

We, the undersigned, represent a wide range of views across a breadth of issues. We recognize that these views can exist peaceably side by side when rooted in the principles of democracy. Debate and disagreement are central features in a healthy democracy. Civility and respect in political discourse, whether in an election year or otherwise, are essential.

Americans have a strong interest in supporting democratic movements and respect for human rights around the world because free societies elsewhere contribute to our own security and prosperity here at home. But that interest is undermined when others see our own house in disarray. The world will not wait for us to address our problems, so we must both continue to strive toward a more perfect union and help those abroad looking for U.S. leadership.

Each of us has a role to play and responsibilities to uphold. Our elected officials must lead by example and govern effectively in ways that deliver for the American people. This, in turn, will help to restore trust in public service. The rest of us must engage in civil dialogue; respect democratic institutions and rights; uphold safe, secure, and accessible elections; and contribute to local, state, or national improvement.

By signing this statement, we reaffirm our commitment to the principles of democracy undergirding this great nation, protecting our freedom, and respecting our fellow citizens. When united by these convictions, America is stronger as a country and an inspiration for others.
Obama Foundation
George W. Bush Presidential Center
Clinton Foundation
George & Barbara Bush Foundation
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute
The Carter Center
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation
Richard Nixon Foundation
LBJ Foundation
John F. Kennedy Library Foundation
Truman Library Institute
Roosevelt Institute
Hoover Presidential Foundation

Questions or Comments? Send us an email!

Mike Weland, Publisher

6931 Main St.
P.O. Box 1625
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(208) 295-1016

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