— Barack Obama 44th President of the United States of America 1961
2013, Commencement Address at Ohio State University (May 2013)
Context: That’s precisely what the founders left us: the power to adapt to changing times. They left us the keys to a system of self-government – the tool to do big and important things together that we could not possibly do alone. To stretch railroads and electricity and a highway system across a sprawling continent. To educate our people with a system of public schools and land grant colleges, including Ohio State. To care for the sick and the vulnerable, and provide a basic level of protection from falling into abject poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth. To conquer fascism and disease; to visit the Moon and Mars; to gradually secure our God-given rights for all our citizens, regardless of who they are, what they look like, or who they love.
We, the people, chose to do these things together. Because we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition.
Still, you’ll hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.
We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems, nor do we want it to. But we don’t think the government is the source of all our problems, either. Because we understand that this democracy is ours. As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government.
The founders trusted us with this awesome authority. We should trust ourselves with it, too. Because when we don’t, when we turn away and get discouraged and abdicate that authority, we grant our silent consent to someone who’ll gladly claim it.