It is far too early to tell whether this election “cast doubt on the entire system of democracy,” or — as several alumni I have been in touch with have told me, though apparently missing as a point of view on this panel — is a cause for national celebration. To be clear, I personally was shocked and horrified that someone who doesn’t even seem to care about truth or facts was elected President. But: What happens going forward depends on all of us taking our responsibility as citizens seriously, starting with far more mutual respect, and genuine interest in understanding those who differ from us, than either side has recently exhibited. (I’m no longer interested in which side has been worse.) I truly believe that, not far below today’s intensely-polarized divisions, a large majority of Americans share a deep commitment to fundamental American values than we currently realize — the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution and Bill of Rights (including the 1st and 14th amendments, not just the 2nd); Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural; and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I have read and re-read and re-read the latter, and I honestly cannot find a single sentence that the vast majority of people who voted for Donald Trump would have any good reason not to embrace. What if Princeton and other schools across the country celebrated MLK Day 2017 — just 4 days before Inauguration Day — as a National Day of Dialogue, hosting/promoting mutually respectful conversations about what each of us believes has been most essential to American greatness in the past, and is most essential for our shared future? If each of those discussions could truly welcome a wide range of responsible views, and if each could model sincere efforts to respect and understand those who differ before engaging in any rebuttals, then maybe this election will have catalyzed a renewal of the kind of civic dialogue we are currently so badly lacking.
In Response to: Panel: Much at Stake, Much Uncertain as Trump Takes Office