Rekindling the Flame

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At its best, the American idea has inspired the world with the universal hope of equal liberty, personal dignity, and communal possibility. At its worst, it has degenerated into a specter of domination and duplicity, shockingly willing to replace competence and public spirit with patronage and self-dealing.

The last seven years have seen the dimming of the light of the American idea at home and abroad, and the trashing of the Constitution that for two centuries had kept temptations of power in check—temptations most dangerous when driven by false certitudes of fanaticism.

Our greatest national challenge is to reverse the profoundly misguided course the last two presidential elections have set, while doing three things:

First, protecting the American people from attacks by foes who think they have nothing to lose and God’s glory to gain through suicidal missions of mass destruction;

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The American Idea
Scholars, novelists, politicians, artists, and others look ahead to the future of the American idea.

Second, insisting on government that genuinely grapples with problems and confronts their complexity while repudiating government by image and spin; and

Third, cooperating with the international community before it is too late to restore the degraded health of our fragile planet and to protect the well-being of all its inhabitants.

There is still time to revive the sources of our greatness: to replace obsessive secrecy with transparency and hubris with humility; and to reject the arrogant pretensions of an executive branch that acts as though “checks and balances” were an empty slogan, and that recklessly wields military power while keeping its doings and their human cost opaque to all.

Only by rededicating our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to the idea that defines who we once were can we hope to rekindle the flame—and, in so doing, to reclaim the future.

Laurence H. Tribe, the Carl. M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard Law School, is the author of many books, including American Constitutional Law, and has argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court. Carolyn K. Tribe is a policy analyst and linguist who has launched and run many public-service programs.
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