Democrats, however, also need to address a crisis bubbling below the surface: the sense that the country is being ripped apart, that red and blue America are alienated from each other, and that America’s higher moral purpose is being shredded by the divisive tenor of the national debate.
Read: What’s wrong with the Democrats?
At a moment when Americans are in search of a spiritual reawakening, we need to avoid the temptation to speak to voters only in a single dimension. The Democratic Party should offer a vision of citizenship that contrasts with Trump’s celebration of hedonistic consumerism. We should call on the nation’s sense of deep-seated patriotism to rebut his ugly nationalism. We must champion a spirit of unity and purpose that counteracts his self-serving schemes to pit one community against the next.
We can begin by issuing a simple but powerful call: a policy that requires all 18-year-olds to give at least six months of their life to national service. People from different walks of life, with different backgrounds, would serve with one another as a rite of passage. Once young adults graduate high school or reach college age, they would join the military, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or some other service-oriented organization.
Some may recoil at the prospect of having to contribute anything more than they already do. But the Democratic Party’s greatest heroes have not simply extended the social safety net. Their success was born out of the nation’s desire to share in America’s mission to rid the world of tyranny. To beat back the specter of communism. To share the benefits of liberal democracy and free enterprise with societies mired in poverty and dysfunction.
Many may remember Franklin D. Roosevelt primarily for championing the New Deal. But when fascists rose up to threaten the free world, FDR inspired Americans to sacrifice in service to “the arsenal of democracy.” And it was that sense of shared purpose that most defined the character of the members of what came to be known as the Greatest Generation, including Roosevelt’s eventual successor, John F. Kennedy.
JFK, in turn, is often remembered for the famous line he delivered in his 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” And that rhetorical flourish became a central theme of his administration. In 1961, he established the Peace Corps, a program that has since given 235,000 Americans the opportunity to extend America’s helping hand around the globe.
Read: The legacy of John F. Kennedy
Subsequent Democratic leaders have thrived when calling on that same spirit of service. Few accomplishments were more meaningful to President Bill Clinton than establishing AmeriCorps, envisioned as a domestic version of the Peace Corps, through which more than a million Americans have now served their own (and often neighboring) communities. President Barack Obama beamed in 2009 while signing a vast expansion of the nation’s service programs two months after assuming office. (The bill was named for JFK’s brother Senator Ted Kennedy.)