Televised presidential speeches from the Oval Office have almost always been used to calm our fears in the gravest moments of danger or disaster, or to grieve with us over a national tragedy, or, in two historical instances, to announce the end of their presidencies.
Not many of us old enough will ever forget that October night in 1962 when President John. F. Kennedy alerted the nation of the Cuban missile crisis, and ended with these words:
“Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right—not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.”
Or Richard Nixon announcing his resignation: “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body.”
Or Lyndon Johnson saying, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”
Or Ronald Reagan, who delivered 34 Oval Office speeches, more than any president, after the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion: ”Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core over the tragedy.”
Or George W. Bush after the 9-11 terrorist attacks: “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundations of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.
Or Barack Obama following the terrorist attack in San Bernardino: “I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures, but the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies — no matter how effective they are — cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do — and must do — is make it harder for them to kill.”
Then there was President Trump’s Oval Office speech on every network available, essentially nine minutes of re-purposed tweets on immigration and the evils of those who want to come to America.
What if he had used those nine minutes, or even a portion of them, to convey a different message, one that reminded us of what binds us rather than what separates us, reminded us to help those, as the song says, who are walking on the boulevard of broken dreams?
What if he had taken the opportunity to inspire us and lead us to diminish the waves of anger that divide us, to replace greed with selflessness, arrogance with humility?
What if he had reminded us that we are Americans, but that we are also part of a beautiful mosaic of people from every neighborhood around the globe and we can free ourselves from the fear of others, continually learning from our cultural differences and backgrounds and beliefs?
Yes, we are Americans, and as such we should affirm our faith in a common conviction, a common goal of making our Constitution a living testimony in the pursuit of equality and justice.
We are Americans, and we can, and should, practice the age-old virtues of faith and love, and never surrender the virtue that has always rested in between, hope.
We are Americans, and we have critical problems to solve: Housing and hunger, health care and elder care, education for our children and their children, the quality of our land and air and water, and a repressive social environment that doesn’t allow every man and woman the opportunity to live and love in dignity; and so much more.
Gregory Favre, the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for the McClatchy Company, is a CALmatters board member, [email protected] He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.