U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC, July 29, 2009 — NLE’09 in the FEMA Sim Center. FEMA/Bill Koplitz


This is a dark moment. This is a time of celebration. 

Our country suffers under the acute weight of a deadly plague made unnecessarily lethal and divisive by profound ineptitude, laziness and vengefulness. Tomorrow we will replace incompetence and sloth with energy and skill.

We bear the burden of an economy torn apart by a coldhearted ignorance and malice toward those in need. Tomorrow we will elevate the value of expertise and rediscover empathy.

We face an existential climate crisis ignored for greed and exacerbated by magical thinking. Tomorrow we will reclaim the importance of science and reason.

For four years we have been ground down by a bully’s wrath. Tomorrow we will restore compassion.

We have been steeped in lies so total that they have led to violence in the name of keeping a fake promise to honor a false god. Our capitol has been defiled. Tomorrow begins the hard work of repair and reclamation.

We are divided by what we believe is real and have been immobilized by a corrupt leader willing to imprison a nation so that he can remain free. Tomorrow he will be extracted from power and lose his legal shield. He will leave. But he will leave us without an obvious way to talk to each other or reason with each other.

He will leave us on the cusp of a reckoning with injustices of his making and with injustices that he did not create. He will leave us to face a racial awakening that he exploited for his own power and that is and always has been the driving force behind the fear and anger of those he empowered.

But he leaves us with clarity about our future, and that is a gift. The crossroads are now plainly in sight: we can embrace autocracy to preserve a dying power structure or we can reinvent ourselves as a multicultural democracy. It is a stark choice between two nations we have never been. There are no other options, no half measures left, no returning to an idealized past – and that is terrifying. It is terrifying to realize that the only way to avoid becoming something less is by becoming something more.

Having been to the brink we should be able to find resolve, for we have been presented with something that others who have walked this far down the path of darkness never get. We have an opportunity. An opportunity to reset the terms of the debate. An opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the long march of gradual and imperfect progress that will never seem to reach where it needs to go but where each step takes us further from the abyss.

From here in the darkness, we must embrace that opportunity. We should celebrate that opportunity.

Tomorrow we will inaugurate new leaders in a militarized city who understand that a free people cannot survive under the watch of armed guards. Their burden will be to find a way for us to walk freely again. A way to heal the sick, elevate the suffering, reach across the divide and repair the damage done by the insurrectionists, their leader and his enablers. To find a path to civil society – not a path back to where we were but an incomplete and uncertain path to where we have never been, to the fulfillment of the words of founders who wrote of human dignity but created institutions that enslave.

Tomorrow the darkness will meet enlightenment and we will have one chance, perhaps one last chance, to get it right.