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This Is Why We'll Survive

I am an optimist. I think our country is going through a difficult time, but I think we and our system will prevail. I believe this administration will test all of the checks and balances that our Founders built into our constitutional form of government, but I think they will remain intact. Our system allows the pendulum to swing from one side of the political system to the other, as it has many times in our history, but it always returns to center and remains on track.

Three things give me this confidence. One, as I said above, is my belief in the inherent strength and wisdom of the system. The Founders were smart guys with a lot of differences and, above all, a great understanding of human nature. They anticipated the kinds of tensions and strains that might arise, and built a system to tolerate them. It survived a civil war. It survived two impeachments. It survived a president's resignation. It survived two World Wars and a worldwide financial disaster. It will survive Donald Trump.

The second is my belief in the American people's resilience and sense of justice and fair play. We believe in the rule of law. When I've had the privilege of speaking to groups of foreign judges and legal officials on behalf of the U.S. government, I've sometimes had them ask about President Nixon's resignation. "How did you remove a president from office without bringing in the military and having rioting in the streets?" they will ask. Simple, I'll say. We believe in the rule of law. They don't understand what that concept means, but we follow it innately. That's what makes us different, and stronger. I have a cousin by marriage whose family emigrated from South Africa. At a family event I was speaking with some of his uncles who also emigrated and one of them said, "Here's what I love about you Americans. You guys act like you hate each other. Your Democrats fight with your Republicans. Your north fights with your south. You guys from the East Coast fight with us from the West Coast. And the Jews, and the Christians, and the Muslims, and the blacks, and the whites, and the Italians, and the Irish . . . you're all fighting with each other. But if someone from another country messes with one of you . . . you all come together. When one of you is attacked, you all fight back. Because if someone goes after one of you, they got to take on all of you. That's what makes you great!" I don't believe that will ever change.

Third, I believe in the next generation. I think today's young people really get it when it comes to gender roles, and racial stereotypes, and sexual orientation, and religious tolerance, and cultural diversity. It's a simple matter of respect. They respect people as individuals, even though in some ways they may be different from them. It's the Golden Rule in action: Treat others with the same respect that you would like them to treat you. The young generation embraces it. Some day soon our generation will get out of their way and let them lead. I think the world will be better for it.

So here's what I think teachers should include in their history and social studies curricula. I think they should about our government's instruction manual -- the Constitution -- and how it came to be, its inherent elegance and strength, and the people who wrote it, warts and all. Teach about great moments in our history, but teach about the dark moments, too, and the people whose rights were ignored as we built a powerful nation and economic giant. Teach about the diversity and resilience of our people and how each newcomer contributed to our multicultural society. But teach also that each migration into this country generated fears and hostility in some quarters. Give students the historical facts as we know them, but share with them responsible alternative interpretations and equip them with the analytical tools to think critically, interpret facts for themselves, and make their own judgments.

Because with that foundation, I believe children will conclude that while our country's accomplishments far outnumber its shortcomings, we have made mistakes, too. The role of each generation is to learn from its predecessors' mistakes and to do better. With the right context and tools, they will. That really is our best hope for the future, one child at a time.

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