Our Common Purpose


The opportunity to participate fully in our constitutional democracy is, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., the chance to complete ourselves. Our best hope for human fulfillment lies in supporting and nurturing the political system that has been bequeathed to us: our constitutional democracy.

Yet our ties to one another are fragile. The very institutions that should be the instrument of our freedom and the source of our protection appear to fail us. We do not trust them; we do not trust one another. In fear for and anxiety about our own prospects, we turn on one another. We starve our constitutional democracy of the nourishment it needs, closing our hearts to our fellow citizens.

Why should we give our energies to one another again? Not to rebuild the republic as we knew it. Not to restore a golden age. Our public sphere is full of disagreement, in great measure because voices formerly excluded are now in the debate. The clamor and clash of our contests are in this sense a victory. We have made ourselves a bigger people, a more capacious and sometimes contradictory people, and therefore also a more resourceful people. The question now is whether we can find our way to accommodations with one another so that we can birth for ourselves a sense of shared fate.

To develop accommodations with one another, we need functional institutions for our joint decision-making. We can pick up this piece of work now—together. But at the same time, we must also kindle a spirit of mutual responsibility in civic life, a humility that rehumanizes us. Our institutions and our norms will thrive only if we remember that democracy, when it works, is not a battle whose purpose is annihilation of the enemy; it is, if it works, a game of infinite repeat play that includes ever more participants. We must therefore remember how to work together—even with those we might want to demonize or ignore—if we are to achieve the reinvention called for here.

We have no time to waste. Our constitutional democracy is only as strong and resilient as our belief in it. For love of freedom and equality, for love of country, for love of one another, and out of hope for a better future, we need to reclaim our bond. If we turn back toward one another, we can transform our institutions. We can renovate our Constitution. We can elevate our culture. We can at last achieve a true democracy.