Here is how my life was going to go.
I was going to graduate from the College. I was going to serve a tour in the Army doing civil affairs work to pay back the debt that I owe this country. Then I was going to become a professor or a politician or a lawyer. I was going to marry a great woman and have a few kids. I would have an ordinary life, and I would thank God for it.
That was before Election Day.
You probably had a similar plan: graduate, make some money, maybe start a family, give back to your community. You didn’t plan on getting in the middle of a war, or on fleeing a natural disaster, or on being drafted into a fight for the soul of Western civilization. You, too, probably counted on having an ordinary life.
But that was before Election Day.
Let’s be clear, it wasn’t just the election. Donald Trump’s victory was only the latest act in a global tragedy that continues to unfold. Last year, in France, the far-right National Front ran on a platform of racist Islamophobia, and it took more votes in the first-round regional elections than either major party. This year, in Britain, citizens backed the Brexit referendum that will hurt their economy in the name of national purity. Next month, in Austria, the extremely conservative Freedom Party could win the presidency. Australia is sending refugees to offshore immigration detention facilities where inmates have sewn their own lips together in protest.
Last Tuesday, an amoral monster became the most powerful man on Earth.
We are facing an ethical crisis. All over the Western world, citizens are turning their backs on each other and on the wider world, heaping scorn upon empathy and idealism and turning minorities from neighbors into scapegoats. Everywhere we look, we see our core values — liberty, responsibility, justice and love — under terrible threat. Those values are the foundation of any democratic society. Before our very eyes, they are crumbling with terrifying swiftness and with potentially devastating consequences because no republic can survive without the values that sustain it. Our democracy itself is under threat.
Our response to this threat must be twofold. First, we must all now become practical politicians. There are just over sixty days left until Donald Trump takes the oath of office. At that time, our federal government will be entirely in the hands of the Republican Party. In order to oppose the goals of the ultra-conservatives, liberals will have to find a common cause with moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats. We on this campus will have to set aside ideological purity and work as one element of a coordinated national effort and a larger political organization. We have powerful weapons: the free press, the Internet, social networks, alumni networks, our words, our actions, our bodies and our lives. We cannot succeed on our own, and the consequences of defeat have become unthinkable. So we must build the largest and most powerful coalition possible because the stakes are now too high for any of us to fight alone.
As important as that is, it is insufficient in the face of an international crisis. Around the globe, the moral foundations of liberal democracy are disintegrating, and practical politics will not save them. The only way to bring liberty, responsibility, justice and love back to the center of our national life is for us to live each and every day with those values first and foremost in our minds. In the midst of catastrophe, we must devote ourselves to this higher purpose.
There is no such thing as an ordinary life in a time of extraordinary danger. Election Day marked the end of ordinary, and now the world needs us to be extraordinary. Only an extraordinary commitment to liberty and justice can turn back the specter of tyranny that now stalks our nation’s soul. Only an extraordinary sense of responsibility and sacrifice can meet the consuming selfishness that threatens our world. And only extraordinary love can defeat the ravenous hate that has been unleashed into our lives.
The challenge before us is awesome, but so is the power that dwells in each of us. Today, our fearful and tormented world is calling upon us to lead extraordinary lives. In this moment, and in all the years to come, let us answer.
Benjamin Williams ’18 is a history major from Bloomington, Ind. He lives in Agard.