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Joint Declaration by U.S. Presidential Centers Highlights Concerns About Democracy’s Fragility

by Lucas Garcia
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The collective voice of 13 presidential libraries, spanning from the era of Herbert Hoover to the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has risen in unison to express growing apprehension about the state of American democracy. Amid deep-seated national polarization, these libraries, foundations, and institutes have issued an unprecedented statement, calling for a reaffirmation of the fundamental principles that underpin the United States’ democratic system, including the rule of law and the importance of respecting diverse beliefs.

Released on Thursday, this joint declaration represents a pivotal moment in history, as it marks the first occasion where these influential institutions have united to make such a public proclamation. At its core, the statement underscores the imperative for Americans to support democratic movements and human rights worldwide, recognizing that free societies beyond U.S. borders significantly contribute to the nation’s security and prosperity.

However, the declaration also highlights a disconcerting reality: when the world observes divisions and turmoil within the United States, it undermines the nation’s influence in promoting democracy elsewhere. Therefore, it emphasizes the critical need for compassion, tolerance, and pluralism within the nation’s discourse, urging citizens to uphold the sanctity of democratic institutions and ensure secure and accessible elections.

While acknowledging that robust debate and disagreement are intrinsic to democracy, the statement subtly alludes to the coarsening of public dialogue during a period where officials and their families have received alarming death threats. It unequivocally calls for civility and respect in political discourse, emphasizing their essential role in the democratic process, whether during election years or otherwise.

The statement refrains from singling out individuals, yet it symbolizes one of the most substantial acknowledgments to date that those associated with the nation’s former presidents harbor deep concerns about the trajectory of the United States. Mark Updegrove, CEO of the LBJ Foundation, underscores this sentiment, stating, “I think there’s great concern about the state of our democracy at this time.” He alludes to the events of January 6th as a stark reminder of the precarious state of the nation.

Of particular significance to the LBJ Foundation is the fight against efforts to suppress or weaken voter turnout. President Lyndon Johnson considered the signing of the Voting Rights Act his proudest legislative accomplishment, and this bipartisan statement reflects a commitment to upholding and expanding these rights.

Signed by a consortium of presidential entities, including the Hoover Presidential Foundation, the Carter Center, and the Obama Presidential Center, among others, this joint declaration stands as a testament to the unity of purpose among these organizations. The Eisenhower Foundation chose not to sign, citing a lack of collective discussion, emphasizing the unique programs each presidential entity has related to democracy.

The driving force behind this collective statement was Daniel Kramer, executive director of the George W. Bush Institute, with the former president’s endorsement. Kramer stressed the importance of sending a positive message about American values, particularly during times of internal division when the world watches closely. It serves as a stark reminder that democracy is a fragile construct that should never be taken for granted.

In conclusion, this joint declaration by U.S. presidential centers resonates as a vital call to action for all Americans to come together, transcending partisan lines, and reaffirm their commitment to the principles that have long served as the bedrock of American democracy. It underscores the gravity of the moment and the imperative for unity in the face of unprecedented challenges.

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