I’ve seen that most of us want the same things: to be safe where we live, secure in our finances and free in our lives.
And, in theory, the promise of America guarantees this: If you work hard, you can do better and dream bigger. That means doing better in ways we can easily quantify — growing our personal savings, buying our first homes and shoring up our retirement accounts. But it also means in less quantifiable ways as well — learning to embrace who we are, having an optimistic outlook for the future, and so on.
However, for too many of us, the promise has been broken.
In northwest Iowa, near my birthplace, I saw collection jars on store counters seeking charity for urgent health care costs — Americans’ lives relying on the kindness of strangers. When my infant daughter was in the intensive care unit, I saw parents comforting sick kids while fretting over the bills; when my toddler son needed a prescription, my wife’s employer-provided insurance allowed us to pay 1/50th of what an uninsured person would pay.
In Boston, I met a mom whose daughter moved back home after college because student loan debt made paying rent impossible, even as her own elderly mother moved in needing care. At 38, and as a fourth-term congressman with two kids, I’m still paying off student debt, too.
In rural New Hampshire, I met people whose opioid addiction took over their lives, derailed their careers and shattered their relationships. A close relative of mine fought that demon for years, and it almost destroyed him. He beat the odds, and I’m thankful for his healthy and happy life today.
In Alabama, I visited Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, where my House colleague and hero, John Lewis, risked his life making “good trouble” to ensure civil rights for all. I also learned about Lowndes County’s sewage problem in which a lack of septic infrastructure is creating a public health crisis — in a predominately black community– that no American should endure, a sign that we still have not achieved racial equality.
But I’ve seen the good, too. Right at home in Dublin, California. I’ve met union workers who built America, small business owners who power America’s economy, tech innovators who move America into the future and neighbors of all ages, races, faiths and orientations who are threads in America’s beautiful tapestry.
Someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth, who allegedly kept his fortune through suspect tax schemes (though he denies it) and who seemingly spends more time golfing and watching TV than any president in history, doesn’t get this and never will.
My dad was a cop. My mom raised four boys, sold cakes and dollhouses to help make ends meet, and still works today as an administrative assistant. I’ve worked since taking a newspaper route at age 9 and served as a prosecutor, a planning commissioner, a city councilman and a congressman to pay back some of what my community and nation gave me.
When our democracy was attacked by Russia and its enablers, I jumped into the ring to defend it and hold accountable any who would subvert our values. I was raised to believe nobody is above the law — especially not a president.
No more lying and bluster instead of leadership. No more reliance on old policies and habits. It’s time now for a new generational optimism and energy that commits to go big on the issues we tackle, be bold in the solutions we offer and do good with the way that we govern so that the promise of America reaches all Americans — not just those in the penthouses and golf resorts.