House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn offered the following remarks at the Jan. 3 ceremonial swearing-in of the Congressional Black Caucus of the 116th Congress, which included nine new members:
When the learned French historian Alexis Tocqueville visited this country, he observed its greatness and set out to find the source of the “genius” that made it so. After a significant search for the “genius and power” of America’s greatness, he wrote in his book, Democracy in America, that, “the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
Abraham Lincoln saw slavery as a fault that needed to be repaired so he wrote, signed and issued several Emancipation Proclamations to repair that fault, thereby contributing to America’s greatness.
The United States Supreme Court contributed to America’s greatness when it found “separate but equal” to be a fault that needed to be repaired. And in 1954 it issued a unanimous decision declaring “separate but equal” to be “inherently unequal.”
President Lyndon Johnson saw discrimination in employment, voting and housing to be faults yearning to be repaired, so he furthered America’s greatness by petitioning Congress to “repair those faults,” and Congress responded, by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act in 1968.
Recent legislative actions, judicial decisions, and everyday experiences of the American people have exposed some significant faults in our system that need to be repaired, and the voters responded last Nov. 8, by installing a Democratic majority in the United States House of Representatives, and we are a significant part of that majority.
Denying health care coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions is a fault that the American people want to see repaired.
Denying safe drinking water to communities, clean air to citizens and allowing catastrophic climatic change to harm our environment are significant faults we must repair.
Denying high school graduates access to debt-free, postsecondary education is a fault we need to repair.
Denying our citizens access to clean, safe, quality housing in their communities that they can afford is a fault that must be repaired.
Denying little children and their asylum-seeking parents due process, basic humane conditions and safety are faults we need to address.
Finally, addressing a 21st-century immigration issue by building a 1st-century wall is intellectually and morally bankrupt.
In a few minutes we will all assemble in the Great Hall of the United States House of Representatives and officially become Members of a new, historic majority. The American people are expecting great things from us and we must not disappoint them.
They know — and we know — that America does not need to be made great again, she is already great. Our challenge is to make that greatness apply fairly and equitably to all of our citizens.