Somehow it seems appropriate to share this at CFI.
Considering all the things written about Trump, Ken does a great job of summarizing why Trump is frightening and dangerous.
Parts of Ken’s talk could just as easily fit under the Humanism heading.
In any event, here it.
Seems something worth discussing
Ken Burns Commencement Speech at Stanford University - June 12th, 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wndp6gR7-1o Prepared text of the 2016 Stanford Commencement address by Ken Burns Following is the text of the address by Ken Burns, historical documentary filmmaker, as prepared for delivery at Stanford University’s 125th Commencement on June 12, 2016. http://news.stanford.edu/2016/06/12/prepared-text-2016-stanford-commencement-address-ken-burns/President Hennessy, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished faculty and staff, proud and relieved parents, calm and serene grandparents, distracted but secretly pleased siblings, ladies and gentlemen, graduating students of the Class of 2016, good morning. I am deeply honored and privileged that you have asked me here to say a few words at so momentous an occasion, that you might find what I have to say worthy of your attention on so important a day, especially one with such historical significance. One hundred and twenty-five years. Wow. Thank you, too, for that generous introduction, President Hennessy. I always feel compelled, though, to inoculate myself against such praise by remembering that I have on my refrigerator at home an old and now faded cartoon, which shows two men standing in hell, the flames licking up around them. One guy says to the other, “Apparently my over 200 screen credits didn’t mean a damn thing." They don’t, of course; there is much more meaning in your accomplishments, which we memorialize today. I am in the business of memorializing – of history. It is not always a popular subject on college campuses today, particularly when, at times, it may seem to some an anachronistic and irrelevant pursuit, particularly with the ferocious urgency this moment seems to exert on us. It is my job, however, to remind people – with story, memory, anecdote and feeling – of the power our past also exerts, to help us better understand what’s going on now. It is my job to try to discern patterns and themes from history to enable us to interpret our dizzying, and sometimes dismaying, present. For nearly 40 years now, I have diligently practiced and rigorously maintained a conscious neutrality in my work, avoiding the advocacy of many of my colleagues, trying to speak to all of my fellow citizens. Over those decades of historical documentary filmmaking, I have also come to the realization that history is not a fixed thing, a collection of precise dates, facts and events that add up to a quantifiable, certain, confidently known truth. History is a mysterious and malleable thing, constantly changing, not just as new information emerges, but as our own interests, emotions and inclinations change. Each generation rediscovers and reexamines that part of its past that gives its present new meaning, new possibility and new power. The question becomes for us now – for you especially – what will we choose as our inspiration? Which distant events and long dead figures will provide us with the greatest help, the most coherent context and the wisdom to go forward? This is in part an existential question. None of us gets out of here alive. An exception will not be made in your case and you’ll live forever. You can’t actually design your life. (If you want to make God laugh, the saying goes, tell her your plans.) The hard times and vicissitudes of life will ultimately visit everyone. You will also come to realize that you are less defined by the good things that happen to you, your moments of happiness and apparent control, than you are by those misfortunes and unexpected challenges that, in fact, shape you more definitively, and help to solidify your true character – the measure of any human value. You, especially, know that the conversation that comes out of tragedy and injustice needs to be encouraged, emphasis on courage. It is through those conversations that we make progress. A mentor of mine, the journalist Tom Brokaw, recently said to me, “What we learn is more important than what we set out to do." It’s tough out there, but so beautiful, too. And history – memory – can prepare you. I have a searing memory of the summer of 1962, when I was almost 9, joining our family dinner on a hot, sweltering day in a tract house in a development in Newark, Delaware, and seeing my mother crying. She had just learned, and my brother and I had just been told, that she would be dead of cancer within six months. But that’s not what was causing her tears. Our inadequate health insurance had practically bankrupted us, and our neighbors – equally struggling working people – had taken up a collection and presented my parents with six crisp $20 bills – $120 in total – enough to keep us solvent for more than a month. In that moment, I understood something about community and courage, about constant struggle and little victories. That hot June evening was a victory. And I have spent my entire professional life trying to resurrect small moments within the larger sweep of American history, trying to find our better angels in the most difficult of circumstances, trying to wake the dead, to hear their stories. But how do we keep that realization of our own inevitable mortality from paralyzing us with fear? And how do we also keep our usual denial of this fact from depriving our lives and our actions of real meaning, of real purpose? This is our great human challenge, your challenge. This is where history can help. The past often offers an illuminating and clear-headed perspective from which to observe and reconcile the passions of the present moment, just when they threaten to overwhelm us. The history we know, the stories we tell ourselves, relieve that existential anxiety, allow us to live beyond our fleeting lifespans, and permit us to value and love and distinguish what is important. And the practice of history, both personal and professional, becomes a kind of conscience for us. As a filmmaker, as a historian, as an American, I have been drawn continually to the life and example and words of Abraham Lincoln. He seems to get us better than we get ourselves. One hundred and fifty-eight years ago, in mid-June of 1858, Abraham Lincoln, running in what would be a failed bid for the United States Senate, at a time of bitter partisanship in our national politics, almost entirely over the issue of slavery, spoke to the Republican State Convention in the Illinois Statehouse in Springfield. His political party was brand new, born barely four years before with one single purpose in mind: to end the intolerable hypocrisy of chattel slavery that still existed in a country promoting certain unalienable rights to itself and the world. He said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand." Four and half years later, he was president, presiding over a country in the midst of the worst crisis in American history, our Civil War, giving his Annual Message to Congress, what we now call the State of the Union. The state of the Union was not good. His house was divided. But he also saw the larger picture. “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise – with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." And then he went on: “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. … The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. … In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth." You are the latest generation he was metaphorically speaking about, and you are, whether you are yet aware of it or not, charged with saving our Union. The stakes are slightly different than the ones Lincoln faced – there is not yet armed rebellion – but they are just as high. And before you go out and try to live and shape the rest of your life, you are required now to rise, as Lincoln implored us, with the occasion. You know, it is terribly fashionable these days to criticize the United States government, the institution Lincoln was trying to save, to blame it for all the ills known to humankind, and, my goodness, ladies and gentlemen, it has made more than its fair share of catastrophic mistakes. But you would be hard pressed to find – in all of human history – a greater force for good. From our Declaration of Independence to our Constitution and Bill of Rights; from Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the Land Grant College and Homestead Acts; from the transcontinental railroad and our national parks to child labor laws, Social Security and the National Labor Relations Act; from the GI Bill and the interstate highway system to putting a man on the moon and the Affordable Care Act, the United States government has been the author of many of the best aspects of our public and personal lives. But if you tune in to politics, if you listen to the rhetoric of this election cycle, you are made painfully aware that everything is going to hell in a handbasket and the chief culprit is our evil government. Part of the reason this kind of criticism sticks is because we live in an age of social media where we are constantly assured that we are all independent free agents. But that free agency is essentially unconnected to real community, divorced from civic engagement, duped into believing in our own lonely primacy by a sophisticated media culture that requires you – no, desperately needs you – to live in an all-consuming disposable present, wearing the right blue jeans, driving the right car, carrying the right handbag, eating at all the right places, blissfully unaware of the historical tides that have brought us to this moment, blissfully uninterested in where those tides might take us. Our spurious sovereignty is reinforced and perpetually underscored to our obvious and great comfort, but this kind of existence actually ingrains in us a stultifying sameness that rewards conformity (not courage), ignorance and anti-intellectualism (not critical thinking). This wouldn’t be so bad if we were just wasting our own lives, but this year our political future depends on it. And there comes a time when I – and you – can no longer remain neutral, silent. We must speak up – and speak out. ...