From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.

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An Oath to All of Us
by Jaswinder Bolina

I commit to take action because part of me wants a McLaren, a ten-cabin yacht, half of Montana, all of the sex, a butler, a body man, and a helipad overlooking blue water. Part of me would build a wall around myself and all I believe precious and rare and my own. Part of me would outfit my robots with lasers, cut loose the nukes, and smoke any miserable bastard objecting. I commit to take action because there is that greedy, violent, manly part of me, but everything else in me recognizes its lust and its fear, its weakness and corruption, how unfit that part of me is to decide anything for anyone other than itself.

That part of me is real, and I see its bleak shimmer in others, too. In my friends and in my beloved, in my acquaintances and in my family, in all our children and our children’s children, in the good people of the coasts and in the good people of the heartland and in me, there’s a beastly thing seething. I understand what it wants and why it wants, and I wish I could relieve it of all its relentless wanting.

Knowing I cannot, I arrest it there in a corner of my mind and offer it my patience, my understanding and compassion. Then I do all I can to keep it from governing the rest of me, the rest of me that needs others, that learns from your criticism and invites your objections, the rest of me that wants your best interests to better my own. That decent and democratic part of me is safe only in your safety, is joyous only in your joy. It thrives only when you thrive.

I commit to take action because our president doesn’t see that he isn’t different from me. I commit to take action because he doesn’t see this fracture in himself. There’s a greedy, violent, manly part of him, too, and it’s as lusty and fearful, as weak and corrupt as anything in me and just as unfit to decide anything for anyone else. I commit to take action because that lesser part of him now governs the rest of us. Quick to the lie, quicker to the cheat, that small part of him has been too callous, too casually criminal in defense of its own best interests.

But the presidency never has been about the president’s best interests. The presidency has always been about the rest of us, even when we disagree with a policy or a politician or a party, even when we disagree with each other. For nearly two and a half centuries, your dissent and mine, your protests and mine, against one president or the next president, have bettered our nation. Even when we disagree with our leaders and with each other, our willingness and our freedom to disagree have always been our greatest strengths.

Now, a dark part of this president, so like the darkest parts of me, has no patience for dissent. In its reckless tirades on Twitter, in its feckless denials of fact and petty desire for loyalty and lauding, in its juvenile name-calling and dismissals of women, of black protest and brown protest and every protest, that darkest part of our president makes an enemy of half his people. This, more than any single offense, makes him unworthy of his office. He’s in violation of his oath to all of us, and in this more than all else he’s unfit to serve those he’s been elected to defend.

I don’t know that this president can do better, but I commit to take action because I know we can.

Take action today:

The first is to encourage people to register to vote. The second is to support or join Common Cause. The third is to support and learn from the Brennan Center for Justice.

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Jaswinder Bolina is the author of three books of poetry, including the forthcoming The 44th of July.