We live in a nation still struggling to define who belongs and who doesn’t in the opening words of our Constitution, “We the people.” The founding failure of our nation is rooted in the hypocrisy of the land-owning, white, European men who were referring only to those like themselves when they wrote those words. Yet, the words alone, inspired by the confederacy of the Iroquois Nation at a time when Europeans knew only the tyranny and elitism of monarchy, gave birth to a vision in the minds of those outside that narrow definition. And they have had to fight and die in order to be included ever since.

This “more perfect union” was born in a land stolen from First Nations people who had inhabited every corner of it for centuries. Native Americans were killed, rounded up, moved to uninhabitable areas, robbed of their tribal land, culture, and way of life. It was built by people from African nations who were captured, tortured, torn from family and country and brought here against their will. They were forced to live out their lives in the dehumanization of slavery, working without pay for those with money and the legal right to “buy” them. Make no mistake: those who wrote the same “we the people” document, helped instill the values and craft the laws that gave men who looked like them the right to steal land from and own men and women who didn’t.

We have never confronted our preference for that original definition of “we the people” as white, land-owning men. At every turn we have resisted to include men and women who are black and brown. Our historical legacy on race includes a devastating Civil War, Jim Crow laws that extended the financial exploitation of slavery another hundred years, and a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates people of color. And today we have a President who threatens to take us back instead of forward. By referring to Haiti and countries in Africa as “shitholes” last week, and decrying why we don’t have more immigrants from Norway, Trump unmasked his racism once again. It’s not like we didn’t already know where he stood but his numerous reiterations of it threaten to tear at our internal fabric and reduce our standing in the world.

At the heart of our uniqueness and strength is our diversity. We’ve made some progress over the 240 years since the hypocrisy of our founding. But we still have so far to go. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose 89th birthday we celebrate today, inspired us by his words and his actions to fight for the full inclusion of every person in the vision on which this country was founded. Our shared humanity requires that we see that vision as a human right.

Despite the short-sighted view of our founders, rooted in racist, classist, and sexist notions of their time, the words they crafted make this country the place where this experiment in democracy was launched. The world is watching. Are we able to work across racial, religious, ethnic, gender, and class differences to cooperate with one another and form that more perfect union the human spirit dares to dream of? If so, then each of us who still believes in that dream will have to dig deep and discover our own role in working to make that dream come alive because we all know it’s not going to come from the top.

History has shown that a leader who cares only for himself, amassing power and wealth at the top, pulling resources away from people who need them, and pitting the populace against itself, can alter a once great nation to a shithole. Make America Great Again. . .