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Braving the Dangers of the Arena


As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Secretary Bernhardt. 


Whether you’re visiting one of our largest cities or smallest towns, South Dakota is a state that prides itself on the close-knit nature of our communities. Tonight, if you look to your left and you look to your right, this crowd is not only South Dakotans but also people from all across the united states. Over just three days, more than 125 thousand people tried to get tickets for today, and you all are the lucky ones who got front row seats to this historic event.  Congratulations, and thank you for being here – this place, this monument, and you represent the achievements of the American community.


Across America these last several weeks, we have been witnessing a very troubling situation unfold. In real time, we are watching an organized, coordinated campaign to remove and eliminate all references to our nation’s founding and many other points in our history. Rather than looking to the past to help improve our future, some are trying to wipe away the lessons of history - lessons that we should be teaching our children and our grandchildren.


This approach focuses exclusively on our forefathers’ flaws and fails to capitalize on the opportunity to learn from their virtues. Make no mistake, this is being done deliberately to discredit America's founding principles by discrediting the individuals who formed them, so that America can be remade in a very different political image.


Tonight, I’d invite you all and those around the country watching from home, to remember some of the virtues of those who came before us. The founding generation has important things to tell us about America’s past, present, and future.


Remember, our independence was the result of many stars aligning, including a unique assembly of powerful writers, gifted thinkers, and tremendous generals. And don’t forget, they were supported by a simple, citizen army that defeated the world’s most powerful empire. Against all odds and incredible struggle, we can find examples of perseverance, dedication, and commitment to certain fundamental truths.


These men did not stage a revolt against the Kingdom of Great Britain for personal gain or for personal power.  They did it because they knew they had to, in order to defend their rights to live and work and worship as they saw fit.  Following the British defeat, we could have had a king, but instead we had a man who walked away from his position as commander-in-chief, and then also from the presidency. These examples, among many others, rarely make the cut when looking back on their lives, but they undoubtedly serve as an illustration of what all Americans should emulate.


Towards this effort, the signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives and sacred honor. The Declaration is arguably one of most important statements of purpose ever written, not just because it serves as the justification for our independence to the entire world, but also because it has led to our prosperity and inspired many other nations and peoples to seek freedom.


These words aren’t remembered nearly enough these days:


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."  


Let us never forget, especially today, that our government has the powers it does because we the people have consented to it. We have consented specifically to a government that will serve all of us equally and that will protect and uphold the fundamental rights enumerated by our constitution. It is our duty to renew our commitment to these ideals and to pass them on to those that come after us.


These ideals cannot be dismissed as the irrelevant opinions of flawed men.  Our Founders had their flaws, certainly, but to use those flaws to condemn their ideals is unjust and self-defeating.  How many of us live up to our own ideals?  Without the words, ideals, and sacrifice of these few, the world would not have a ringing example of true freedom.  We can speak and write, worship, work, defend ourselves, and even protest as we see fit – because of these men and their ideals.  To attempt to “cancel” the founding generation is to attempt to cancel our own freedoms.


The rich and beautiful lands on which many of us live and on which we are now standing are the result of men and women searching for more.  At times, especially today, it seems like we are often paralyzed by the present and defeatist about the future.  Our country was founded by dissidents and people seeking to make a better life for themselves and their children.  People all over the world continue to flock to America today.  The simple reason for that is our commitment to the ideals laid out by our forefathers.


The struggle to maintain the union was about the proposition that America must live up to the principles articulated by the Declaration. And America’s rebirth allowed a fuller realization of the fundamental purposes of government articulated in the Declaration. 


In 1862, a simple question was put before Congress - can we do better? Our choice was clear, we would either “nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just – a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud.”


The men and women who built this country envisioned an America that could project a positive influence throughout the world - to spread the values of the rule of law, optimism, and liberty to places that had not known them.  They also took on the mission of protecting the natural wonders of the west – something all of us sitting here tonight have to be thankful for.


In particular, I think many of us, especially those of us on the political frontlines, would be wise to remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt:


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

You’d be hard pressed to find a more appropriate quote to guide leaders today. Leadership requires wisdom, a will to act, and the confidence to stand up for what is right. Our love for America and our commitment to stand for the principles that makes America unique deserves to be applauded.


We honor these men and women for their contributions, leadership and all the positive things they represent - the things that make America unique and call us to live up to our promises.  This Independence Day, let us be grateful that we have such words and such examples to follow, and that others were willing to sacrifice so much to create a land in which liberty and law can be protected.  Let us not destroy history – let us learn from it by preserving and imitating what is good about it.


We’re all committed to a country where any person, regardless of their standing at birth, can make anything of themselves.  This applied to me – once just a farm kid to now the first female governor of South Dakota – and it applies to everyone else too.  Let us, like our Founding Fathers, pledge our own lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to the cause of liberty and self-government, so that we may continue to have the freedom to follow our consciences, build our lives, and live in peace.


Now, I want to introduce someone who understands precisely what it means to brave the dangers of the arena.  Someone who strives valiantly; who knows great enthusiasms; who spends himself in a worthy cause, and who has firmly and repeatedly stated his commitment to place Americans, American liberty, American safety, and the American Constitution before anything else.


I am talking, of course, about President Donald Trump. Mr. President, welcome to South Dakota, and thank you for your efforts to bring this beautiful celebration of American independence, history, and liberty to fruition. Thank you for your efforts to remind the American people that they provide the “consent of the governed” on which legitimate government depends. 


Ladies and gentlemen, President Donald Trump.