I worked with a man in a literacy program who is now an American citizen. When he was studying for the exam, he told me “I read the words, ‘We the People…We the People,’ and I want to be part of that.” He repeated the phrase slowly, with such reverence and respect that I choked up. He gave me the perspective of someone who had his nose pressed up against the glass, and how he saw America and what becoming a citizen meant to him.

This country’s over-arching principle is the protection of the rights of the individual. That concept of individual freedom has helped make assimilation in this country successful. You don’t have to look like me. You don’t have to worship as I do. America is the fertile ground in which to sow the seeds of your dreams. Threads from the world over are woven into the fabric of our society and keeping that promise of individual freedom, mutual respect and welcome is what has made us dynamic and strong.

But we have to be wary of political judo, of attempts to use our strengths against us, to attempt to fracture and divide us within with a false fear of the “other”—whether that “other” is from another country or our neighbor of a different color, and with an attempt to create distrust of our institutions.

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This is a time when hyper-partisanship and special-interest money has subverted true public service, when the beast of 24/7 news continually needs to be fed and ginned up, when you can find whatever “truth” fits your image of the world and when the anonymity of the internet allows people to embarrass themselves in vile and disgusting ways.

We need to vet the sources of our information and bring objective, critical thinking and analysis to what we’re being told. Remember, it was the successive layering of lies that played into our fears and anger after 9/11 that got us into war in Iraq.

We live in a global world—technologically, economically, environmentally, strategically—in every sense. A backward-looking bunker mentality is a construct of the past and counterproductive to solving the problems coming at us at an accelerating rate. America is courageous enough face forward.

If we stand by our values, we will have the national integrity needed to continue to lead on the global stage, in cooperation with others, to solve the global problems the future will bring, while taking care of our own in this country.

We reap the benefits of our country’s successes and our lives are diminished—even threatened—by its failures. Hold those in power accountable to the values which have made us who we are. Demand truth and transparency, because democracy cannot exist without trust in its institutions.

Democracies historically have short life spans. Don’t think this cannot be taken from you. In this critical time, we need to stand up, speak up and work from the ground up to exemplify and model those core American values in our own lives as the unique and diverse individuals who collectively are “We the People…”