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Taking stock as we begin a new year

This may seem odd, but as I look ahead to a year we all know will be momentous, you want to know what I feel most strongly? Gratitude.

I'll tell you in a moment how much work we have ahead of us to strengthen our country. But I'm mindful of just how strong we already are — with a resilient economy, an education system that has allowed more people to enroll in college and make dramatic gains in lifelong learning, and progress on issues from climate change to social equality. We remain wealthy and powerful.

However, we have to work to retain and buttress our strengths. And as I suggested, we have our work cut out for us.

For one thing, we've always been an open country, welcoming a great diversity of people and remaining open to their aspirations and ideas. But we've been losing this. At the same time, too many Americans feel excluded and alienated from economic opportunity and what should be shared institutions.

All of this has been straining our politics. We are more polarized and politically divided than I've seen in my lifetime. I hope 2018 sees a turn toward addressing the defects in our political institutions and political culture — a shift in political life toward seeking the common good and focusing on the national interest.

This would allow us to re-focus on one of the defining features of our country's history: that what we're about as a nation is providing opportunity for all. That everyone has a role to play in contributing positively to a better neighborhood, a better community, a better state and nation, a better world. That as Americans, we devote ourselves to something larger than ourselves.

This sense of beckoning opportunity has been waning.

Yet here's the thing. While I understand our problems, I utterly reject the idea that we can give into them. From its start, this nation has been about resolving problems. We did so by embracing our simple, core virtues: humility, hard work, a welcoming attitude, inclusivity, neighborliness, consensus-building and above all, a recognition that freedom has been given to us and we have an obligation to lead constructive lives.

That's what we're about as a country. Not decline, or division or insurmountable obstacles. Let's remember that in 2018.