Kinzinger wove his experiences serving three tours in Iraq together with the erosion of
democracy that he has observed in the United States. His overarching message was
that "democracy is not a guarantee," and that it is in fact the most difficult form of
government to sustain. The United States has long been a bastion of freedom, as
demonstrated through the fallout that followed World War II and America's efforts there
to advance democracy during the era of the Iron Curtain.
However, defending the institution of democracy has increasingly become a struggle in
recent decades, and the efforts are no longer confined to overseas missions, as
democracy at home is under siege. Kinzinger relayed his pain following the aftermath of
former President Donald Trump's remarks that the 2020 United States presidential
election was illegitimate. The president, he said, has the ability to start two types of
wars: "a war overseas and a civil war." He detailed the showing that he observed from
the windows of his office on January 6th, 2023, realizing that the United States was
falling into a state of political warfare. The fear that he felt and the evil that was
imminent that day was like nothing he had experienced on any of his tours in Iraq.
He addressed the audience with a simple request. Understanding that in most
situations, we wait for others to come and save us, he implored the crowd to recognize
that the American people must take action now to address the situation. Kinzinger
pointed to a variety of circumstances: when we are young, our parents defend what is
fair. When we are older, the military fights for freedom. However, it is now time for
American civilians to defend the hard-won democracy that prevailed through
generations of wars and hostility.
As the talk came to a close, he imparted wisdom regarding the value of diversity of
thought to the audience. Kinzinger dreams of Americans returning to a place where
people with differing perspectives can "disagree and not hate each other." Kinzinger
pointed out to the folly of picking friends based on partisan divides, and his message
was bolstered by harkening back to his childhood and younger years where such
affiliations were close to meaningless.
Differing views are opportunities to learn, Kinzinger said. When one has an opinion
diametrically opposed others, listen to what they believe and try to engage in respectful
dialogue. He briefly outlined his views for the future of the Republican and Democratic
parties, saying that extremism may result in a centrist third party and the eventual
convergence of both Republicans and Democrats to more moderate positions. He also
lauded the value of reforms in policy areas such as campaign finance and hailed
His overarching message was an entreaty to audience members both young and old.
As someone who has served our country and sacrificed tremendously for the freedom
enjoyed in America, Kinzinger says that "we do not have the right to give up" on
American democracy. Those who fought in wars gave their lives, and "we cannot say it
is too hard now."