Ken Burns is Right: There is nothing equal about this equation.

Ken Burns is one of America’s most preeminent filmmakers and documentarians. His documentaries have chronicled many aspects of American history and for his work, he has been nominated for two Academy Awards and has received fifteen Emmy Awards and two Grammy Awards. He is an astute student and observer of American life.

As the commencement speaker at Brandeis University’s 2024 graduation last month, he suspended “his long-standing attempt at neutrality” and made the following observations:

“There is no real choice this November. There is only the perpetuation, however flawed and feeble you might perceive it, of our fragile 249-year-old experiment, or the entropy that will engulf and destroy us if we take the other route….

The presumptive Republican nominee is the opioid of all opioids, an easy cure for what some believe is the solution to our myriad pains and problems when in fact, with him, you end up re-enslaved with an even bigger problem, a worse affliction and addiction, a bigger delusion…

Do not be seduced by easy equalization. There is nothing equal about this equation. We are at an existential crossroads in our political and civic lives. This is a choice that could not be clearer.”

The “opioid of all opioids.” The “existential crossroads of our political and civic lives.”  The “entropy that will engulf and destroy us.”  These are exceptionally strong words from one of the most respected storytellers about what it means to live in this country.

In World War II, millions of Americans, many of whom were our grandparents and parents, including my mother and father, made enormous sacrifices and took tremendous risks in the fight to save democracy and defeat authoritarianism.

As evidenced by Ken Burns’ warnings, today’s attacks upon our democracy and the authoritarian plans announced by Donald Trump are just as serious as those of 80 years ago. The very systems and institutions that preserve our constitutional rights and protect our freedoms are under direct attack and causes that so many of us have prioritized with our philanthropy are severely threatened. If Trump is reelected, our democracy and our country will never be the same.

So, what can we do?

First, each of us could take a few minutes to ask ourselves if our own commitment to preserving democracy and preventing authoritarianism is anywhere near that of our forebearers.  We might consider, to the extent of our ability, doing everything we can to preserve our democracy and the institutions that uphold it, protect our environment from climate change, ensure the civil rights of all Americans, restore a woman’s right to choose, prevent further gun violence, support public education, and so much more for us – and for our descendants.

Second, we could view our philanthropy differently this year by strategically supporting organizations that are working to register people to vote, inform them about the issues and the potential impact of this election on their lives, help them vote, and make sure their votes are fairly counted.

Towards that end, I have partnered with Focus for Democracy, a national nonprofit organization that makes carefully vetted recommendations about where your philanthropy can have the biggest impact in the upcoming election. Focus for Democracy holds online briefings where their methodology and approach are outlined, and specific recommendations are made.  The next such briefing is Tuesday, July 2nd at 8pm ET, 6 pm MT, 5pm PT.  I invite you to join us to learn how you can maximize your impact.  Please register by clicking here.

President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Our American heritage is threatened as much by our own indifference as it is by the most unscrupulous office or by the most powerful foreign threat. The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.”

The election is now only 130 days away. I urge you to donate as much as you can afford to make sure that its results preserve our democracy and prevent the authoritarianism that Donald Trump plainly promises. It would be terrible for Ken Burns to need to make a documentary about the demise of our democracy, if he still has the freedom to do so.