PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy says he thinks what President Donald Trump has done so far in office will "hopefully spark a reexamination of who we are as a people."
The member of one of the nation's most famous Democratic families told The Associated Press in an interview he sees threats to the constitutional form of government, and said his father, the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, of Massachusetts, believed that Americans should never take democracy for granted.
"He lost his brothers serving this country, whether in World War II or in elective office, and just knew that this country needed to be the beacon that everyone looked at it around the world," Kennedy told the AP. "He'd be so distressed right now to see people cynically tear apart what so many people have laid down their lives to build."
The former eight-term congressman from Rhode Island left office in 2011 and has stayed in the public sphere as an activist for better care for mental health and addiction, with endeavors such as The Kennedy Forum. He now lives in New Jersey with his wife and children. Kennedy's cousin, Chris Kennedy, son of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, announced last week he is running for governor of Illinois as a Democrat.
Patrick Kennedy said he saw in Trump's victory a signal that the political class wasn't representing many Americans, and said many of the regions that voted for Trump are struggling with high rates of suicide and overdoses. Democrats can appeal to those voters by talking about topics such as economic justice and building stronger communities, he said.
"I don't think we need to demonize Donald Trump to do that. I think we can win by talking about a vision of our country being stronger," he said. "It's not as if the Democratic Party can't be the party of those that voted for Donald Trump."
Part of that is highlighting the great things about the American system, such as its strong constitutional law, he said.
"It's not an authoritarian type approach. It is a democratic approach," he said. "We're not an authoritarian country."
Harkening back to Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again," Kennedy said the focus should be on the nation's institutions.
"I think there's something really powerful that can come out from all of this. I think there's a hunger in America for renewal of our faith in this country," he said. "I think this very turbulent time may allow us to look back and see what really is great about this country."