After marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in the spring of 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
In the broader sweep of historical time, this sentiment may have run contrary to the eschatology of the monotheistic faiths, but it was certainly true in the moment, and one could argue that it has continued being true in the decades since. But when President Barack Obama appropriated the remark, it took on a more expansive meaning, applied not just to America’s own civil rights struggles but to America more generally, including its role in the world.
On that (also historic) night of November 5, 2008, after his first electoral victory was assured, Obama lost little time in emphasizing the rhetorical themes that would define his presidency. “It's the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day,” the then president-elect declared to an audience of millions that hoped, beyond hope, that it was true.
It was a slight but telling innovation.