Donald Trump, MLK, and JFK: Embracing America’s experiment
Colorado Springs, Colo., February 7, 2017 – Everyone has at least one interesting story. The lucky among us have several. And it is such stories that inform us.
Not the professors. Not Hollywood actors. Not even the New York Times, as good as is the Times’ arts section.
Growing up, most of us are infused with the hope and ideology of the young and inexperienced. That is not a bad thing. Positive energy is never a bad thing. That energy when added to the belief one person can change the world is what drives some of the best impulses of nations.
Politicians, the good ones, who speak with flowery, hopeful rhetoric appeal to our best natures, to the young people hidden under the adults’ layers of living. They serve to remind us of the mission. That everyone can work together to make the world a better place. Kumbaya.
This week, for the first time since President Barack Obama first uttered his compelling message of “Hope and Change,” many of us are again in the mood for America at her best. Regardless of political persuasion, everyone wants America to be at her best.
Giving the negative demonstrators a pass, for now, even many of them or at least their acolytes, are setting this week aside to voice their concerns.
We are all concerned. Let’s begin there.
We’re told the president-elect has been scanning speeches of John F. Kennedy:
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
And of Ronald Reagan:
“We are creating a nation once again vibrant, robust, and alive. But there are many mountains yet to climb. We will not rest until every American enjoys the fullness of freedom, dignity, and opportunity as our birthright. It is our birthright as citizens of this great Republic, and we’ll meet this challenge.”
Perhaps of Martin Luther King:
“Faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
As President-Elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office, he is striving to overcome the public indiscretions of a younger version of himself. He is working to disassociate those shortcomings from the honest and dedicated man we see today.
Many won’t choose to overlook his past. Many, mostly those who voted for him, already have.
In any event, it falls to him now, as the man of the moment, to capture in all of us our youthful vibrancy, and our understanding of the American experiment as one of the pinnacles in the world’s history of governance.
Now, to the two stories:
The first was recounted over a Thanksgiving Day meal in Bayside Queens in the eighties. The story-teller was a 92-year old German lady referred to as “Grandma,” regardless of family connections. Grandma was well under five feet tall, with those cobalt blue eyes of many Germans, with a difference. Grandma’s eyes actually twinkled as she spoke, and her manner was reminiscent, not of an old woman, but of a young, playful elf.
“Grandma, tell us about Hitler. What was it like then?”
Grandma told us of growing up in Prussia, where Russian and German were both spoken. Of hiding Jewish ladies in their homes years before Hitler came to power. Of them storing their valuables in pouches hidden in their clothing. Of listening at the door for which language soldiers were speaking before answering. And of cannily adopting the language of the inspector soldiers.
Grandma was newly married, a young German woman with her future stretching before her. But she encountered teenaged boys marching in the streets, in boy scout-like uniforms. When she’d ask them what they were up to, they would brush her aside.
Grandma came home to her husband, and on a feeling, just a feeling, she announced they must move to America immediately. She was not Jewish. She was a good German. And she saw her country deteriorating before her eyes. She realized the hopes of her youth were only to be realized by getting out of Germany. By making her way to the shining democracy called America.
The rest of the story is that of typical immigrants. She became a chef for wealthy families, and bore two children. One grandson, Will, went all the way to his PhD in Italian history and was a concert-grade pianist. She sacrificed so that her family would have opportunities. Her story is a typical American story.
The second story occurred only last week.
A caller to the Michael Savage radio show firmly announced, “We need a communist revolution in this country. Everyone, (then) would work together.” When the host tried to engage him by commenting that communism leads to violent dictatorships, the caller persisted. “Crazy dictators are the (only) reason those countries don’t work.
It’s a shame that Bernie Sanders didn’t get in because communism begins with socialism.” “Everyone would work together.”
That communal shibboleth drives the Judeo-Christian ethic. It is underlying the founding of this country. It has long created a tension between individualistic capitalism and “caring” communalism, also known politically as socialism.
That all should get along and work together toward common goals is the stuff of youthful idealism. What if Grandma had supported the “communalism” of Nazi Germany?
What if she shared in the ideal of an Aryan people, of whom she was a perfect example? What if she had remained in Germany, a “good German,” believing in the devil politician’s flowery rhetoric of a stronger, more racially perfect nation?
Grandma was a rebel. She trusted in her own ability to act as an individual. She eschewed group-think and (German) political correctness, to carve out her own life. No less than the Founding Fathers, Grandma sought freedom.
So, as Donald J. Trump becomes our next president, let us honor the fight that brought him to this point. But let us now reject communalism and embrace a man whose entire life has been based on individualistic capitalism. His persona is the same persona that founded America in the first place.
He is looking to the future, as a young man would. There is no problem he will not, or cannot face. He asks only that we give him a chance. The business man who lives surrounded by the gold of his efforts now wishes only to bring that wealth and individual power back to America.
It is a worthy goal.
And it is enough.