Thursday, November 5, 2020
I was a 14 year old high school freshman when JFK was inaugurated on a very cold January day. I remember Robert Frost trying to read a poem in the bitter cold while his glasses got fogged up. But I also remember Kennedy's stirring words, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." It seems that half of the voting populace has turned Kennedy's works inside out and upside down. It seems the motto of those who voted for President Trump and his Republican supporters and allies is "I don't want anything from the country, and I don't want to do anything for the country." They don't want the government to guarantee a right to all Americans for health care, they don't care if immigrants and the poor suffer, and they certainly think that there is not any endemic or structural racism in the country. Wallace Shawn, the actor and author, wrote very insightful essay on this point in the current issue of the New York Review of Books. Shawn contends that previous generations of Americans bought into and accepted the idea that what made American special were our democratic ideals and our concern for the oppressed. Today, he argues, half of the country has given up on our ideals and regards the U.S. as no different than any other country. "We are not special; we do bad things like everyone else. Get over it and don't think we can become better"---is the belief. It makes sense then that Vice-President Biden's campaign argument that he was fighting for the soul of America did not move or persuade half of the country. We have become two nations: one half believing in trying to realize our ideals and the other half saying we never really believed in those ideals.