Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings.– Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968
My political heart was first broken when I awoke on the morning of June 6, 1968 to learn that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated the night before. The 50th Anniversary of that event will now occur during a Trump Presidency. Given his “American Carnage” inauguration speech, I don’t expect much eloquence from the White House on that memorial date.
President Trump’s inaugural pledge to listen to “the forgotten men” may be promising to some. To me, it is reminiscent of the League of Forgotten Men from Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. According to a Chicago Tribune 1/15/17 article on the growth in alternative history fiction and movies, this 1935 best-seller tracts the rise to the US Presidency of “a crass, plain-spoken East Coast businessman who drapes totalitarian urges in the flag, demonizes his enemies, then defeats Roosevelt and wins the presidency.”
This Trib story noted that the day after Trump’s election was a good one for Sinclair Lewis. His book sold out on Amazon. With a spike in sales in excess of 1000%, more copies have appeared on bookstore shelves. I got my copy last week. The 1930s writing style is a bit challenging. I’ve only made it through the first 100 pages and the 1936 election. So I have yet to read about the first American Fascist administration. However, there are passages that seem relevant:
“any gang daring enough and unscrupulous enough, and smart enough not to seem illegal, can grab hold of the entire government and have all the power and applause and salutes, all the money and palaces and willin’ women they want.”
One day after his term starts, President Trump and his spokesman, amid mass protests nationwide, accuse the media of understating the turnout for his inauguration. Whose rally was bigger? Really, that’s what matters to our new President’s ego.
My current non-fiction reading is Larry Tye’s recent biography, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal It’s what got me through the fall election. I’m only a third of the way, up to Bobby’s Attorney General days. Really, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions nominated for the same office?
Many remember the eloquence with which Senator Kennedy informed the Indianapolis community of the murder of Dr. King. The next day he was scheduled to speak in Cleveland where he changed his remarks to what became known as his “Mindless Menace of Violence” speech. Particularly relevant to Trump discourse is this RFK admonition:
“When you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies — to be met not with cooperation but conquest, to be subjugated and mastered. We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens.”
In my alternative history, I envision the inaugural speech that President Robert F. Kennedy could have delivered in January 1969 and should be considered as a mantra during the four years ahead:
“Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and women. Surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and sisters, countrymen and countrywomen once again.” — Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968
I now dream that someone will give that inaugural speech in January 2021.