by Diane Rufino, November 18, 2018
A week ago, I visited Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the place where John F. Kennedy as assassinated so brutally on November 22, 1963. We will celebrate the 55th anniversary in 4 days. At the end of the tour of the Texas Book Depository Building, where Oswald supposedly shot from the 6th floor window, there was a memorial plaque dedicated to Kennedy asking “What Might Have Been.” He brought out the best in young Americans, he energized them, called them to serve the country, he dared them to dream, he inspired them to be the best versions of themselves in order to inspire the rest of the world to be like America. This is what the assassination has galvanized in our collective memory, at least according to the Museum at Dealey Plaza.
Author Walter Lippman observed that “the final test of a leader is that he leaves behind in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.” I thought that was a powerful statement.
Kennedy’s assassination certain made him a legend in the people’s mind. In American history. After his death, his widow Jackie Kennedy was heartbroken that his dreams would likely be forgotten. And to a great extent, with the Vietnam War (a conflict Kennedy was determined to avoid), the political turmoil of the 60’s, the race riots, the continued assassinations of popular figures (like Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy), his ideals became obscured and forgotten.
To her credit, Jackie created an image of Jack Kennedy’s presidency to help people, to help the country, remember – and that was CAMELOT. She did this within days of her husband’s assassination. In interviews, she compared Jack’s 3 years in office to Camelot – King Arthur’s kingdom.
Camelot, the musical about King Arthur and Guinevere, created by Lerner and Loewe in 1961, was Jackie’s favorite. She loved the music and loved the story. What prompted Jackie to make the analogy to “Camelot” was that the story hit so close to home. Like King Arthur’s kingdom, she wanted the country to remember Jack’s presidency as one built on lofty principles, hoping to build an idyllic America. And yet, like story plot, it all came undone by the forces set out to destroy Camelot.
Ronald Reagan was a leader like Jack Kennedy, in that he continues to inspire others to carry out his convictions for smaller, less intrusive government and the ability of the people to make their own decisions over their lives, their property, and their businesses. Rather than youthful age, it was Reagan’s gentle nature and good-hearted humor that endeared him to the American people. And yet he was strong and forceful when he needed to be – when the country needed him to be.
Barack Obama at first embraced an almost Kennedy-like persona – youthful, energetic, connecting to the people. But he was flash over substance. His promises were empty and instead of inspiring Americans to be their best and do their best, he inspired groups to retreat into their racial identity and to hate one another.
Enter Donald Trump. He brought energy, common sense, expertise, vision, and a sense of purpose when he ran. Brass, often crass, arrogant and perhaps narcissistic, he brought to the public forum everything that was on the forgotten man and woman’s mind. He spoke their language and connected with the people like no candidate had done before. His rallies were a testament to the absolute gratitude of the people to finally have a candidate they could rally around, someone who might actually address their concerns and do what he promised.
And in an almost “Dewey Wins” moment (that is, defying all the polls and all the predictions), Trump won the presidential election in 2016. The question, of course, would be whether he would keep his promises and be the president the people hoped he would be.
In taking the oath of office that gloriously warm January day (my husband and I were in attendance), Donald Trump spoke words reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan, and set the tone for what his vision of government would be:
“This moment is your moment: it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day and your celebration. This is your country. What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
This is a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public. But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system that’s flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.
For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; We’ve subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military;
We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.
We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.
The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.
But that is the past. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be AMERICA FIRST.
I will fight for you with every breath in my body – and I will never, ever let you down.”
I want us all to remember his words and use them, like food and water, to nourish our political souls and remind us why we do what we do, why we should try to do more, and why we must not let our president down. To let President Trump down is to abandon our own movement.
And so, I think when we reflect on that final test of a leader, of which author Lippman spoke, Donald Trump will be remembered and thought of as one of our greatest presidents ever. His conviction to make America Great Again is already contagious and inspiring others to serve with that same mindset. And I have a feeling that his ideals, his dreams will not only leave a conviction in others to carry them on, but I think they will re-define the conservative movement and maybe even the Republican Party.