I recently attended the Kennedy Legacy Dinner held by the Ventura County Democratic Party. We were joined by state Senators Hannah-Beth Jackson and Henry Stern and state Assembly Members Jacqui Irwin and Monique Limón. President John F. Kennedy said, “We are not here to curse the darkness but to light the lamp.” This was the evening’s theme.
County Chair John Griffin mentioned the energy in the room. It brought to mind that scary-looking electrical plant with warnings about high voltage. Energy such as that will light the lamps brilliantly when Americans go to polls. They will extinguish the darkness into which this country has been plunged.
House candidate Katie Hill is running a high-power campaign in Simi Valley. Her campaign is knocking on doors by the thousand. She asked, “What if the $1.5 trillion recently loaded onto national debt were instead put to good use — health care for all, wiping out student debt, putting money into green energy not dirty fuel?” Her high-voltage economics will make many lamps glow white-hot.
State Assembly candidate Christy Smith emphasized Kennedy’s theme of “fair wages for hard work.” Very pointedly, no speaker sullied JFK’s legacy by mentioning today’s horrendous occupant of the Oval Office.
Kennedy’s legacy is mainly in civil rights. He used force against Republican bigotry in the South. He did not think neo-Nazis were “very fine people.” He did not put children in prison, lie about it, reverse course only when shamed into doing so by the Pope, and lie again.
President Donald Trump’s legacy of blatant lying will plague America for years. He bragged about lying to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during trade talks. For some reason, our allies no longer trust us. Liars tell lies from weakness. Confident people, like JFK, tell the truth based on principles, strength and vision.
Kennedy’s vision launched the space program, a bipartisan effort unthinkable today due to the stupidity of today’s Republicans. From this came a tangible legacy such as solar panels, CAT scans, LEDs and satellites for cell phones and GPS. America was then a confident nation of scientists and engineers. But special guest Stephen Rothstein from the JFK Library and Museum asked, “Where are the moon shots of today?”
Kennedy did not grow fat on money laundered through his casinos by Russian mobsters. He was not blackmailed by Russia’s leader. JFK instead faced down Nikita Krushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Kennedy was not a Russian asset. He was an American asset.
He believed that common action improves the common good. This common-sense idea goes back to the common-sense Romans. Famously, he told Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Trump instead bragged about not paying taxes because he was “smart.”
Kennedy’s progressive taxation made national debt (America’s mortgage) steadily decline. The idea that national debt should be increased to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy did not cross anyone’s mind in those halcyon days. In contrast, Trump Republicans have double-crossed you. My friends, your taxes will soon go up to fund taxes going down for billionaires.
Economic success was open to everyone under JFK. Young people really could put themselves through college debt-free. Ordinary workers really could make it to the middle class. But Republicans starting with President Reagan destroyed the American Dream purely to enrich their wealthy campaign donors.
Kennedy’s optimism stands in sharp contrast to the cynicism brought in by the Gingrich Republicans. Today, it is assumed that only the very wealthy have any say in public affairs. They have rigged the game to suit themselves ever since Reagan’s time. Hence, the sense of national gloom, comparable to that in Germany in the 1930s, stuck us with Trump.
Americans have forgotten the national gloom that started 10 years ago. The economy was near death after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The right-wing policies producing this disaster would never have happened under JFK. The notion that the global economy might be redesigned to benefit only the ultra-rich would have been unthinkable.
The last wave of optimism electing President Barack Obama soon collapsed under relentless Republican lies. The billionaire Koch brothers secretly funded and rolled out the Tea Party as a fake “grass-roots” movement based on lies about taxes.
Today’s optimism is different. There is righteous anger behind it. Enough is enough. Under Trump we have become the laughingstock of the world. Under Trump, we have seen the horrors that Republicans are capable of unleashing. Under Trump, we have reached rock bottom in stupidity with an unwinnable trade war. Under Trump, we have seen a war on democracy itself.
Take heart. Light the lamp! Americans will remember Kennedy’s white-hot legacy in November’s elections and bring it back to lighten the gloom once again.