More than 55 years ago President John F. Kennedy offered these words near the end of his inaugural address:
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
And on July 21, 2016, Superman aka DJT (Donald J. Trump) told us he’s got it all covered.
My, how we will have fallen if we elect Mr. Trump. Leave aside Mr. Trump’s dystopic, fear-filled picture of the world. Ignore his ignorance and lack of interest in governance and policy. Forget about the lack of character in his business relations and activities.
What troubles me more than all of Mr. Trump’s many evident flaws is his explicit disinterest in contributory democracy. For my whole life I’ve heard stories from and about exemplary people who trace their service back to President Kennedy’s clarion call on that snowy day in January, 1961. People pushed themselves, for a cause greater than their own selfish interests, because someone—and important man, in a high place—challenged them.
Sadly, since the 1960s the connections which support contributory democracy have fallen away. There’s no draft. Ergo, no collective service. No mixing of classes and races. No connections.
We’ve crapped out on the public school experiment, a little bit in some places and almost completely in others. An individual child’s education—for reasons almost all of which are good and sensible—prevails over the common value of the shared experienced. Again, no connections.
Our wage gap has also left us less connected. In 2013 McDonald’s paid its CEO, Donald Thompson, 1196X the wage it paid its average hourly worker. And in 1961? What was the wage span in companies? About 20-to-1. Again, no connections, for just how likely is it that the line worker will ever know the man who makes the line worker’s annual wage by midmorning on January 2?
Despite the ways in which we have fallen, our leaders have always focused on us, and on our obligations to our nation and the world. Richard Nixon told us on January 20, 1969 that he believed “the American people are ready to answer this call [to be peacemakers].” Twelve years later Ronald Reagan told us the crisis we faced required “our best effort and our willingness to believe in ourselves, and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds, to believe that together with God’s help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.” And on January 20, 2009—facing the Mother of all Messes—Barack Obama challenged us by stating:
What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.
Mr. Trump tells us he can do it all, and all by himself. (In and amongst thousands of words in his speech the word “together” appears once.) He also tells us America can rule the world by fiat. He’ll force Mexico to pay for the wall. Make China accept our terms on trade. Honor treaties only when others hop-to. Etc.
Unpacking Mr. Trump’s approach demonstrates its vacuous nature. Mr. Trump leads a party whose icon, Ronald Reagan, told us government is the problem, yet he tells us he’ll be the government, and it’ll be wonderful. Beautiful. And the anti-government party buys this because, why? Well, the best line I’ve heard is “He’s an outsider, and he knows people.”
Twenty-five years ago Hillary Clinton told us “it takes a village to raise a child.” She drove her opponent’s nuts. But we all know a society in which people are watching out for one another’s children works best. A society in which we all help one another. A society in which we believe all boats can rise, together.
Mr. Trump offers no vision for our future, but for the fact that he’ll be front and center. And for all of the pseudo-concern about President Barack Obama being “not like us” it’s really Donald J. Trump who is “the Other.”