Anniversary of a call to citizenship

jfkFifty-five years ago this week, I woke up in Arlington for the first time, a four-year-old transplanted from Texas. Upon finishing law school in Austin, my dad had answered Kennedy’s call, “Ask what you can do for your country,” and gone to work for his senator, Ralph Yarborough.

Dad became an expert in his area — the postal service, one of the enumerated powers of Congress, its purpose to knit together a far-flung republic.

The centrifugal forces that have often confronted this union seem especially strong. I know my dad would not have been inspired by this president, whose only consistency seems to be in appealing to the emotions that divide us, as his administration goes about piling comforts on the comfortable and afflictions on the afflicted. Dad, on the other hand, was proudest of the legislative projects that made things a little easier for constituents of neither means nor power.

Kennedy’s inaugural rejoinder was: “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.” I do not hear in Kennedy’s current successor any thought of those under other flags, except as foils he uses to inflame us.

I remain depressed after the carnage in Las Vegas. As FBI agents search for a rationale, I feel certain they will not find one. Nor will they issue a statement that puts mass murder in context: This is a manifestation of a country that says, I need protection from Other. But there is no protection, nor is there Other. There is only Us, and we’re too afraid to see that.

I’d be wrong to assume Dad would no longer recognize this country, as he was a student of American history. He’s probably wearing that sardonic smile, mulling the folly of man, and optimistic that things will, some day, get better. Which is why we get up in the morning and work for it in our own ways, large and small.

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