Recently I visited the JFK Museum in Hyannis, Massachusetts. As 2017 would have been President Kennedy’s 100th birthday, it seemed appropriate. It’s a great museum with many remarkable and moving artifacts, film reels and more.
At one point, you can watch the president’s inaugural address from January 20th, 1961. Most people remember its most famous line:
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
It’s an iconic moment in American history and a call we all should answer. But the rest of the speech is just as remarkable, especially when compared to the words of our current leader.
President Donald Trump recently addressed the UN for the first time. Startled murmurs filled the hall as Trump said the following:
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” He continued, leveling a juvenile nickname at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.”
Compare that to these words from Kennedy’s first address to the nation as its President:
“Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.”
Back at the UN this week, Trump said, ”Major portions of the world are in conflict and some in fact are going to hell.” In a 40-minute speech, he attacked Iran’s nuclear ambitions, belittled Venezuela’s collapsing democracy, and fanned the threat of Islamist extremists.
Back in 1961, John Kennedy surveyed the politics of his time, and instead name-calling and threatening nuclear war, said the following:
“But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course–both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind’s final war.”
“So let us begin anew–remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
“Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”
“Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms–and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.”
“Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce.”
“Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah–to ‘undo the heavy burdens . . . (and) let the oppressed go free.’”
How far we have fallen. How dire our lives have become, when America’s leader can stand before a world body of 193 leaders and threaten to “totally destroy” one of its members, including the women, children, elderly, disabled…heck the pets who call that country home.
“My fellow citizens of the world,” said President Kennedy, “ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
Donald Trump makes no such call. Instead, his is a call to war. To misery. To suffering. How long before we’re all gone?