The anecdote is so perfect, so polished, so delicious that it doesn’t matter whether it is precisely true.
John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed, a moment that America could barely grasp. For months, the stories in the media had one theme: What is wrong with America? How has democracy failed?
Though she could be tough as nails in print, the brilliant columnist Mary McGrory was personally shattered. Probably at some small, private, elegant, candlelit dinner, she turned to Kennedy aide Daniel Patrick Moynihan and said, “We’ll never laugh again.”
“Heavens, Mary, we’ll laugh again,” Moynihan replied. “It’s just that we will never be young again.”
It turned out to be true. Appalling acts of violence became everyday occurrences, and in that sense, America was robbed of its youth and innocence.
But we still had our democracy. We still had our nation. We still had our laughter.
Anybody feel like laughing these days?
Donald Trump has been elected president, not by a plurality of American voters but by the Electoral College. How much secret influence was used by foreign governments to sway American voters remains a mystery.
Racism, bigotry, sexism and intolerance all played major roles in the campaign. And we are now told Trump spoke to people’s “anger” and the feeling that cultural elites had stolen the nation from them.
At his farewell address to the nation Tuesday night, President Barack Obama delivered one of his classic “we are all one country” speeches. It was solid, but it did not soar. We have heard it too many times.
“We remain the wealthiest, most powerful and most respected nation on earth. Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours,” Obama said to a crowd of 18,000 in Chicago’s McCormick Place.
The future “should” be ours. He didn’t say it will be. Our Founding Fathers, Obama said, “knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity.”
But do we? Does Trump’s America feel that it rises and falls with Hillary and Bill’s America? Or does it feel separate and abused, the object of jokes and derision?
And there are those on the left, especially women, who feel robbed once again. They believe that Trump did not obtain his office honestly, yet there is no relief, no law, no remedy. He got almost 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, yet he gets the Oval Office and she gets the ash heap of history.
As one Clinton stalwart said, “I learned a lesson – one of several out there – that America would rather elect a male wacko, bigot, serial groper who knows virtually nothing about matters domestic or foreign than elect a highly qualified woman.”
On Wednesday, Trump had his first news conference in months. Its main takeaway was that he is unchanged. His news conferences are duplicates of his speeches, with jumbles of thought, streams of unconnected nouns and verbs, word salads.
“There’s a great spirit going on right now, a spirit that many people have told me they have never seen before,” Trump said to the assembled reporters. “I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created.”
He also wanted to make sure to point out that those key states that gave him a victory in the Electoral College will be rewarded for it. They are “going to have a lot of jobs, and they’re going to have a lot of security,” he said.
Obama said Tuesday night, “We’re all in this together. ... We rise or fall as one.”
But with one big condition: “Without some common base line of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point and that science and reason matter, then we’re going to keep talking past each other, and we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible.”
Unfortunately, the America of talking past each other is the America that Trump is ushering in.
The Trump followers nurture their grievances. The progressives laugh up their sleeves at how crude they are.
In 2002, early on in the administration of President George W. Bush, radical professor and political scientist Michael Parenti said: “They’re not stupid. You’re stupid if you think they’re stupid. You’re stupid if you think your enemies are stupid. ...
“In the U.S., I can tell you, everybody is making jokes about how stupid George Bush is. I tell my fellow country men and women, I say, ‘You know, we keep electing these stupid leaders. Does this have any reflection on our intelligence?’ ...
“It’s time we give less emphasis to how stupid these people supposedly are and give more attention to how vicious and relentless and uncompromising they are.”
Donald Trump said Wednesday: “Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading it than when other people have led it. ... We’re run by people that don’t know what they’re doing.”
And as to allegations he engaged in bizarre sexual acts, he denies it. As proof, he reminded the press, almost casually, “I’m also very much of a germophobe, by the way.”
And he soon will be the president of the United States, by the way.
We will, eventually, laugh again. But it may take a long time. And we will never be this young again.