This weekend is the fiftieth anniversary of death of a president. If you were in grade school or older on November 22 you’ll know who I’m talking about. If you weren’t you’re probably wondering what all the hub bub is about. I’ve never really thought of myself as part of a declining generation before, but that death in
marked the beginning of a series of events that almost defined a generation.
Integrating the suburbs meant that those with money and mobility could leave the cities with their crowded streets and poverty behind. The city became the place where you worked, played, bought drugs and headed home to the house, minivan and 2.5 kids. Safe in gated communities we could ignore the blasted neighborhoods with too few jobs, crumbling schools and damn few local role models. Public spaces are turned into “free speech” zones or strip malls where there’s no “public” space at all.
The Great Communicator challenged Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in
Berlin while our proxies were
blowing up fields, shanties, tenements and refugees in El Salvador and
Guatamala; it almost never made the evening news. It sure as hell didn’t make
it into the local papers.
When we finally chose to do our own dirty work in the
Middle East the military made damn sure that the
correspondents weren’t allowed to go nosing around on their own. And some of
the ones who did try ended up being murdered by the extremists on the other
side. Now technology makes it possible for a technician in a control room in
the continental US to push a button and kill without ever seeing the ones who
die. No more Ed Murrows hitching rides on British bombers and filing reports on
Voters put a Black man in the White House in 2008 and we pretended that this proved we were living in a post racial society while every new day proves that the divides are deeper and deadlier than ever.
Who knows. Maybe this generation has to pass before we can finally heal the divisions and finally make at least part of the dream Jack Kennedy described for us when he took office half a century ago.