There’s been a call for an open thread about the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. It’s a tragedy that I don’t understand at all, neither in terms of how it happened nor in terms of what it meant. I thought this Sam Tannenhaus piece was pretty good:
It is inspiring, but also deflating, to see and hear again (and again) the handsome, vigorous president, the youngest ever elected to the office, as he beckons the country forth to the future, to the “New Frontier,” and its promise of conquest: putting a man on the moon, defeating sharply defined evils — totalitarianism, poverty, racial injustice.
This, we have been reminded, was the dream Kennedy nourished, and much of it died with him, when the sharp cracks of rifle fire broke out as his motorcade rolled through the sunstruck streets of Dallas. With this horrific, irrational deed, a curse was laid upon the land, and the people fell from grace.
But this narrative and the anniversary remembrances have obscured the deeper message sent and received on Nov. 22, 1963. In fact, America had already become a divided, dangerous place, with intimations of anarchic disorder. Beneath its gleaming surfaces, a spore had been growing, a mass of violent energies, coiled and waiting to spring.
“The sniper’s bullet left one wound that is not healed, a wound to our consciousness of ourselves as Americans,” the culture critic Dwight Macdonald wrote in December 1963. “Despite all the evidence in the newspapers, the daily stories of senseless brutality and casual murder, we have continued to think of ourselves as a civilized nation where law and order prevail.”
I think I do understand the political meaning of the Civil Rights movement, and why the last 50 years have dominated by its consequences. It’s not that complicated — Republicans turned the maintenance of white male privilege into political gold.
But I can’t really understand the optimism people describe in pre-Dallas America. It’s too alien to me.