June 6th, 1968, began as perhaps the best day of my life. The previous afternoon my wife and I had brought our first-born child home from the hospital, and we went to bed awe-struck by the miracle of a new life. Both political junkies, we had also watched election returns on our small black-and-white TV before falling asleep well before midnight, long before any hard news from California.
We awoke with our son on June 6th, still overwhelmed with joy….until I turned on the television to find out that Robert Kennedy was dead. He had been murdered in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen, just after accepting the cheers of his supporters, just after winning the California Democratic primary, just after taking a giant step toward winning the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.
Two months earlier, another assassin had murdered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. That killing had prompted me and some friends to drive through the night from Bloomington, Indiana, to Memphis for the memorial march. The killing of RFK undid me, and many millions like me.
Those two murders poisoned our political process. They paved the way for violence at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, the election of Richard Nixon, his escalation and prolonging of a senseless war in Viet Nam, and government’s retreat from efforts to end segregation and racial discrimination.
Have we recovered? The evidence suggests we have not: The hyper-rich .001%, phony patriotism from a self-focused President, a pliant Congress, a polarized nation, looming trade wars, and a rapidly warming planet.
Where are the voices calling to our better angels? I do not hear any of Trump’s opposition saying anything that even remotely resembles JFK’s, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
Instead, Trump’s opposition panders to voters with calls for”Free College” and the like, as if anything in life were free. Bobby Kennedy reminded us that those born with advantages had an obligation to work to improve the lives of others. He made us believe that we could do better and be better, and, because of him, we did and we were.
Bobby Kennedy appealed to our better angels, and we miss him still.