November 22, 2013, Washington D.C. I’ve dedicated my career to public service in no small part because of the legacy of a man I never knew. From the earliest days I can remember, my mother spoke about the inspiration of a young president who encouraged his fellow citizens to ask not what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country. I am just one of countless people whose career aspirations were motivated by that noble challenge.
As we pause to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, we are reminded of those words that inspired a proud nation. Kennedy urged Americans to come together to put their country before parochial concerns and lead the world toward a peaceful and prosperous future. “Divided there is little we can do,” he told the nation, but united the possibilities were constrained only by the limits of our imagination.
In these difficult times when trust for government has plummeted and respect for our political institutions, including Congress and the presidency, is severely eroded, the atmosphere seems far removed from that of 1963. And yet I am convinced that the yearning of Americans for a brighter future has never been greater. We expect an efficient, effective government of, by, and for the people, and we want the United States to be a leader on the international stage.
Too often these days, we Americans appear fragmented by opposing political views. Many politicians and media feed a warped perception that one side is right and the other wrong, and fail to make clear there is more that unites us than divides us. What’s lost is an appreciation for the legitimate needs and interests of people with ideas that may differ from our own. America was never founded to be a monoculture: its greatness lies in the diversity of its people held by a common set of values – some more conservative in nature and others more liberal – but each with enduring honor.
Whatever our political differences, Americans are united on this point: the current state of incivility and political dysfunction is not becoming of this great land, and we seek better days ahead. We may differ on the solutions we prescribe, but we must also recognize that we are each 100% responsible for the future of American democracy.
In his unspoken speech slated for delivery at the Dallas Trade Mart on November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy intended to say,
“There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternatives, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable… We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will ‘talk sense to the American people.’ But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense.”
Our challenge is to move beyond finger-pointing to problem-solving. To listen to the ideas of others with the same respect we’d expect for our own. To call out incivility when we see it and demand civil political discourse. To put country before party and remember that we are all first and foremost Americans.
In his 1960 inaugural address, Kennedy proclaimed,
“In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.”
His words are every bit as true today as when he spoke them over 50 years ago. The United States remains a work in progress and its destiny lies in our hands.
By: Shane Christensen, Global Majority Board Member