July 23, 2024

not what you can do for your country

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective                                                                     
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Ask not what you can do for your country
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — Constitutionally, there only are two prerequisites for a person to serve as president: the person must be 35 years of age or greater without limit and a natural-born citizen. However, numerous understood prerequisites have historically been included.
          These include some of which thankfully no longer apply: straight (James Buchanan being the exception) white Protestant (JFK being the exception) males only.
          Then there are those which regrettably no longer apply: dignity, decency, honesty, courage, patriotism, service to country, bigotry-free, criminality, coherence, mostly vulgarity and profanity free in public, fidelity, etc.
          In short, almost all of the old unspoken rules are gone. True, none of our presidents were angels. Thomas Jefferson made a teenage slave his mistress. Andrew Jackson was a duelist. U.S. Grant barely sidestepped the scandals that plagued his administration. Warren G. Harding would likely have been impeached, convicted, and jailed for corruption had he not died in office. John Kennedy was a serial adulterer. Had Richard Nixon not been pardoned by his successor, he may well have been convicted of a crime over the Watergate scandal. Bill Clinton followed in Kennedy’s footsteps and included a young intern in the White House.
          Yet, for all their indiscretions our flawed presidents generally maintained a modicum of dignity in respect for the office, and they rarely publicly and intentionally flaunted their flaws.
          With Donald Trump all this has changed. The list cited in paragraph three above became a laundry list for him, and he bragged during his 2016 campaign: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”
          Prophetic words. Why? He did not change the unspoken rules; the electorate did. A substantial portion of today’s electorate has proven to be the most selfish, self-centered, poorly informed group of voters in the nation’s history. In part this is due to the Internet and cable news that disseminate biased information to a fractured audience. Fox News and MSNBC speak to opposing constituents, never the twain to meet.
          Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y. (1927-2003), famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” But in today’s media environment there are multiple facts leading to multiple conclusions often undermining the coalescing around common solutions.
          Polarization is the result. And with polarization comes antagonism and pushback that leads to a selfishness unconcerned with character, behavior, or even criminality, but only with a corruption of the altruistic words from John Kennedy’s Inaugural Address: Ask not what you can do for your country; ask what your country can do for you.
          Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2024 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *