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1961 and 2017 — Similar challenges, opposite responses

One of my favorite things to do is travel to new and interesting places where I can learn from our history and see things I haven’t seen before. Recently, my wife and I visited Cape Cod where we enjoyed tasting the local cuisine of fresh seafood, and visiting historic sites and museums. The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum was of particular interest to me because it was celebrating JFK’s Centennial year – “JFK at 100, Life and Legacy.”

JFKthedonaldIn noticing the historical facts and quotes, I found a stark similarity between the divisions in our county in the 1960s during the Kennedy years and today, in the era of Trump. The approach to governing between then and now, however, is very different.

In the first 1,000 days time line of the Kennedy Presidency exhibition titled “The Torch is pasted,” it said: “Blanketed by eight inches of snow from the night before, the Capital was at a standstill as president Kennedy took office on Jan 20, 1961. The new president addressed the crowd in a stirring speech that is still among the most recognizable in American history. The president candidly acknowledged the issues confronting the nation and urged the country to seek peaceful solutions to seemingly intractable problems.”

It was a call to service. Kennedy was not proposing that he, or any leader, had the perfect answers. Instead, he asked the nation to join him in a process of struggle, sacrifice and service that would unite a divided nation. His hopeful and honest words left an indelible mark on America and inspired innumerable future leaders.


A few examples of historical events from the time line include:

• June 30, 1961, President Kennedy signs a bill allowing people to retire with Social Security at age 62. He also signs a sweeping $5 billion law funding a middle-income housing bill. With aid to seniors and mass transit;

• July 26, 1962, JFK overhauls welfare legislation to emphasize family rehabilitation and training, instead of dependency;

• Oct 10, 1962, He makes the first major improvements to the food and drug laws in almost three decades by protecting families against untested and ineffective drugs; and

• October 16-28, 1962, The Cuban Missile Crisis: As the world teeters on the edge of nuclear war, JFK negotiates a peaceful resolution, stating, “Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right — not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.”

While reading the historical references from the Kennedy years I could not avoid thinking about the differences between JFK’s approach and that of our current president, Donald Trump:

JFK brought us closer as a country, while today Trump divides us;

JFK negotiated peace, while Trump continues to beat the drums of war;

JFK wanted government that worked for us all, and Trump has appointed a cabinet with the goal of dismantling government. In the Trump Executive Branch, agencies are overturning decades of rules that we rely on to protect us.

For example, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency are considering easing fuel economy standards that impose a minimum 55 mpg on carmakers by 2025.

“Zombie” banks are another example. The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation are considering a rule that would allow banks to update their status every two years, rather than annually — a big detour on the road map for shutting failing banks before they get too big to fail.

Large firms are no longer required to report detailed pay data – showing how female and minority employees are compensated — to the Equal Opportunity Commission.

And the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has just shelved a rule requiring employers to electronically submit workers’ injury data.

While Trump tweets and fulminates in the spotlight, his cabinet is busy offstage rewriting the rules of our government!

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