Bidding Goodbye to Our President and His Vice President

Just back from a massage, my muscles a bit more relaxed, my tensions beginning to ease, hungry, now that is well past noon, I toast some raisin bread, grab the peanut butter, and pour myself a glass a milk while I pick up my phone so I can check out what is happening on Facebook.  

The White House tribute and farewell to Vice President Joe Biden is live.  He had just been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  The farewell speech is nearly over when I join others watching this man speak so lovingly and respectfully about his time in office and about the friendship and bond that has developed between President Obama and himself.  Heart emoticons, and thumbs up emoticons float across the bottom of the screen on phone.  Comments are scrolling below the emoticons.  I hit the heart emoticon and think about how much I love this man and his boss.  Words like dignity, class, civility, and humility come to my mind as I watch the man we commonly call Joe speak.  He hits the nail on the head for when he describes Obama as a man devoid of any sense of entitlement.  I would say the same could be applied to Joe Biden.

I begin to reflect upon our current political environment, upon my own political beliefs, and about the world of politics in which I have lived since I was a child.  To me, The Office of the President of the United States has never really been about politics.  I have respected all of the presidents whom have presided over our country throughout all of my lifetime because of a sense of patriotism that was bred in me from my earliest days.  I learned values of respect for my elders, for my leaders, and for our system of government while I sat at the dinner table and was encouraged by my father to participate in whatever discussions we would have at dinner.  I learned these same values all throughout my school career.  

I learned American History from my parents and grandparents as stories of our own family history, so linked to the history of this country, were told on long Sunday afternoon rides throughout the countryside of Colorado, or when we took vacations with our grandparents.  

As I watched those emoticons float across the screen, read the remarks that others made in the comments, on a Thursday afternoon in January, listening to Joe Biden speak, I wondered just why I was weeping again.  

I had wept earlier this week as I listened to President Barack Obama give his farewell speech.  I wept as if I were saying goodbye to a loved one and to an era which this loved one represented.  Indeed, I had the sense that this was exactly what was happening.  I was weeping because not only was a much admired and loved leader leaving office, but also because the end of an era which I had embraced so fully was coming to an end.

A sense of history washed over me as I listened to President Obama speak.  I thought of the farewell addresses I had read and studied in school.  I thought of the lessons and warnings that we as students were to discover from the departing president's speech.  As we studied those speeches of past presidents, we were asked to note what could we learn about the times in which that president lived from the speech.  What was the background for the remarks that we could learn from history?  What did the speech tell us about the president himself, his administration, his goals and achievements? Earlier this week, as I listened to this man speak, our current and outgoing president, knowing we will not see the likes of his oratory skills for a long time to come, if ever in my lifetime, I resolved to get a printed copy of his speech so I could read it, ponder it, and reflect upon in the days to come.

Today, as I watched the love of a people float across the screen in form of emoticons as Vice President Biden spoke, I realized anew the very different type of connection we feel with each other and with our leaders during these days.  In an instant, we can express to the rest of the world how we are feeling about any given moment in history as we view that moment live on the screen.  

There were comments not worthy of the country in which we live that would pop up in the comments.  Those commenters have the right to express such thoughts because of the rights we in America have, and I support the right to speak one’s beliefs as fundamental to our democracy, but oh how I miss the days of civility and respect.  Yes, to be honest, and I wish to be, our democracy has never been perfect.  We have a history that shows that often we have not shown respect or civility or social justice to our fellow citizens, but never, as far as I know, has such lack of respect and civility been seen in the behavior of those seeking public office as occurred during the election of 2016.

Phillip Yancey recently wrote the following about the political season we just survived:

First, civility lost.  I must fault Trump especially for debasing the presidential campaign.  He had a pejorative nickname for almost everyone: Crooked Hillary, Crazy Bernie, Low-Energy Jeb, Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco.  In the three presidential debates, Trump interrupted Clinton almost one hundred times.  He bullied people offstage and on, mocking a disabled reporter, disparaging women for their looks or their weight, playing to racist fears and ethnic prejudice.  Bullying, racism, sexism, and xenophobia have always been present in American society, but never before has a candidate for the presidency modeled them so blatantly.  Trump let the bats out of the cave, in effect legitimizing the darkest side of a free society. 

On a Thursday afternoon in January, just a few short days before a new president steps into the highest office in the land, my mind went back to an earlier time in my life.  

It was the Sixties.  I was a freshman in college.  To be exact, the year was 1963.  Martin Luther King gave a speech, one I would later teach to ninth grade students, I Have a Dream that year.  There was no civility or dignity or respect in that year when the Ku Klux Klan blew up a church in Alabama.  It was in that era, in that time, when wars over civil rights were being fought in this country, that I walked across campus one night to hear John Howard Griffin speak about the experiences that he had that became the basis for his book, Black Like Me.  

Away from home for the first time in my life, and in the academic setting, I began to develop more fully the beliefs about civil rights and social justice that I would hold throughout my lifetime.  

In 1963, war was raging in Viet Nam, and I had seen many from my family and from among my schoolmates ship off to a place I'd never heard of before to fight in a war I didn't understand.

It was in those days when I walked down the hall of my dorm from my room to the community bath, that groups of girls dressed in nightgowns and pajamas, with rollers in their hair, would be sitting cross-legged in the hallway around a record player one of them had drug into the hall singing I Want To Hold Your Hand and I Saw Her Standing There.  Those were the earliest days of Beatlemania.

Those thoughts all came to me on the heels of the memory I had today as I listened to Joe Biden and wept.  I remembered another day in history when I had wept because I sensed an era had ended.  That day in November I will never forget.  The date was November 22, 1963. On that day, I listened to the radio in that dorm room in Wilson Hall on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado as it was announced to the nation that President John F. Kennedy was dead.  

Yes, this is what this feels like, I said to myself as I watched Vice President Joe Biden bid his farewell to the nation.  Seeing Obama and Biden leave office feels like I am seeing the death of Camelot again.  

I surprised myself when I compared the previous eight years to Camelot.  Certainly, I don't want to infer that these years have been the makings of a myth.  A myth always involves a hero, and I am not one given to hero worship.  Even as I think back to Kennedy, I know for certain that he was a flawed man with many traits I find personally reprehensible.  While I greatly admire Barack Obama, I am not going suggest that he is without his faults.  I do believe he will go down as one of the greatest presidents in the history of our country, but I know he did not always have my support on every issue.

So why am I feeling like I am bidding Camelot goodbye again?  Why did I weep when both Obama and Biden bid us farewell? 

When I was young, our country was so different.  I believe we had a sort of innocence about us not found in today’s society.  I have always believed we lost our innocence as a Nation that day when JFK was assassinated.

JFK transmitted a vision civic duty and participation to many of those of us whom came of age during his presidency. I was educated and came of age during post World War II.  Our teachers and our parents, those from the Greatest Generation, taught us about dignity, respect, honor, civility, honesty, courtesy, patriotism.  These values were modeled for us.  I was taught at home and in school to read, to think, to question, to be responsible, to participate in civic discourse in an educated and informed manner. 

So many of the values that I was taught, that I tried to teach to my children and to my students, that I have seen displayed in the public square for most of my life are disappearing in the current political climate. 

Oratory skills have been lacking in much of our political world for a long time.  Perhaps that is why I took such delight in listening to Obama whenever he spoke.  His breadth of knowledge, his command of English language, his ability to inspire and motivate others to take positive action, were always on display when he spoke. It was apparent that he thought things through.  He is a critical thinker.  His legal training and expertise is apparent.  Beyond that, he is a man who has faced many adversaries, but has emerged as a man who loves and respects others, and gives that love and respect freely.  Have you ever seen him show disrespect?  Have you?  I haven’t.  He loves his wife and his children.  In many ways, he is Everyman.  Perhaps that is why I find I like him so much.  He is a man of the people.  Yes, Joe Biden, he truly does seem to be a man without a trace of entitlement. 

That is why I feel the sadness and sorrow that I do as I face the days of the incoming administration.  I am not mourning the death of myth.  I am not mourning a death of Camelot. I am mourning the death of all of those values and virtues that I held dearest in my leaders: civility, respectful treatment of others, a sense of dignity, evidence of critical thinking, wisdom, inspiration, hope for the future, and grace under fire. 

Just before I embarked on writing this long post, as is my practice after I eat my lunch each day, I opened a piece of Dove chocolate.  The inside of wrapping was imprinted with these words: “Be more loquacious, starting with learning the meaning of loquacious.”  No one has ever accused me of not being loquacious.  I love words.  I place great value in the ability to use words well. 

Now, we are entering an era where the incoming President of the United States does not seem to value the time honored way of our forefathers in fostering hope through the use of well-chosen words.  We are entering an era where the President-elect chooses to communicate in sound bite like messages made up of 140 characters.  We are entering an era where derogatory adjectives are applied to describe the person of which the President-elect is speaking.  We are entering an era where truth is subjective.  The times are being described as times of post-truth. 

My grandmother’s maxim keeps coming to me whenever I hear of a new tweet being sent out from our President-elect ensconced like a demagogue (Oxford University Press definition in mind) in Trump Tower:  Fool’s names and fool’s faces are always seen in public places. 

Today, we lived in a time of great political divide.  We always had political divisions.  That is the American way, but I’ve never known the divides to be quite so divisive when it comes to friendships and family relationships.  I’ve never seen political beliefs cause people to interact in disrespectful ways like I have in the few months.  I’ve never seen my values and my beliefs questioned like they have been recently.  “How can you be a Christian and think that way?”  “You are a baby killer if you vote for Hillary.”  Yes, all of that has been said to me.  My patriotism has been called into question ever since I began supporting Obama years ago and stood against Bush and the wars he got us into.  

Jim & Sally
Obama Rally 2008
Pueblo, Colorado
I’ve been labeled a liberal, when I think of myself as a lifelong moderate.  None of the personal affronts I have experienced matter to me, except that they represent a lack of ability to discuss issues rationally and are indicators that so many no longer respect differences of view and show disrespect towards those who see things in a different light.  The attacks or label applications represent how we no longer appear to be able to discuss issues but rather prefer to slip into labeling and name calling.  I mourn over the loss of civility that I have witnessed and experienced even in my closest relationships within my family, neighborhood, in friendships of long standing, and even in informal church gatherings. 

I know many of you will not share the views and my beliefs that I have expressed in this post.  I would not wish to live in a country where we all had to think alike.  I certainly would not wish to live in a country where I had to participate in group think, nor would I wish to live in this great nation of ours if the very freedom that made us so great was stripped away from us:  Freedom of Speech.  Perhaps, that is what I fear most as I watch reporters and journalists being mocked by our President-elect.  I fear we will lose our freedom of speech, and our freedom to express dissent. 

I weep when I hear President Obama or Vice President Biden say their farewells because good and decent men are leaving the highest office of our land, and I fear that dignity, grace, and civility are leaving the Office of Presidency of the United State of America when they walk out the door.  That is why I weep. 

Fifty Years Ago Today ~ The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Where were you at the at 1:00 p.m., Central Standard Time, on November 22, 1963?  

At about 11:20, Mountain Standard Time, I left my freshman level United States History class at what was then known as Colorado State College (now University of Northern Colorado) to head back to my dormitory room in Wilson Hall.  I was scheduled to work lunch duty in the dining hall and was happy to get out of class a few minutes early because we had been shown a film that day that ended before class was normally over.  It was a Friday, and I was looking forward to going on a date that night.  I was also happy that it was nearly time to go home for Thanksgiving Vacation which would occur the following week.

As I said, at just before noon, I had been attending my freshman history class, a class I greatly enjoyed that was taught by one of those professors able to make history come alive.  I still have a copy of the book we were using:  The United States to 1865.  I kept it thinking it would be a good resource in my teaching career.  Now, after all these years, I think I also kept it as a tangible piece of my own personal history.  I carried this book with me as I crossed campus that day fifty years ago today.

With the quarter drawing to an end, our professor had nearly finished teaching us the course.  Just days before, it had been noted that it had been 100 years before that Lincoln had given the Gettysburg Address.  On this day, November 22, 1963, at around 11:00 a.m. MST, my classmates and I watched a film about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  Our professor talked briefly about the assassination and the film before he showed the film.  He talked briefly about the hopes that Lincoln had for his second term in office.

 I quote from this textbook some of the words that our professor spoke about as he introduced the film:
In the spring of 1865, when the lilacs opened early and the dogwood spread its pure white blossoms in profusion  Lincoln was hoping that the nation's second birth would be free of complication.*  Our professor did not want us to miss the hope that Lincoln had for the the future of our country when he was tragically killed on April 15, 1865.  

I will never forget that just before the film started, our professor placed a trash can next to the classroom door that led to hallway outside.  He said, "This is for your kleenexes.  The film is very realistic and will cause some of you to become emotional."  He was right.  At the end of the film, I was crying.  I continued to walk across campus with tears in my eyes thinking of that great president who had been shot nearly one hundred years before.  

As I crossed campus, other pathways began to fill with students emptying out of other classes.  I tried to get my emotions under control.  Just as I came to the crosswalk near Gunter Hall and Bru Inn, I saw students coming onto campus from the dorms.  I noticed that those coming on campus were crying.  Finally, I stopped someone and asked what was going on.  I was told that they had just heard that the President had been shot.  "No," I said.  "You probably heard someone talking about the film we saw about the assassination of President Lincoln."  I was told that the news was spotty and the sources not specific, but that it did indeed appear that President Kennedy had been shot.

I continued on in my state of denial.  "This just could not be true.  Presidents don't get assassinated in our country."  I continued walking the short distance to my dorm room and climbed the three flights of stairs to my room.  After I changed into my uniform that I wore to serve in the dining hall, I stood at the window and stared to the ground below as I listened to the news on the radio.  There seemed to be such confusion over what had really happened.  I was all alone in my room.  I heard Walter Cronkite announce that President John F. Kennedy was dead.  I was overcome with grief and disbelief.  Soon, I had to leave to go to work in the dining hall.  I still remember that we were served tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch that day.  It was a Friday.  We were not served meat for any meal on Friday.

I remember I went out on my date that night.  I don't remember who the date was with.  I don't remember who else was with us.  I only remember we went to get pizza, but none of us were hungry.  We were too upset to eat.

I remember I just wanted to go home.  My youthful idealism had been shattered.  I remember that for days, before we all could go home for Thanksgiving Break, all of us sat in the student lounge, the only place where a television set could be found,  and watched the days that followed Kennedy's death unfold on the television screen before us.  Those images will stay with me forever.


In 2007, my husband and I spent the day at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts. We were enthralled with the exhibits and totally overcome with emotions as we end our visit that day after we watched the newscasts that had gone around the nation on the day Kennedy was shot.  We felt as if we had gone back in time as we viewed artifacts from the 1950's and 1960's.  We felt the years fall away as we remembered those time.  Viewing all of the newscasts made it all too fresh for us again.  We both wept.

I was a young 18 year old college freshman when Kennedy died.  Away from home for the first time in my life, my letters from that time reflect a young girl who was trying to make the transition from high school to college, and trying to move from carefree teenage days into a more adult time of life.  In reality, I was woefully unprepared for college and for adulthood.  I was extremely idealistic.

JFK represented a new time in American History for those of us who were born just as World War II was ending.  I had been raised in a family of longtime Democrats.  My paternal grandparents were as dyed in the wool Democratic Party as you could get for the time.  They were active in local politics and served on many committees.  My grandmother was president of the Jane Jefferson Club in my hometown.  Grandpa was an Adlai Stevenson man.  When Kennedy was chosen to represent the Party in his bid for the Presidency, I have not doubt that they supported him because he was loyal to the party.

To me, Kennedy was a bit of "fresh air."  He was not like the politicians that my grandfather talked about.  Kennedy had the "cool" factor.  He was young, handsome, smart, had a great accent, and of course, I adored Jackie Kennedy.  I listened to his speeches when I could, and I felt the hope for the future that he seemed to bring to our country.  I had hope that he would bring great progress to the Civil Rights Movement.

Our country was so different then.  We had a sort of innocence about us not found in today's society.  I have always believed we lost our innocence as a Nation that day when JFK was assassinated.

Now, we know so many things about Kennedy that are not flattering.  In 1963, I believed in Camelot.      I did not see the Kennedy family as royalty, nor did I believe that they should be treated as such, but I did believe that Kennedy spoke of vision, youth, and optimism. At that time, I did not know that a young girl, just about my own age, Mimi Alford, had been his secret mistress.  I did not know that he treated this young girl just months older than I, so despicably and exploited her youth and her innocence. Trying to reconcile the Kennedy that was a womanizer with the Kennedy that the public saw is no easy task.

In the end, I choose to remember the vision that he seemed to transmit to those of us that were young when he lived and died.  I am grateful I was born and came of age in those times that spanned the end of World War II until the day, November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was shot.  I take a line from Kennedy's Inaugural given on January 20, 1961 and say, "Yes, Mr. President, you were right.  I would not exchange places with any other people of any other generation.  Thank you for inspiring us with these words so many years ago.  I believe these words still burn deep in the hearts of many from my generation.

I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.  ~ John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1964.

Kraus, Michael. (1959). The United States to 1865. United States of America: University of Michigan Press.