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JFK: When The Light Went Out Of The Sky

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JFK: When The Light Went Out Of The Sky


Reprinted with permission from Creators.

SANTA MONICA — Nov. 22 will always be a day the heavens are hung in black.

John F. Kennedy was the American president on a bright morning in Texas. He was murdered at midday in Dallas, in 1963. The world’s heart stood still before it broke. Beyond our borders, Berlin and Dublin wept because Kennedy won over their citizens. He built goodwill abroad and spoke in German: “I am a Berliner!”

People loved listening to Kennedy for lofty ideas crossed with cool wit. It didn’t hurt that he was tall, slender and movie-star handsome after the grandfatherly general, Dwight D. Eisenhower. In his 1961 inaugural address, he made a point of saying the torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans, “born in this century.” Kennedy was born in 1917, a century ago.

It was well to reflect on a paradise lost, as Thanksgiving was celebrated around the nation. I promise you this salted the holiday with bittersweet herbs, as we consider the overstuffed turkey in the White House today.

My father and I counted the ways that Jack Kennedy was different from Donald Trump.

For starters, JFK was born to privilege and wealth, like Trump, but wore it lightly. The Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, in shipshape New England style, is a stark contrast to Trump’s gaudy gold tower in midtown Manhattan. Kennedy loved to sail; Trump’s a golf landlubber, just like Ike, um President Eisenhower.

Kennedy was a naval war hero in World War II. On his valor, he replied, “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” Disarming laughs like that are the best cut of character. Trump never served in the military, yet somehow he had the nerve to slight Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., for being a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Kennedy was a true history intellectual even as he served in Congress. His Senate study, “Profiles in Courage,” explores men who cast unpopular votes when it mattered most. He found “Liberty and Union” Daniel Webster fell short of what he was cracked up to be. And he won the Pulitzer Prize.

The book is beautifully written. Kennedy thanks his wife Jacqueline, who edited and polished the work, soon after their 1953 wedding. In their “Thousand Days” White House, the Kennedys made it a lighthouse of culture.

Poetry had a place, with Robert Frost a guest. Cellist Pablo Casals performed one shining evening. Nobel Prize winners were invited to gather there: the most extraordinary collection “with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone,” Kennedy said lightly.

But things changed this year. Trump did not host the American Nobel laureates. I wonder why. It’s no secret, he’s an anti-intellectual. He rarely cracks a book.

Before the lark in the book world, Kennedy was even up on “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. He told reporters he asked his science advisor to read it just before the monumental work was published. It was a harbinger of the environmental movement.

What a rub. JFK enjoyed banter and repartee with the press. In a profound insult to freedom of the press, Trump declared us his “enemy” on his first full day in office.

Kennedy spoke in soaring language, some of the best presidential prose ever. Concluding his inaugural address, he declared, “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days. … But let us begin.”

Then there’s this: “The American carnage stops right here.” Trump’s inaugural address was defiantly rough. Elegance gasped and fainted in the city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm, JFK’s line on Washington.

In 1962, a foreign policy crisis hit: the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cabinet tapes show hours and days of Kennedy conducting clear, calm discussions on the Soviet Union’s sending nuclear missiles to Cuba. In brilliant reasoning, Kennedy never let the generals have the last word. No hero-worship the way Trump pays homage to “my generals,” like former Marine Corps general John Kelly, chief of staff. JFK consulted allies and the British ambassador.

A naval blockade was the way to a peaceful resolution.

Remembering the extinguished light is like peeling an onion: you end up in tears.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com.




  1. dbtheonly November 24, 2017

    Trump pales in comparison to almost all American Presidents.

    Lyndon Johnson grew up in hard-scrabble Texas. Yet, no matter how rich or powerful he became: he never lost his desire to improve the lot of the poorest, most forgotten Americans. There has never been a President who wanted to do right by all Americans as Johnson.

    Trump? Snort of derision.

  2. 1standlastword November 24, 2017

    Donald Trump is the antithesis of all American Presidents completely! All that we now know about Russian interference in our country Trump still wonders: what’s wrong with having good relations with Russia….”. I don’t believe Trump believes his intelligence community on any part of it! I ask you what American President would take that position. And it should be clear to even the traitors that love Trump that Donald would prefer to ask what MORE his country can DO FOR HIM not what he can do for his country but more like what he can “undo” TO his most vulnerable fellow Americans. Oh yes, Trump is purely unlike any past American President. In truth he’s not an American President. He’s a kleptocrat in the style of Putin. I’m convinced, the Trump Administration is a puppet government for Russia!! And if Trump went out like Kennedy the lights would come back on and broken hearts would mend!

    1. dtgraham November 24, 2017

      Until Mike Pence turns them off and breaks them again. Well, at least Pence would restore some outward veneer of normality and dignity to the office. The orange orangutan in there right now is a straight-up nut.

      With apologies to orangutans everywhere.

      1. 1standlastword November 24, 2017

        If Putin’s man serves a full term as POTUS our republic will be in the likeness of Crimea, Georgia and Ukraine: That’s if two thirds of the planet doesn’t get dissolved in radiation. On the other hand, if the fates are kind and justice prevails Putin’s czar over America will get locked up and Pence will be condemned as guilty by association which leaves the reviled Paul Ryan to assert himself or who knows who. Whatever happens I think there is a constitutional crisis in our fairly near future

    2. Independent1 November 25, 2017

      In reality, I think Trump envisions himself as the mob boss of America – which is why he disdains, Congress, the SCOTUS and even the people who are in his cabinet – thinking he’s the only important one and should be able to do and get away with anything he wants.


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