A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Truth could revive trust lost in JFK tragedy

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Nov. 21, 22 or 23

I was a high school freshman 50 years ago this week when the word came from students returning from lunch that the president had been shot. During Latin class, our principal, a former FBI man, came on the public address system and quietly announced that President Kennedy had died.

The assassination of the 35th U.S. President, liberal Democrat John F. Kennedy, was a blow that afternoon, when Mrs. Riggs gamely tried to return to our struggles translating “Caesar's Gallic Wars” Now, it feels like it was a turning point, too.

As much as the attack on Pearl Harbor 22 years earlier, the Moon landing six years later, or the 9-11 terrorist tragedy this century, it’s recalled as a “before-and-after” instant.

On Broadway, “Camelot” closed that year. On TV, popular shows were wholesome, with situation comedies with Andy Griffith Dick Van Dyke leading the ratings. On the radio, soda-shop jukeboxes and tabletop phonograph players, 1963’s music was equally innocent: The top single was “I’m Leaving It Up to You” by Dale & Grace, and the Singing Nun’s “Dominique” would follow weeks later.

Lost amid the anguish and anxiety that Nov. 22 was other news: the death of Aldous Huxley, author of “Doors of Perception” and “Brave New World,” and the release in England of the second album by a new British group, the Beatles.

Looking back, Kennedy’s murder seemed to mark a point after which truth and trust were sacrificed.

Not long afterward, questions quickly arose about the number of JFK’s attackers and backers, and the Warren Commission’s report on the assassination. More doubts occurred during the Vietnam War, then the Watergate scandal, followed by the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration, the Clinton presidency, the Wars in Iraq, the Bush Crash and Great Recession, etc.

Trust in government seemed to evaporate. But trust was weakened across the board, also, from churches to science.

Today, Congress’ approval ratings are in the single digits. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 74 percent of registered voters would like to see most members of Congress replaced. More interesting, the number of people who don’t want their own representative re-elected is the highest in decades: 38 percent.

“The only political party lower in esteem than the Democrats is the Republicans,” says Mark Gruenberg of Press Associates, Inc. “Only 24 percent of the nation trusts them.”

Americans don’t trust and don’t much like Big Business – especially after the 2008 economic meltdown that seemed to spare the bailed-out elites and lead to new records on Wall Street while Main Street copes with ongoing financial woes.

Labor unions aren’t as popular as they used to be, either, mostly due to Right-wing propaganda. Still, the skepticism, resentment or outright hostility to workers who organize is one way everyday people sometimes act against their own interests, one symptom of a festering division in the United States.

Much of the country mistrusts the public schools, which are supposed to be one of the institutions that give us a common background but is attacked as a failed social experiment that could be improved if only profit-oriented interests took over.

The mainstream news media also are blasted, sometimes for good reason, for deferring to the convenient, the powerful or the sensational, and sometimes for goofy reasons, by critics who consume media from “silos” that tell them what they want to hear instead of reality, however uncomfortable.

Is there an escape from such nagging uncertainty? One thought, from corner markets to corner offices, from the Oval Office to the principal’s office, is honesty.

Government: Tell the truth – the whole truth, not selective, self-serving “truthiness” – about our fiscal plight and all the other problems, from poverty to income inequality to workers’ rights to the environment. And politicians: Tell the truth about who your financial supporters are – and how you serve your constituents, not just your financiers.

Business: Admit the pursuit of short-term profits at the expense of long-term good and everything else hurts people, and re-prioritize.

Unions: Open up the labor movement to all workers, and ensure union decision-making is open, too.

Education: Put the public back in public education, from strengthening support for schools to stepping up involvement by parents and taxpayers.

Media: Admit that some news doesn’t move because of political pressure or concern for lost revenue. Then print it, post it, broadcast it, “without fear or favor.”

Everyday people: Keep open minds to competing ideas, not just the echo chamber bouncing from like-minded radio to the Internet. Be empathetic.

Of course, acknowledging and addressing the lack of trust coming from a lack of truth is just a start. But it could be a meaningful memorial to a man stolen from us too soon, and a time taken away.

[PICTURED: Graphic from]

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