Bobby Kennedy Vs. Trump’s No Show at Minneapolis
Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 appearance in Indianapolis and the art of how to heal a nation.
- Imagine if Robert Kennedy had had the power of Twitter at his side in early April 1968. Maybe he could have promoted real change in the US.
- In the wake of the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968, Robert Kennedy became the moral leader in the US during a time of national mourning.
- As Trump promises to send the US military to fight the American people, it is worthwhile remembering a more civil and courageous US leader.
At a time when President Trump promises to send the U.S. military to fight the American people, and as he promises to unleash vicious dogs on them and as he threatens that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, it is worthwhile remembering a brighter, more civil and courageous United States.
On April 4, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy, then a presidential contender, had scheduled a regular campaign appearance in Indianapolis in a largely African-American neighborhood, today referred to as the Kennedy/King neighborhood.
Kennedy ran late and the crowd grew ever more restless. The reason was that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. RFK had just received initial briefings on the killing.
Against the advice of the Secret Service, which felt that it could not guarantee Kennedy’s safety, Robert Kennedy went into the area of his planned routine stop.
When he arrived, he stepped onto the back of a pickup truck and informed the crowd of Dr. King’s murder. Then, he gave a passionate and impromptu speech. He could literally feel and hear the unspeakable pain that had suddenly beset his listeners.
Robert Kennedy’s standard of nation-unifying
Among the many calming words he spoke, he said:
But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.
“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
That night U.S. cities were on fire, Baltimore and Washington D.C. among them. Indianapolis remained peaceful. Such is the power of the words of empathy, reconciliation, compassion and peace.
Taking his message to the white and privileged
RFK cancelled all campaign appearances until after the funeral of Dr. King, except for one. He traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, and addressed a group of largely white and largely wealthy supporters of his. Money was important in politics then too, but far less so than today.
Cynics may say that Kennedy’s speech on April 5 was a hypocritical fundraising event. Those cynics, however, have not read the speech he gave.
It was important to Kennedy to address the critical issue of racism and inequality not only with African-Americans mourning Dr. King’s death as he did the night before, but also with white Americans, especially the privileged.
And so, Bobby Kennedy said these words to his supporters at the Cleveland City Club:
When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies — to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.
Kennedy’s prescient description of all that Trump stands for
Nobody in 2020 or for that matter ever since the emergence of Donald Trump on the political scene has been more on point in describing the horrific divisiveness that exemplifies his presidency.
Nobody during this current crisis has as eloquently explained, where the words of hatred uttered by President Trump ultimately lead us as a nation. And no, sadly, 52 years after RFK spoke those words, nothing describes more accurately Donald Trump’s depravity.
Imagine if RFK had had the power of Twitter
Imagine if RFK had had the power of Twitter or Facebook at his side in early April 1968.
Maybe, just maybe he could have healed some pain and promoted real change in the United States that must begin in the hearts of all Americans.
And maybe, just maybe many cities in the United States would have avoided hosting monuments of charred, burnt-out buildings from the uprising that were left in many cities for decades, a permanent reminder that little would change.
Bobby Kennedy himself would be assassinated only three months later, leaving us to wonder whether he would ever be able to make due on his promises when he said so often: “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I see things that never were, and ask why not.”
Our generations X, Y and Z have been much derided. But as a baby boomer, I have far more faith in them and, maybe for the first time in my life, I feel that they collectively may take us to the mountaintop.