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June 18, 2018

6/12/2018 7:30:00 AM
Bobby Kennedy and Donald Trump

To the Editor:

On June 6, the nation took time to note the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The memory of that event is, and will be forever, a part of the collective consciousness of an entire generation who lived through that time of unprecedented political and cultural upheaval. Bobby Kennedy was no saint. He was, especially early on, rightly characterized as ruthless and tough-as-nails, whether confronting Jimmy Hoffa or guiding his older brother to the White House. The emergent Bobby of 1968 was the culmination of a long evolution in political and social thought brought on by the loss of that older brother, an increasing awareness of poverty and inequality in America, and, above all, the Vietnam War.

But this letter is not intended as a nostalgic retelling of the '60s or heartfelt eulogy to a political icon of the era. Above all, this is an opportunity to see what political leadership and character is and is not. It is the stark difference between a Robert Kennedy and a Donald Trump. We can never know what Bobby's future might have been; history offers no alternatives except in speculation and fantasy. We do know that, contrary to popular mythology following his murder, he was far from universally admired during his life. But we also know that by 1968 Kennedy was a man intensely committed to social and economic justice; a man dedicated to ending a long, bloody, and tragic war. And a man whose eloquence communicated the selflessness and honesty of a just cause. In other words, a man who stood for something.

Donald Trump is none of these things. He is a man whose entire adult life has been, and continues to be, a commitment to no one or anything other than himself. He understands human relationships as zero-sum transactions or outright exploitation, and the world is divided solely between winners and losers. Unlike RFK, it is impossible to even imagine the words "eloquence," "selflessness" and "honesty" being used to describe the venality of his character. His administration is but a collection of grifters, sycophants, and incompetents all seemingly intent on raising corruption to ever higher levels. Donald Trump has an instinctive sense of governing that is petty, vengeful, and totally removed from any understanding of traditional American concepts of fairness and decency. And while it may yet be too early to declare this whole charade a vast criminal enterprise, I wouldn't bet against it.

I experience this anniversary as a moment of profound loss and sadness. In June of 1968 America lost a chance at true greatness. In June of 2018 "Make America Great Again" is nothing but an obscene marketing ploy promoted by lying hucksters who have somehow convinced their "base" that black is white, up is down, and wrong is right.

Jeff Laadt

Eagle River

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