I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot this week.
If my dad were alive, he would have been elated to cast his vote for Donald Trump. It wouldn’t have just been his disdain for Hillary Clinton. It would have been his agreement with everything Trump stands for.
He would have proudly worn the red “Make America Great Again” hat. He would have driven across the state of Wisconsin to attend rallies, and written opinion letters to local newspapers. He would have learned to repost articles on Facebook, eventually proclaiming that social media does indeed serve a legitimate societal purpose.
Our personal relationship would have gotten ugly. Because the tensions between the ideologies in this election were the tensions between the two of us my entire adult life.
My father and I always debated the trade offs of globalization, immigration, and militarization. While he felt the government had no right to control gun ownership, I felt the government had no right to control women’s bodies.
But it got deeper, and more personal. There were stretches of time during my adult life where we didn’t speak, sparked by his words or actions that were blatantly racist or sexist. Certain lines were crossed; the shared bloodlines didn’t matter.
But here’s the irony. I credit my father for teaching me to always stand up for what I believe in. I just didn’t always believe in what he believed in.
My father also introduced me to the man whose words keep echoing in my head as I come out of my Trump-Clinton post-election fog– John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy was my father’s political hero. He read every book, watched every documentary, and had an opinion on every conspiracy theory. They shared the same nickname “Jack.” I know more about Kennedy than presidents who served after my birth.
If I had to guess, my father’s favorite Kennedy quote would match mine:
“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
I can’t get the line out of my head. But I needed to remind myself the context in which it was said. So I started reading about the 1960 U.S. Presidential election.
The election followed a heated campaign in which Democratic Massachusetts senator Kennedy ran against the incumbent Vice President, Republican Richard Nixon.
Kennedy’s campaign promise was to “Get America Moving Again.” Nixon promised to continue the “peace and prosperity” of the Eisenhower administration. In his speeches, he emphasized his experience compared to Kennedy’s relative lack thereof.
Going into the fall, most polls gave Nixon a slim lead over Kennedy. In 1960, candidates were testing a new medium for communicating with the American people– television. The three presidential debates were the first ever to be televised nationally. Television proved to be a boon for Kennedy– not so much for Nixon.
And on November 8, Americans went to the polls. In an election that was too close to call that night, Nixon and Kennedy made respective concession and victory speeches on November 9, 1960.
Sound all too familiar? History certainly repeats.
Announcing his victory, President-elect Kennedy made a request:
“To all Americans, I say that the next four years are going to be difficult and challenging years for us all; that a supreme national effort will be needed to move this country safely through the 1960s. I ask your help and I can assure you that every degree of my spirit that I possess will be devoted to the long-range interest of the United States and to the cause of freedom around the world.”
My favorite line was part of Kennedy’s inauguration speech on January 21, 1961. In that speech, he reminded his fellow citizens that our hands–more than his own– would be responsible for our success of failure as a nation. He asked every person to fight the common enemies of man– tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself. He spoke not just about America, but our role as citizens in a broader world.
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”
And he continued.
“My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
I’m listening carefully to the words of President-elect Trump. While I’m certainly listening for his decisions on people, policies and programs, I’m listening for something more.
Is he asking each of us as Americans to be leaders?
I have yet to hear it– in his campaign or in speeches or interviews since becoming President-elect. I have repeatedly heard him say, “I will fix (insert issue).” I hear him telling Americans who are worried about their personal freedoms and safety post-election simply, “Don’t be afraid,” and those using his election to conduct hate crimes to “Stop it.”
I believe words are important. When you speak to people like children, they act like children. When you inspire people to be leaders, they step up as leaders.
Kennedy’s inspiration was behind the advice my father gave me many times as a child.
“Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing; worry about what you are doing.”
It taught me to focus on what I can control. It taught me to be a leader, to stand for what I think is important.
And so it was the voices of two men named “Jack”– John F. Kennedy and my father– echoing in my head this week.
I’m taking their advice. I’m “doubling down” on what I believe is important– bridging divides by encouraging Americans to seek global experiences and by supporting girls education and empowerment around the world.
I am hoping President-elect Trump transitions from promising to save us to pushing us to save ourselves, as well as our country and our world.
But I’m not waiting for him.
I’ll be asking my family, friends and colleagues– regardless of who you voted for– about what you stand for and how you choose to serve our country and world.
“Be the leader you wish you had.” — Simon Sinek