Carnage In Las Vegas, And Presidential Words Which Fail To Heal

Donald Trump delivered a poignant address to the nation following the Las Vegas shootings, diminished only by the knowledge that the words and sentiments spoken were so clearly not those of the president

Our thoughts and prayers must be most strongly this evening with the souls of the 59 people killed in cold blood by a gunman as they enjoyed a country music festival in Las Vegas, as well as the five hundred-plus who were injured and their relatives, the police officers who ran towards the gunfire and those medical staff now working hard to save lives still in peril. Even by American standards, the Mandalay Bay Casino shooting is an unspeakably shocking atrocity.

At times like these, we have often looked to elected officials, particularly the president, to explain the inexplicable, to make sense of that which has no reason, and to offer some words of consolation to a shocked nation. Towards the end of his presidency, after Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston and many more such senseless massacres, Barack Obama looked visibly jaded, attempting to come up with new words of comfort as each killer dispatched his quota of innocent men, women and children to the mortuary.

President Donald Trump’s initial response to the Las Vegas attack – on Twitter, naturally – was characteristically slightly off-tone, giving his “warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families” affected by the carnage:

“Warmest condolences” is an odd turn of phrase, the first word almost congratulatory before coming crashing back down to earth with the second. Fair or not, it adds to the sense of a man who knows the social conventions and behaviours expected of him but struggles to perform to specification because it doesn’t quite come naturally.

The televised presidential statement, on the other hand, was much better, almost poetic in places. Some of the words spoken were among the most humane that Trump has ever uttered in public:

Hundreds of our fellow citizens are now mourning the sudden loss of a loved one — a parent, a child, a brother or sister. We cannot fathom their pain. We cannot imagine their loss. To the families of the victims: We are praying for you and we are here for you, and we ask God to help see you through this very dark period.

There was also an effort to seek consolation in scripture and through the faith and religiosity which rightly remains important to many Americans:

Scripture teaches us, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” We seek comfort in those words, for we know that God lives in the hearts of those who grieve. To the wounded who are now recovering in hospitals, we are praying for your full and speedy recovery, and pledge to you our support from this day forward.

The conclusion was particularly moving in its simplicity:

Our unity cannot be shattered by evil. Our bonds cannot be broken by violence. And though we feel such great anger at the senseless murder of our fellow citizens, it is our love that defines us today — and always will, forever.

In times such as these, I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness. The answers do not come easy. But we can take solace knowing that even the darkest space can be brightened by a single light, and even the most terrible despair can be illuminated by a single ray of hope.

Melania and I are praying for every American who has been hurt, wounded, or lost the ones they love so dearly in this terrible, terrible attack. We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace. And we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear.

May God bless the souls of the lives that are lost. May God give us the grace of healing. And may God provide the grieving families with strength to carry on.

I have no desire to be churlish about the presidential statement, which in many ways ranked among the best remarks that Donald Trump has delivered since taking office. The president certainly expressed all of the right sentiments.

Yet the gulf between Trump au naturel and Trump on teleprompter is so vast as to be disconcerting. To witness Donald Trump extemporise and then to watch him perform at an important set-piece event is like watching two completely different people inhabiting the same body.

I assume that Stephen Miller was responsible for writing Donald Trump’s effective words today. He did well. It was not on the level of presidential statements such as Ronald Reagan’s in the aftermath of the Challenger space shuttle disaster but it was effective in its poignant brevity, though my perception may be slightly skewed given that so many of Trump’s previous public pronouncements have been so dire.

But while poignant and affecting, the words recited with all due solemnity into the television camera were clearly not the inner thoughts of the president who delivered them. Donald Trump’s mouth moved and said the right things, but never has it been more painfully apparent that when it matters most (whether it be setting out foreign policy or responding to a domestic crisis) he is the ventriloquist dummy president.

A good speechwriter can literally channel their boss, “talk” in their voice. My speechwriting hero Ted Sorensen (who worked closely with John F. Kennedy from his Senatorial career right through his presidency and is responsible for crafting some of Kennedy’s most famous speeches) is a prime example, as is former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan. They can conjure magic, but their magic bears the unmistakable stamp of their principal’s own rhetorical style. They elevate the person for whom they write, they do not seek to recreate him or her from scratch or mould him in their own image.

As Ted Sorensen wrote in his book “Counsellor”, a memoir of his time serving in the Kennedy administration:

Whatever success I achieved as a speechwriter for Kennedy arose from knowing the man so well – from the years we spent working, traveling, and talking together, as close friends and collaborators who communicated constantly at a time when I regarded his election and stature as my principal professional goals. That success could not later be replicated with someone else with whom I did not have that same relationship.

It stretches credulity to imagine that Stephen Miller, for all his rhetorical talents, is best buddies with Donald J Trump or that they enjoy that closeness of working or social relationships to effectively be of one mind in the way that Kennedy and Sorensen worked so well.

A truly memorable speech captures something of the essence of the speaker, and therefore the speechwriter must know them well, at least in terms of their public and civic life. But this requires the speaker to have coherent values and policy aspirations which can serve as a lodestar to their thoughts for the speechwriter to follow, and Donald Trump has shown no signs of holding any such firm principles. He has no political Northern Star. This would suggest, as if we did not already know, that it was Miller talking, not Trump, when the president stood at the podium today.

The speechwriting ideal is that it should be impossible to tell where the politician’s own voice ends and where the speechwriter’s begins. Richard Nixon once said in an interview that a good speechwriter must be “an intellectual who can completely sublimate his style to another individual”. But we would have heard a very different speech today had Stephen Miller been rash enough to sublimate himself to Donald Trump.

“There’s a tendency among some hopeful souls to confuse the speeches written for Trump with the thoughts of the man himself” remarked a jaded but perceptive Australian journalist during the G20 meeting in July this year. The same point is equally applicable today, when there is such a painful disconnect between the words we hear and the face we see. It is painful because the poignant words of comfort are diminished, knowing as we do that the man who spoke them did not and could never have written them himself.

Perhaps we no longer value good speechwriting or want our leaders to have an aptitude for rhetoric. Maybe great oratory is passé. But I don’t think so. People still want inspiration and will grant a hearing to anybody who looks like they might provide it, whether it be Donald Trump’s shallow pledge to Make America Great Again or Jeremy Corbyn’s promise of a social democratic New Jerusalem in Britain.

People still want to tear down this wall. They want to be exhorted to fight evil on the beaches, in the fields and in the streets, and never surrender. They want to choose to go to the moon, and to touch the face of God. They want to believe that we shall overcome. We are human beings, and we want to be inspired.

Today, the West is led by people who preach fear and pessimism, largely because our leaders are fearful and pessimistic themselves. “Make America Great Again” sounds superficially positive, but is a cold and bleak credo at heart. The same goes for Theresa May’s ideologically lost Conservative government’s overworn pledge to deliver “a country that works for everyone” in Britain.

There is no real ambition any more because confidence in our values has not been nurtured, and slowly ebbed away. And this retrenchment, the fearful, introspective defensive crouch in which we find ourselves is echoed in our present political rhetoric. Kennedy’s exhortation has been reversed, and now we petulantly ask what the country will do for us rather than what we can do for the country (and our fellow citizens).

It will be tremendously hard to improve our politics without better political rhetoric to inspire people and call them to action, but better speechwriting and political rhetoric can only come about when there are policies and values which inspire and uplift. And on those increasingly rare occasions where we still encounter poetry in our civic life, it feels fake because it is so disconnected from the leaders delivering the speeches.

Donald Trump said all the right things today in his response to the heinous mass shooting in Las Vegas. Yet his address did not and could not achieve its full effect, because the words the president spoke and the mind which conjured them were so clearly someone else’s.

 

Microphones stand at the podium after U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta addressed supporters at the election night rally in New York

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General Election 2017: The Unbearable Light-weightedness Of British Politics

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We can’t go on like this

I’m just going to come out and say it: given the appallingly weak options available, Jeremy Corbyn probably deserves to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom.

Don’t get me wrong: if his hard-left socialist policies and aspirations were fully enacted, Corbyn would also likely be the last prime minister of the United Kingdom, but that’s another matter.

After all, is not the point of democracy, of elections, to give the people their right to choose political leadership and representation which they want to see take their communities and their country forward? And if so, who during this miserable general election campaign has done more to convince the British public that they are a person of principle and conviction, willing to tell uncomfortable truths as they see them while standing up to entrenched special interests – Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn?

Let’s compare.

Who produced an election manifesto which represented some of the best traditions (and sincerely held political views) of their party? That would be Jeremy Corbyn. Who huddled together with two unelected aides to produce in secret a manifesto which declared war on her own voters, repudiated Thatcherism, threw the libertarian wing under the bus and pandered to the worst instincts of everybody who thinks that the state should be like a third parent to them? That would be the “conservative” prime minister, Theresa May.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour manifesto, in all its leftist, spendthrift glory: costed. Theresa May’s Coke Zero Conservative manifesto – “coke zero” because like the drink, it has the same branding as the real thing but none of the ideological, calorific ooomph which makes it taste good and perk you up – not so much.

Who has made gaffe after gaffe and exacted numerous self-inflicted political wounds, missteps and humiliating U-turns on her party and campaign? That would be Theresa May, whose claim to unruffled, grown-up leadership looks more and more tarnished by the day. Who seems to have finally stopped his penchant for weekly PR disasters and learned not to intervene when his enemy is making a mistake? That would be the old rube, Jeremy Corbyn, despite the fact that he faces a highly antagonistic press.

Who has behaved like an adult and at least accepted the necessity of a Brexit deal with the European Union (however weak a negotiator he would otherwise likely be) as a precursor for economic stability? That would be Corbyn. Meanwhile, who still publicly entertains the confidence-sapping notion of no deal and a disastrous crash out of the EU? That would be strong ‘n stable Theresa.

And who found the courage to go on national television and articulate their party’s values and vision for Britain in tonight’s BBC election debate? Jeremy Corbyn. Who was frightened and cowered away in Downing Street, risibly sending a surrogate minister to fight her battles? That would be the ever-formidable Theresa May.

Whatever one thinks of Jeremy Corbyn, there is mounting evidence that Theresa May simply does not have what it takes to be a successful British prime minister in the 21st century. Perhaps being a diligent, hardworking, non-telegenic, secretive authoritarian with a tiny circle of close-knit advisers helped Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. Lord knows it allowed her to become prime minister despite the party and the country barely having any idea of her core values or guiding philosophy. But as prime minister in the television and internet age, May’s natural reticence doesn’t play well.

You can say that this is a small and petty criticism, and in some ways it is. And perhaps personality should matter less, but we must deal with the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be. When Theresa May skulks in the back row of G7 summit family photos while Donald Trump gladhands with the boy wonder French president Emmanuel Macron and “leader of the free world” Angela Merkel, one gets the strong impression that she similarly fails to win hearts and minds in the all-important closed door sessions.

For all their arrogance and vapidity, the American political elite positively purr over Emmanuel Macron, bulwark against Evil Brexit and saviour of the “liberal world order”. I would wager that far fewer could even name Theresa May. And this advances British interests with our closest and most important ally how, precisely? Donald Trump is one man, quite possibly soon to be an ex-president if the slow-motion coup against him ultimately succeeds. Meanwhile the vast apparatus of American government remains a juggernaut fully committed to the internationalist status quo, and Theresa May is doing nothing to persuade them that any of their preconceptions about the evilness of Brexit and the EU’s self-evident splendour are wrong. A better, more natural communicator would have a fighting chance.

Two provisos: First, Jeremy Corbyn would do no better in this regard, and quite possibly far worse, given that his worldview is based in no small part on anti-Americanism. But Theresa May only looks vaguely acceptable in this regard because Jeremy Corbyn would be so appalling. That’s not a ringing endorsement or a solid qualification for remaining prime minister.

And second, it is hardly as though the Conservative front benches are brimming over with talent one thinks of as solid alternative prime ministers – Boris Johnson is rightly known in America and around the world as a fool who uses a bumbling persona and a smattering of Latin phrases to mask an insatiable vanity and hunger for the spotlight. Who else to choose? Philip Hammond? Well, at least Theresa May makes him look fiscally responsible by comparison, but he’s no media performer. Amber Rudd? She’s a loyal soldier and did a highly commendable job stepping into Theresa May’s shoes for tonight’s debate, particularly so soon after the death of her elderly father earlier this week, but a potential leader? Who else, then? Seriously, I’m asking? Who?

If you had to design the perfect Tory party leader and prime ministerial candidate for this moment in time specifically, what would they look like? Well, everybody probably has their own preferences, but here would be my take on what would work best both politically in Britain and as a person capable of commanding interest and admiration on the world stage:

Ex armed forces (of either gender), mid to senior rank, with an illustrious overseas deployment history. Someone who exudes unapologetic patriotism yet never lapses into cheap jingoism, and whose commitment to defence, national security and veterans affairs is beyond question.

Followed up by a successful later career, possibly in the third sector or the arts but better still in the private sector, having founded a stonking great big corporation that also gives back to the community by employing ex-offenders or partnering with charities to do meaningful work in society.

A solid and consistent record (at least dating to the start of the EU referendum campaign) on Brexit, able to tell a compelling story about how Brexit – properly done – can be good for our democracy and at least neutral on the economic front.

A person who believes that until somebody comes up with a viable alternative to (or augmentation of) the democratic nation state, this institution remains the best method yet devised of ordering human affairs, and that consequently we should not needlessly undermine and vandalise it by vesting power in antidemocratic supranational organisations or pretending that we can sidle our way into a post-patriotic world by stealth rather than with the consent of the people.

Somebody who will not bargain away our civil liberties chasing the chimera of absolute security from terrorists and madmen – particularly while refusing to face down radical Islamism as an ideology to be confronted and defeated – but who will also stand up to expansionist, nonsensical definitions of human rights and an identity politics / political correctness agenda that values hurt feelings more than freedom of expression.

Somebody with the articulateness, gravitas, sincerity and quickness of thought capable of doing the near impossible in 2017: single-handedly turning the tide away from the vapid, broken politics of me, me, me. Somebody willing to ask – as John F. Kennedy once did – not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Somebody who dares to call us to a higher purpose than merely living in a country with “good public services”, deifying “Our NHS” and having the goddamn trains run on time.

Somebody who chooses for us to go to the moon (or rather its current day equivalent in terms of spectacular human achievement) “and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”. Kennedy again.

Somebody who realise that unless we as a society nurture and maintain some kind of higher common purpose with one another – and we’ve largely done away with organised religion in Britain, while the Left’s commitment to unlimited multiculturalism has made even the suggestion of unifying around non-negotiable core values prima facie evidence of seething intolerance or racism – we are doomed to fracture into separate warring special interest groups and victimhood lobbies jockeying for position. A country so lacking in confidence in its own values that it refuses to proclaim them, let alone insist upon them. A country in name only, led by a conservative in name only.

So where is such a potential transformative, neo-Thatcherite Tory leader? Where is such a potential leader of any political party in Britain? Good luck finding them. Look at the typical calibre of people who now become MPs. Sure, you get some who are diligent constituency MPs or single issue campaigners, but this only highlights the flaw of a system of government which draws the executive from the legislature. Look at the new or new-ish MPs of any party with serious ministerial ambitions and you’ll generally find nothing but focus group-approved platitudes and a yawning chasm where ideology or principle ought to reside. Look at the seven characters who lined up behind podiums to debate the issues on primetime TV.

No such party leader (or surrogate) standing on stage at tonight’s BBC televised election debate in Cambridge lived up to even one of these tests. The seven parties of the Left – Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, Scottish National, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and now Theresa May’s rootless Tories – only know how to campaign by promising people stuff. Lots of stuff, any stuff. More more more. Better, bigger, shinier public services. A welfare state blindly doling out the same universal benefits in disbursements which are laughably small for the wealthy (who don’t need them but are hooked on them because that’s how universal benefits do their dirty work) yet which too often allow the genuinely sick and disabled to barely subsist. Promise after promise. No call to citizenship, to personal responsibility. Just endless promises of safety, security and more stuff, all for free.

Vote for me, I’ll keep you safe from terror. Just gonna need your Facebook password, please. No, vote for me, I’ll keep the economy strong because we all know the only point of a strong economy is to raise more tax to spend on the NHS. Liar! You want to destroy Our Precious NHS! You want people to die in the streets when they get sick, just like they do in America. No, we are now the true party of the NHS! Anything for Our NHS, oh god, anything and everything, my very life for Our Blessed NHS.

Oi! Look over here, free university tuition! Yeah, it’s subsidised by the taxes of other people who never went to university and whose earning power has not been boosted through having a degree, but still. Fairness! Young people are the future! No, no, no, it’s all about the environment. That evil party wants to build an experimental nuclear fusion plant in your grandmother’s basement. But we will bulldoze nasty, Brexit-supporting Stoke-on-Trent and replace it with a massive solar panel field. Much better.

No, look over here! We will bring back British Rail; remember how great British Rail was? Who needs Pret when you’ve got a trusty British Rail egg and cress sandwich? Nice and warm, of course, just like the good old days. Let’s have car-commuting taxpayers in Gainsborough subsidise the travel of London-based city commuters, because fairness. British Rail? Scoff. I’ll see your British Rail and raise you British Leyland! Woohoo – nationalisation, baby! For the Common Good.

All immigrants are a godsend, to the last man. If it weren’t for immigrants, your inflamed appendix would have been dug out by a native-born, chain-smoking school dropout with a can of special brew in his spare hand, and don’t you forget it. No, of course we should have a sensible, measured conversation about immigration. It’s just that I’ll stand here and shriek into the TV cameras that you’re an evil, divisive racist if you disagree with me. But please, go ahead. No no, we should listen patiently to people’s concerns and then carefully explain to them why they are wrong. People love that.

Oh, you? No dear, you don’t have to do anything. We, the politicians, are here to promise you stuff, to pander to your every passing whim. If I’m prime minister, I will make it my overriding personal concern to fix the broken chairs at your GP surgery waiting room – I’ll come round and do it myself, I’ve got some tools in the shed – and make sure that New British Rail adds free wifi to your single-carriage metro train between Stoke and Crewe. Seriously, no worries. I’ll call the boss at 6AM every day until it happens. NATO summit? Geopolitics? Statecraft? Boring! Why be a statesman when I can be a glorified town councillor for 65 million insatiable people? I’m on the case for you, and your every last petty concern. I’ll read foreign policy briefings when I’m on the can, that stuff doesn’t matter.

Heavens no, of course we don’t need to properly empower local politicians to make decisions in the local interest, raising and spending taxes independently of Westminster. For I am running to be Comptroller of British Public Services, and my sole job, my only care in the world is to make your passage through life as easy and painless as possible. You and 65 million of your fellow citizens. The buck stops with me, because public services are everything. After all, Britain didn’t do anything of value or renown on the world stage until we starting implementing the Beveridge Report. Not a damn thing. And now we’ve jacked up the size of the state so much and you have to deal with it so bloody frequently that we’d darn well better make sure you come skipping away happy from every last interaction – too many bad experiences for you are political suicide for us.

All seven of them, yapping away on stage like this as the minutes ticked by and the left-wing Cambridge audience dutifully clapped along to each pledge of More Free Stuff like so many trained seals. But at least Jeremy Corbyn sounded like he meant it, like he was advocating all of these things because they flowed from a sincere and coherent – if utterly misguided – worldview. The rest were just preening, moralising virtue-signalling charlatans. With the exception of Amber Rudd, who did sterling work in the face of her leader’s cowardice, and whom I will not criticise given the circumstances of her appearance.

Now, all of that being said, the prospect (raised by new YouGov polling showing a tightening race) of Jeremy Corbyn overperforming expectations, gaining seats in parliament and entering 10 Downing Street as prime minister backed by a “pwogwessive alliance” of Britain’s childlike left-wing parties, is simply untenable. And so I will vote Conservative on June 8, because my constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn is a tight two-way marginal and the Labour incumbent MP, Tulip Siddiq, was a staunch Corbyn supporter and an unrepentant enemy of Brexit.

So yes, I’ll vote Tory this time. But Lord knows I’ll feel unclean and deeply depressed while doing so, with zero expectation that it will result in anything positive for the country and with considerably more admiration for the man I hope to see defeated than the woman I barely want to win.

Britain, we can do better than this. Probably not much better realistically, at least right now – because as a society we have fallen and been infantilised to such a worrying degree – but still we can do better than these paltry political party leaders. They’re all just so very…small.

Somebody, anybody else, please step up soon. Deep down, as a nation we want more than is being offered to us by Jeremy Corbyn, his provincial Mini Me’s and a confused Tory leader who thinks the path to victory involves dismantling – rather than building upon – the legacy of our greatest post-war prime minister.

Step forward, find the spirit of public service and call us to action, too. Ask us to set our sights beyond our own narrow interests, beyond our bank balances, our bin collections, our next step on the property ladder, the feelings of our intersectional identity groups, the fate of our free mobile roaming calls in Tuscany. Help give us a new purpose, a common purpose, a higher purpose.

Set us a challenge.

 

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John F Kennedy On The Responsibilities Of Educated Citizens

John F. Kennedy, May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963

From Kennedy’s address to the 90th anniversary convocation of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, delivered on May 18, 1963:

But this Nation was not founded solely on the principle of citizens’ rights. Equally important, though too often not discussed, is the citizen’s responsibility. For our privileges can be no greater than our obligations. The protection of our rights can endure no longer than the performance of our responsibilities. Each can be neglected only at the peril of the other. I speak to you today, therefore, not of your rights as Americans, but of your responsibilities. They are many in number and different in nature. They do not rest with equal weight upon the shoulders of all. Equality of opportunity does not mean equality of responsibility. All Americans must be responsible citizens, but some must be more responsible than others, by virtue of their public or their private position, their role in the family or community, their prospects for the future, or their legacy from the past.

Increased responsibility goes with increased ability, for “of those to whom much is given, much is required.”

[..] You have responsibilities, in short, to use your talents for the benefit of the society which helped develop those talents. You must decide, as Goethe put it, whether you will be an anvil or a hammer, whether you will give to the world in which you were reared and educated the broadest possible benefits of that education. Of the many special obligations incumbent upon an educated citizen, I would cite three as outstanding: your obligation to the pursuit of learning, your obligation to serve the public, your obligation to uphold the law.

If the pursuit of learning is not defended by the educated citizen, it will not be defended at all. For there will always be those who scoff at intellectuals, who cry out against research, who seek to limit our educational system. Modern cynics and skeptics see no more reason for landing a man on the moon, which we shall do, than the cynics and skeptics of half a millennium ago saw for the discovery of this country. They see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.

But the educated citizen knows how much more there is to know. He knows that “knowledge is power,” more so today than ever before. He knows that only an educated and informed people will be a free people, that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all, and that if we can, as Jefferson put it, “enlighten the people generally … tyranny and the oppressions of mind and body will vanish, like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

[..] Secondly, the educated citizen has an obligation to serve the public. He may be a precinct worker or President. He may give his talents at the courthouse, the State house, the White House. He may be a civil servant or a Senator, a candidate or a campaign worker, a winner or a loser. But he must be a participant and not a spectator.

[..] Third, and finally, the educated citizen has an obligation to uphold the law. This is the obligation of every citizen in a free and peaceful society–but the educated citizen has a special responsibility by the virtue of his greater understanding. For whether he has ever studied history or current events, ethics or civics, the rules of a profession or the tools of a trade, he knows that only a respect for the law makes it possible for free men to dwell together in peace and progress.

He knows that law is the adhesive force in the cement of society, creating order out of chaos and coherence in place of anarchy. He knows that for one man to defy a law or court order he does not like is to invite others to defy those which they do not like, leading to a breakdown of all justice and all order. He knows, too, that every fellowman is entitled to be regarded with decency and treated with dignity. Any educated citizen who seeks to subvert the law, to suppress freedom, or to subject other human beings to acts that are less than human, degrades his heritage, ignores his learning, and betrays his obligation.

I think that we can all take something from this speech as an inspiration to strive to be better citizens, no matter our position on American politics and the forthcoming presidency of Donald J Trump. None of us are above learning from the example set by great men and women of the past.

Yet nobody gives speeches like this any more. Why?

Is modern political speechwriting so poor because it reflects the abysmal quality of our present political discourse, or is our political discourse so poor because our contemporary leaders, more concerned with bribing and placating a fickle public than calling us to any kind of higher duty, have increasingly lost the rhetorical skills required to persuade and inspire their citizens?

 

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For In The Final Analysis

John F. Kennedy, May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963

“So, let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

For those of us who have grown up never having heard a great contemporary political speech, here is the remarkable speech given by President John F Kennedy at American University on June 10, 1963.

Kennedy was assassinated on this day in 1963, fifty-two years ago.

Powerful words, but does Kennedy’s analysis still hold true in the Age of Jihad – when we are preoccupied with ISIS and Al Qaeda rather than the Soviet Union, and when our enemies eagerly embrace death and have no thought at all for their children, let alone their own earthly future?

Imagine David Cameron giving a speech like this about the threat posed by Islamist terrorism, or Britain’s future relationship with the European Union. Imagine David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Tristram Hunt, Andy Burnham, Tim Farron or Nicola Sturgeon giving this speech. Try picturing it without laughing out loud.

The challenges today are different to those faced by Kennedy and our political leaders half a century ago. But rarely have our political leaders seemed so helpless, so inadequate to the tasks at hand. At best, our current prime minister might be described as a reasonably competent Comptroller of Public Services. And it is far from certain that he even aspires to be anything more.

They say that we get the politicians and leaders we deserve. If so, the time has come for us all to engage in some serious introspection.

JFK - John F Kennedy - American University Commencement Address

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