Nov. 22, 1963—Where Were You?

Where were you on Nov. 22, 1963?

We don’t expect you to literally answer that. Many readers may not have even been born.

But we’re asking that now because the 60th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on that day marks “an inflection point,” to use current President Joe Biden’s phrase, in U.S. history. Biden, by the way, had turned 21 two days before Kennedy’s murder.

The “inflection point” marks, in our thinking, the end of  “the age of innocence.” It’s hokey, but before Kennedy’s murder, Americans had a generally positive outlook. We trusted our government. We felt we could overcome any problem. We were, by and large, optimistic. 

We were also very 1950s-ish traditional: Dad worked, Mom stayed home and took care of the kids. Three TV networks—CBS, NBC and ABC—dominated the airwaves. Radio was AM music. 

Pardon the pejorative phrase, but women and people of color “knew their place” even though the civil rights movement was going full blast and the women’s rights movement was gaining ground. And, oh yes, white male domination was assumed. Make that Christian white male domination.

Then came the succession of shocks which shook the United States out of that complacency, and whose aftershocks still reverberate, especially in the realm of trust. 

Kennedy was assassinated, spawning a host of theories—some of them absolutely ridiculous (Remember New Orleans DA Jim Garrison?). Malcolm X was murdered. 

Trust in government began to plummet thanks to LBJ’s seemingly endless war in Southeast Asia producing more and more dead and wounded draftees daily for what was later proven to be a lie. 

Riots born of segregation, economic repression and inequality broke out in in U.S. cities in 1965 and intensified after white nationalist James Earl Ray’s assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis in 1968. King, remember, was supporting striking sanitation workers. 

Just weeks after King was killed, Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Then came the “police riot” during that year’s Democratic convention in Chicago, Richard Nixon and “law  and order,” and ever-escalating war protests triggered by TV coverage of the spreading carnage in Vietnam and the secret bombing of Cambodia (Kampuchea).   

The descent didn’t stop when in the 1970s. Remember Kent State? How about Jackson State? How about Watergate? How about a vice president, Spiro Agnew, who took bribes?

Yes, how about Watergate? In combination with the long drawn-out war and the messy 1975 fall of Saigon, Watergate saw trust in government plummet. It has stayed underwater ever since. Would your government lie to you? Before Nov. 22, 1963, Americans believed the answer was “no.” Now, Americans believe the answer is “yes.” 

After all, Richard Nixon, the president who once proclaimed that “I am not a crook,” turned out to be just that, obstructing justice and covering up and paying off his Watergate burglars while ordering the CIA to tell the FBI to stop its Watergate investigation on false “national security” grounds.

Those who yearn for the simpler times of the 1950s—a “simpler time” that is a mirage of selective memories—have been in for more shocks since. To name three, the rise and acceptance of gay rights and marriage equality and the constitutional right to abortion granted in 1973 and taken away 49 years later.

In the most horrifying development of them all, a president of the United States aided, abetted and even organized an insurrection, invasion and attempted coup d’état at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 to maintain his hold on the Oval Office after he legitimately lost the 2020 election. 

Donald Trump’s invaders waved the Confederate battle flag, a symbol of racist repression, inside the Capitol. They trashed the building and sought lawmakers to lynch with their lawn noose. 

Election denialism, thanks to fealty to Trump’s lies, has a MAGA stranglehold on Republicans. So does Trump, whose followers believe every falsehood he utters. And who, next November, may restore their putative dictator to the Oval Office.

This landslide of upheaval began on Nov. 22, 1963. It hasn’t ended. It may never do so. Americans aren’t “innocent,” trusting and naïve any more and can’t afford to be, regardless of political leanings. The old saying that “God looks after fools, drunks and the United States of America,” is “inoperative,” to use another Nixonian word. All after John F. Kennedy’s murder.