I was born April 12, 1981. On the day I was born, the shuttle Columbia was on it’s maiden voyage. And when I was a little guy – Ronald Reagan was President of the United States.
I was so little at the time I was really unaware of who he was – except that he would be on television from time to time.
I remember seeing his face, and his wife Nancy’s face flash across the television screen briefly.
But the memory that sticks out in my head the most is when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.
I remember watching it happen with my sister Sam.
At that age, I couldn’t conceptualize the finality of death, but I knew something really bad had happened.
I also remember, later on, this man came on television, Dressed in a dark suit, as he addressed the country.
“My fellow Americans.”
I remember seeing his face and thinking he’s at least as old as my grandpa and not as young as Mr. Rogers – at least as old as Mr. Dressup.
It was January 28th, 1986.
I remember the comforting sound of his voice. The deep baritone timber as he honored Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Reznick, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, and teacher Christa McAuliffe.
To the schoolchildren, myself included, The President said this, “And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”
As he extolled the virtues of our space program and our quest to the stars – he comforted a nation, as well as NASA, that had been rocked by this tragedy.
With his final words memorialized forever, we heard this bit of poetry as he described the final moments of the astronaut’s final mission as they left us all, “….and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”
I remember being comforted by those words from a man who’s power I couldn’t quite understand at that age. The power that – until recently – has been for the most part, benevolent.
But a lot has changed in this country since he was alive. Some for the good but most recently, for the bad.
The biggest of Ronnie’s legacy – despite the AIDS epidemic that scared it, despite the recession, despite the assassination attempt on his life by a Christian fundamentalist with a weird obsession for Jodi Foster – was his staring down The Soviet Union.
Since WW2, the United States had waged what had become known as A Cold War with the far eastern nation – and growing up I knew in no uncertain terms, communism was wrong.
In the 1990’s the USSR crumbled and fell apart because of Ronald Reagan outspending the Soviet Union in military buildup – up to, and including, a missile defense shield and a project called “star wars” that was intended to protect our allies in Europe by striking down Russian nuclear weapons.
But while Ronald Reagan has been gone lo these many years – and a lot has changed in this country in just the beginning of this year – there is an old enemy out there who’s managed, somehow, to worm his way into our political world. His name is Vladamir Putin. While he may be the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation – as they call themselves today – he’s also the former head of the Russian Intelligence Agency known during the time of Reagan as the KGB.
Mr. Putin as said repeatedly that the greatest tragedy of the 20th century was the fall of the Soviet Union. Which I don’t doubt, since, under his leadership hundreds of Civil Rights Attorneys have gone missing, political dissidents have been found murdered, political dissidents in foreign cities’ like London, were poisoned and there is plenty of reason to believe that Putin hacked into our own Presidential Election to help bolster Donald Trump for President. He also participated in a propaganda war – inside of the United States – that was used to jerry-rig American sentiment regarding our democratic process.
Since Donald Trump has been sworn in – There have been bans on Muslims entering the country, there have been appointments of known anti-Semitic people like Bannon. There have been appointments of people like Betsy Devos who would tear down public education. There has even been an appointment to Attorney General – the highest law enforcement officer in the country – that is so outrageous if I didn’t see it on the news I’m so belligerently angry about – I wouldn’t believe it. That was the nomination of Jeff Sessions – an uber religious bigot.
But the biggest fear I have – and I think the country should all have – is that the once proud party of Lincoln and of Ronald Reagan has put a Soviet Sympathizer inside of our White House in our head of state -Donald Trump. And I am going to use Soviet as a descriptor as Russia is a democracy in name only and Vladamir is a Prime Minister – in name only as once a year Russia’s city Volgograd fights to become Stalingrad again.
Many years ago – it was hypothesized by Russian politicians that America would never fail because of its morality. It was assumed at the time that that morality was wrapped up in a certain kind of people here in the United States – and that once America allowed homosexuality to run rampant – then, and only then, would they (The Russians) gain a foothold in our territory.
But, Ironically enough it isn’t ‘the gays’ nor was it ‘the left’ whom McCarthy went after in the 1950’s so viciously – that ultimately handed over the keys to our kingdom to Soviet interests.
It was the ‘moral’ among us – who lacking any kind of personal heroes among themselves strong enough and powerful enough to bolster their voting bloc- who found a love for an old enemy through the vulgarity of this current administration.
It was this group of people, of baby boomers, evangelicals, degree holding white men, anti-feminist / anti- equality females, who – out of fear of losing their stranglehold on a country that was doing its best to grow up and out of a lot of old hang-ups it had, turned and smiled at a warmongering dictator, a known murderer of his own people, while turning their backs on a country their parents and grandparents and children fought so hard to protect. And found themselves inspired by him.
They – who had accused Barack Obama of every possible thing a human being could be accused of – from communist to fascist, from racist to a supporter of religious zealots – turned around and handed the country to Donald Trump and his posse who embody every accusation that laid at Obama’s feet.
There are plenty of reasons to be afraid right now. Just like those days when space flight was in its infancy – what to do next feels like the million dollar question. But right – is ALWAYS right no matter who says it’s wrong. And while America has had days when it’s been wrong, it’s always struggled and struggled hard to be the shining city on the hill.
Going forward, even in the darkness that has descended on our world, even amidst the uncertainty of this current administration – we should know that the face of God is still out there to be touched.
That bravery and patriotism and love of country are still there to be claimed and that light on the hill is still there to guide our way home. This land is still our land and we are still Americans. That still means something.
So, I encourage you all to reach back into your memory. Reach back to the days after 9/11 when our country rallied around itself, reach back to the days when Barack told us the enemy of our country – Osama Bin Laden was killed in a raid, reach back to when George Bush Sr. defeated Sadam Hussein’s forces in Kuwait, reach back to when the wall that divided East Germany from West came crashing down, reach back to when the forces for good triumphed over evil – go back to a time when clear lines were drawn in the sand and draw one for yourself now.
For ladies and gentlemen, despite the bluster of twitter, despite the ‘moral’ princes in high places being appointed for special task forces to take on and reforming ‘higher education’, despite the rash out hate crimes being perpetrated by cowards in the night – despite the ban on refugee’s, understand the biggest and most sincere threat to this country remains the worst.
There is a Soviet lurking in the shadows within our country – and his un-American president is sitting in our White House. To quote Ronnie, “I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”
We must be brave. God Bless Us All.