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Kennedy, Trump: very different starts/beginnings
Thursday, 02 February 2017 13:09
Special to the Daily Planet

I watched the 1960 election returns in my parents’ living room.  I had worked for Richard Nixon in the campaign and had even passed out brochures at my home precinct that morning.

As returns came in – Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina – Kennedy built a big lead.  I slumped in disbelief.  Final polls on the evening news had told of a Nixon surge at the wire.

I heard Chet Huntley say, in conversational tones:  “America has bought John Kennedy at face value.”

Face value?  Yes, America was indeed buying a man for president based entirely on what he seemed to be, what they saw in him.

He had almost no formal leadership experience – no doubt what Huntley was referring to – but beyond that, oh my, he had intellect, knowledge of issues, great self-confidence, and he showed immense charismatic leadership. 

John Kennedy’s face value on Election Day, Nov. 8, 1960, was very high.

On our Nov. 8 Election Day, American voters likewise bought Donald Trump at face value. 

But what could be seen of Donald Trump during the campaign was fuzzy and contradictory.  If he were U.S. currency, you couldn’t tell if the portrait was Grant or Lincoln.  He would make bizarre assertions and later deny he said them.  He had almost no accurate knowledge of issues.  He rambled and trampled his critics in his speeches.

Ah, but he was a billionaire businessman.  Sweep away all his lies and bizarreness.  He knows how to make deals, get things done.  He’ll bring back jobs.

For others, it was The Wall to hold back minority hordes or repealing Obamacare, or any of the other 76 promises Trump made during the campaign (Washington Post). 

His “Apprentice” TV shows didn’t mention his bankruptcies or how he stiffed contractors and outsourced his products to other countries and used imported steel in his buildings.  But never mind, sweep that out, too.  He was their dynamic, strong, capable, straight-talking hero figure.

We knew what John Kennedy would do after inauguration.  His New Frontier was a clearly stated extension of FDR’s New Deal.  It was a broad-spectrum progressive agenda that touched almost every area of American life:  labor laws, new education involvement, welfare, civil rights, housing, unemployment, health care (what  would become Medicare), agriculture, defense – all plus a stimulus program to counter a recession he inherited.

And he did it.  By the end of his first year, Congress had passed 33 of 53 bills he had submitted.  The next year, Congress passed 43 of 54, and his third and last year, 33 of 54.  Southern Democrats stifled his civil rights agenda, but his administration enforced existing laws and Supreme Court decisions.

Kennedy’s face value, as it turned out, was undervalued.

Now, back to 2017 and the haze and fuzz of Donald Trump’s face value. What will happen now? Will we see the great leader emerge on a fire-breathing steed with specific legislation in his hand?

I’ll be very surprised if he does.  I think President Trump will continue as he has so far, with unpredictable actions, generalizations and misrepresentations. He’ll put dabs of fresh paint on his campaign promises and Twitter them out for the faithful as reassurance.

He’ll Trumpet new jobs (even though Obama added jobs by the quarter millions every month).  He’ll ask Congress for money to build his wall, and he’ll claim progress while nothing happens.  He’ll keep talking about the beautiful thing that will replace Obamacare, vaguely and unrealistically.

Trump has no clear face value as he starts his presidency. We don’t know who or what he is now or will be. 

So as I read about the New Frontier in Wikipedia, I though to myself, You know, what if Trump were to borrows from Kennedy?  

Kennedy was a success, widely regarded as a Top 10 president.  And that’s exactly where Trump wants to be. 

It’s sort of like the Purple Heart thing during the campaign: he could get greatness the easy way.

Lee Ballard lives in Mars Hill.  For more of his work, readers may visit his blog at



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