America in winter

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his Bipartisan Infrastructure Law at the new Boston Logan Terminal in Boston, Mass., on Sept. 12. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images/TNS

President John F. Kennedy committed America to landing on the moon in a speech on Sept. 12, 1962. It was spring. The calendar said otherwise, yes. But, as has been argued before in this space, Kennedy presided over a season of renewal, a season when optimism was birthright, confidence, high and horizons, endless.

“We choose to go to the moon ... and do the other things,” he famously declared, “not because they are easy but because they are hard.”

And no one doubted for a minute that we could do hard things. Because America was a nation in spring.

Monday, on the 60th anniversary of Kennedy’s speech, President Joe Biden committed America to ending cancer as we know it. And it was winter.

Again, that has less to do with the calendar than with the national spirit. As singer Gil Scott-Heron once said, “Politically and philosophically and psychologically, there has only been the season of ice. It is a season of frozen dreams and frozen nightmares, a scene of frozen progress and frozen ideas, frozen aspirations and inspirations.” He said this in discussing his song, “Winter In America,” a bleak survey of “a nation that just can’t stand much more.”

This was back when Watergate was recent. If his grim assessment seemed apropos to an era of scandal, how much more so is it to an era of insurrection, in which, to borrow the words of Yeats, “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”?

To understand what season it is is to understand that Biden’s speech was about more than cancer. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t about cancer. Speaking from the Kennedy Library in Boston, the president, who lost a son to the disease in 2015, spoke of cutting the U.S. cancer death toll by half within 25 years. He announced a new agency — the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H — tasked with speeding up research.

He spoke of how his “cancer cabinet” is coordinating government efforts. The renewed attention to what has been dubbed Biden’s “moonshot” gives hope of progress for an initiative that has been largely stagnant since it was created by President Obama in 2016.

But if this was about cancer, it was also about America in winter. That’s why the 46th president repeatedly invoked the 35th. Kennedy, he said, “established a national purpose that could rally the American people in a common cause.” He said that now “we face another inflection point. And together, we can choose to move forward with unity, hope and optimism.”

“Common cause.” “Together.” “We.” “Unity.”

It seemed painfully obvious that Biden, last seen at Independence Hall applying the stick of criticism to MAGA Republicans, had now brought out the carrot of unified purpose. And there was, to be sure, something bracing, after all those years of cynical, transactional politics, of siren calls to our lowest and meanest selves, in being asked again to aspire toward one nation, indivisible.

It felt good.

But that doesn’t mitigate the fact that Kennedy addressed a different America in a different season. Their first challenge was simply to do. Ours is to believe we can do, to re-embrace the very idea of national mission. That’s easy when you are a nation in spring.

This, however, is a nation where the trees have gone barren and the birds have flown, a nation shivering in the Alpine freeze of disunion, disaffection and disillusionment, of disinvestment in the greater us. It is winter in America.

And spring seems far away.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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(3) comments

Airball55

The drivel from Pitts and the far left continue to do nothing to help fix the "divide". While the country burns, prices rise, our borders crumbling...all we here is this fake outrage of white christian nationalism (good lord) or MAGA even though the devil himself, Trump, is not calling the shots in DC. Full power of the chambers of law making and the White House..and that's the party dividing America. Not this "MAGA" movement. Give me a break. Such lies and deceit to cover for narratives and failed politics.

Joseph Savoca

As singer Gil Scott-Heron once said, “Politically and philosophically and psychologically, there has only been the season of ice. It is a season of frozen dreams and frozen nightmares, a scene of frozen progress and frozen ideas, frozen aspirations and inspirations.” He said this in discussing his song, “Winter In America,” a bleak survey of “a nation that just can’t stand much more.”

The far right wing extremists blame Biden for not achieving the "unity" that he talked about during his campaign. It takes a desire for the the whole nation to come together to achieve unity, which doesn't mean that there can't still be legitimate political differences. The far right wing extremists need to give up their "frozen dreams" of the South rising again, Texas seceding from the Union, turning the clock back to 1950 or 1850, or even earlier, making the entire United States a Wild West shooting gallery or like some imagined John Wayne idealized version, all pop culture reflecting a homogeneous white patriarchal society like in Leave it to Beaver, or recreating a white Christian nationalist country that never existed before except in their imaginations.

One promise that nobody can blame Trump for not keeping is not bringing about national unity since he never promised it. He did everything he could to divide the nation. He told everyone that their lives were terrible and who should be blamed for their lot in life. Now, the far right wing extremists cling to a fantasy version of life under Trump, another "frozen dream", that life was idyllic and perfect when Trump was President. The Trump supporters are now "frozen" in yet another time.

Joseph Savoca

The Republican party also wants to return America back to the time of the absolute monarchy. They have Nixon with "if the President does it, it is legal", Dick Cheney with his "unitary executive theory" and Trump repeatedly shouting "I had every right! I had every right!". Even the UK is a "constitutional monarchy". What laws govern Republicans? What are the limits on Republican President's powers? For a party that is ostensibly for "limited government", that can't name any limits on their own power.

The Republic Party of De Santis and Abbott are turning the clock back to the 1960's by transporting immigrants to the North, just like the white, conservative segregationist Southerners transported blacks to the North in "Reverse Freedom Rides". https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/18/politics/migrants-historical-parallels-reverse-freedom-rides/index.html

The United States has a lot more problems than Black Vulcans, Black Stormtroopers, Black Elves and Dwarves, and now Black Mermaids, but that is where the far-right wing extremists' attention is.

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