It makes sense that President Trump's decided to release a treasure trove of redacted or government-withheld files pertaining to John F. Kennedy's assassination.
When you think it over, the events of 54 years ago next month have much to do with the current miasma lingering over America's political system.
How so? In at least four regards:
First, the assassination sets the bar for modern distrust in government. Was the Warren Report a cover-up? Should we trust the autopsy findings? Surely, there was a larger conspiracy afoot (feel free to add your favorite conspirator - Cuba, organized crime, Lyndon Johnson, the military industrial complex)?
Second, it shows the American public's refusal to accept simple explanations. It's entirely possible that a lone gunman, trained by his government to fire a rifle, can get off three shots, one of them fatal (even if some Marines disagree). Just as it's entirely possibly that Hillary Clinton lost a national election due to poor messaging and strategic blunders, not Russian skullduggery.
Third, the events in Dallas triggered an ongoing argument over whether America is, at heart, good or bad, lucky or unlucky. It's become a convenient narrative to say that America just can't catch a break . . . because it does harm around the globe while back home we're a racist, homophobic society (seriously, people write this stuff). Karmic retribution, if you will.
Fourth, JFK's death leads to an unhealthy temptation to fall back on alternative histories - a fantasy (and with liberal historians and journalists doing the writing: less conservative) world simply because Kennedy stays in it. Had JFK lived, the speculation goes, we pull out of Vietnam earlier rather than later, there's no Great Society and thus no backlash that leads to Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and the longer build-up to the Reagan and Bush 43 presidencies.
The problem with such what-ifs: it's built on the presumption that America, like JFK, remains frozen in time -- the calendar never turns beyond 1963 (think Mad Men never moving beyond its third season). From music to literature to challenging all sorts of conventional boundaries (before JFK's death, Students for a Democratic Society was alive and organizing), America was poised for change in November 1963. Add it up and it's hard to see how JFK's survival changes the inevitable.
What will we learn from the new assassination documents? My guess: a lot of incompetency on the part of the FBI and CIA. But that won't discourage conspiracy buffs from continuing to peddle their theories. It sells books; it fills hours in cable-tvland.
But it doesn't provide closure.
In that regard, it's not unlike the speech delivered last week by George W. Bush in which the normally reserved former president decided to lash out against the political culture (here's the full text).
You'll note that I said the object of Bush's scorn was "political culture", as opposed to the man who succeeded Bush's successor. It's a distinction the media didn't make ("George W. Bush Just Laid A Major Smackdown On Trumpism", CNN crowed).
Consider this passage: "Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions - forgetting the image of G0D we should see in each other."
Is Bush going after Trump's abuse of Twitter, or his demonizing illegal immigrants in the past election? Or is he casting a wider net. In just the past campaign election cycle, for example, one candidate characterising tens of millions of Americans as "deplorables"?
But let's go further back from before the uninspiring choice that was Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
• Barack Obama's very origin was a fraud
• The Bush 43 Administration's response to Hurricane Katrina was "an act of genocide and ethnic cleansing".
• The Clintons are little more than Arkansan Borgia's, responsible for a long string of political murders.
• The elder George Bush cut a deal with the Iranians to keep the hostages imprisoned until after the 1980 election.
• The winner of that election, Ronald Reagan, purposely manufactured a drug epidemic in American inner cities so as to finance covert operations abroad. That's three-plus decades of conspiracy and partisan-fueled paranoia. Those obsessed by the events in Dallas have had the better part of six decades to sow doubt. The question: who's going to get us off this carousel?
If there is one legitimate criticism of Bush 43's remarks, in my view, it would be that while he goes an admirable job of diagnosing our societal illness he doesn't prescribe a cure other than divine providence.
Here's the final passage of that speech: "Right now, one of our worst national problems is a deficit of confidence. But the cause of freedom justifies all our faith and effort. It still inspires men and women in the darkest corners of the world, and it will inspire a rising generation. The American spirit does not say, "We shall manage," or "We shall make the best of it." It says, "We shall overcome." And that is exactly what we will do, with the help of G0D and one another."
Does anyone else know how to bring the carousel to a halt?