Paul Andersen: John Kerry’s character trumps President Trump’s bombast
John Kerry is the kind of leader whose character imprint is sorely needed for the nation’s future leadership. Here’s why.
He knows the price of war and the value of peace. He respects future generations and recognizes their truths. He is an impassioned activist for whom peace and climate change are personal missions.
Kerry issued this response to President Donald Trump’s recent performance on the national stage: “The first State of the Union following the news that the last decade was the warmest ever … made no mention of our climate crisis. Except for a plan to plant trees, the speech missed a major opportunity to address the climate crisis head-on and transform our economy.”
Climate change is everywhere now. You can’t open a newspaper or magazine without seeing a mention. It is everywhere except in Trump’s White House and in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“Young people today,” Kerry observes, “see too many people in power who have been so dysfunctional, so weak, or so stubborn that they have failed to act on knowledge that has been confirmed by science for decades.
“A war made the young people of my generation grow up years too soon, but for young people today it is the climate crisis and the realization that they are currently at the losing end of perhaps the greatest abdication of generational responsibility in history.”
The Greatest Generation that defined World War II veterans has led to the Lamest Generation of ambivalent baby boomers, many of whom regard climate change as an inconvenient truth to be fecklessly ignored.
Not Kerry. He has co-founded “World War Zero,” an activist network focused on climate change. Kerry’s engagement today reflects his war protests after bringing home the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts from Vietnam.
Following his service, Kerry waged peace by denouncing the deeply flawed rationale that had put him and many of his generation in harm’s way. “I spent two years of my life working with other young veterans to end a war that had gone wrong,” Kerry wrote in a recent Time Magazine viewpoint. “We were attacked. We were criticized. We were spied on. We were even arrested.”
Kerry, then a 27-year-old, decorated war veteran, describes “coming home from a war knowing politicians were mouthing words about a conflict that looked completely different from the one they’d sent us to fight.”
Kerry became the target of slander from Nixon’s Oval Office. “I realized how many powerful people belonging to the previous generation were failing ours. I will never forget the feeling. It animates me still today. It made me angry. It made me an activist.”
Kerry was later the victim of the Swift boat smear campaign during his run for the presidency in 2004 against George W. Bush, a politically motivated character assassination.
Today, he recognizes the “topsy-turvy” world faced by another young activist: Greta Thunberg. “She, and not the leader of the free world, is held to a standard of maturity and adulthood that Trump has never felt bound by.”
Kerry’s stature is that of a respected elder statesman who has applied a voice of reason to a world of chaos and conflict in his work for peaceful solutions to seemingly intractable conflicts in the Middle East.
While Trump leads the nation into the swamps of hegemonic power struggles and divisive political standoffs, Kerry’s path strives for the heights of diplomacy, cooperation and common cause.
Kerry’s view is expansive, not myopic; universal, not hawkishly nationalistic. He embraces a world view of mutual interests for peace, environmental health, equality and integrity.
Kerry knows how Washington works and how the global community functions. His motives to serve rise above Trump’s eagerness to recklessly mortgage our climate future for an overbearing, Machiavellian economy.
Kerry believes that age should be no deterrent to activism, that complacent baby boomers have no excuse for failing to act personally for positive change. Kerry’s activism is a sign of youthful hope and promise, of an eagerness to build instead of destroy.
Kerry is a man of substance and honor. Even if he refuses to run, the imprint of his character is needed to illuminate and elevate the national dialogue and mood.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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