Twenty-eight years ago today, January 20, 1989– when I was in sixth grade– I snuck this radio and an earpiece into school with me.
As I sat in Social Studies, I carefully pulled the little Realistic transistor receiver out just before noon, and cranked the volume to a barely audible peep.
With a mix of fear of getting caught and indignation for history class ignoring history that was happening at that very moment, I listened to George HW Bush being sworn in as President.
I was in awe of the Presidency and the transfer of power. I was in awe of the lofty speeches and the fine men making them. I was excited to have the first new President I could really remember.
I read Time Magazine every week and The Buffalo News every day. I watched the local and national news on TV every night with my dad. I felt no hatred or antipathy for anyone in government or politics. I didn’t feel better than or more American than anyone else because I did or didn’t support a particular politician. I felt no fear or insecurity for the future of our country.
In fact, twenty-eight years later, I still consider George HW Bush and Michael Dukakis to be great and honorable men who I am proud to admire.
I watched them and our other leaders show not just strength, but grace, depth, class, thoughtfulness, integrity, compassion, and empathy– all traits of the best sort of leader.
They were adults facing the adult world with adult attitudes. They also conducted themselves without utter contempt for any of our fellow Americans and without childish pettiness or adolescent insults.
Having this example and finding favor in these folks helped shape me into the person I am today. I am thankful for the wholesome and decent role models I found in the national political leaders I admired.
Now, of course, the game has changed. The world has changed. The people have changed.
I don’t think it’s possible for a dorky sixth grader to be well-informed and engaged and also be able to have the same pure experience I had with my little Radio Shack radio at Orchard Park Middle School.
Whether you love or hate what is happening today, it’s nearly impossible to expect that anyone of our youngest generation could have have the same opportunity for the uncomplicated and unadulterated across-the-board love of this country and its leaders that I had.
That’s too bad and in its essence leaves me aching and sad.