Kennedy’s Death: 50 Years of American Paranoia

November 2013 marked an important milestone in American history: the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s untimely death. At the time, Kennedy’s assassination was especially poignant for the people of Montana. Two months earlier, Kennedy had visited the Big Sky State on a five day tour of traditionally conservative states in the west. The states he visited were either lost in his 1960 election, or up for grabs in the upcoming 1964 Senate race and Presidential election. Montana met both of those qualifications.

When Kennedy came through Billings and Great Falls that year, he was met with fervent support and enthusiasm, reported the Missoulian. Keep in mind that he had lost the vote of the majority of Montanans only three years before. This was as good an example as any to showcase what the Kennedy administration truly meant to the United States. Kennedy instilled confidence in the American people; they trusted their government more than ever, and believed the US would lead the world to the stars, heralding a new era.

Just as President Kennedy came bearing hope, his death left behind cynicism and a heightened sense of paranoia. When Lee Harvey Oswald fired those fateful shots in Dallas, Americans asked “Why would he do that?” In the years that followed, after Congress withheld all assassination related information, the perspective of the country changed. Five years later, when Sirhan Sirhan killed Senator Robert Kennedy, people then asked “Why would they do that?” The public was convinced that a larger group must have orchestrated both murders.  This was despite strong evidence that Sirhan Sirhan acted alone. Our cynical perspective remains the same, fifty years later.

It isn’t difficult to find the “citizen vs. government” attitude of distrust in the United States today. Many tragedies that happens in the US today are insinuated to be the fault of the federal government by at least some. With recent fiascos in mind, government agencies, such as the NSA, have become symbolic villains to the people. Before Kennedy’s death, the federal government was seen as protecting the people from the communist menace. Then; America’s paranoia was directed abroad then, today it is directed at home, at the very establishment meant to serve the nation. How has the amount of actual observation and interference by the government into the day to day lives of Americans changed between those two eras? Objectively, little has changed, although technology has allowed the US government to observe more.

On the global stage, America is suffering. The past fifty years haven’t been our finest, plagued by war, faltering education scores and inconsistent markets. The list could go on from there. Today, it is arguable that the United States isn’t the best place to live, work, and be represented fairly, as nations like Canada or Germany challenge the United States in many facets of first world life. How do we move forward from here?

The answer lies in our paranoia. America has always had a common enemy, something to unite against; this has been our strength in the past. When that enemy is your countrymen, however, things start to fall apart. Perhaps Americans shouldn’t fear each other or those that represent them. Maybe Americans should fear mediocrity more, striving to be “number one” again. All the patriotism in the world doesn’t change reality: America is suffering from a fear of itself.