Seven, Philadelphia, 7/28/16
“I hate this,” Jack said sullenly, as Rose straightened his necktie.
“Think the last time you wore a tie might have been our wedding,” she said, blushing.
“Okay, gross,” Joey said, “because I’m pretty sure she was thinking it was your wedding night.” He turned so his back was towards her. “I never pegged you as afraid of a little public speaking,” he teased.
“It’s not that,” Jack muttered.
“It’s a little that, too, hon,” Rose said, pecking him on the cheek. “Or your stomach wouldn’t be complaining quite so loudly.”
“It’s politics,” Jack said. “I’ve been used by politics most of my adult life, but I-” he furrowed his brow, and couldn’t force the rest of the thought out.
“That’s what gives this weight,” Joey said, his expression turning serious. “You aren’t some failed soldier trying to turn their retirement into a career. You’re here because this circumstance is different, more important than any before. I respect that, and I think the American people will, too. Now get out there, before your introduction drags any more than it already has.”
Jack stepped out onto the stage, and for a moment was blinded by the house lights, and then the chorus of flashbulbs from the media. “I’m happier than I can say to welcome a true American hero onto this stage,” the man at the podium Jack couldn’ see because of the lights said, flashing a wide smile.
Jack shook his hand stiffly, then waited for him to clear the stage before speaking. “I’m not comfortable being here,” Jack said, “and I’m sure that shows.”
The audience chuckled nervously. “That’s okay. You’re laughing with me,” he paused, “I think.”
“But I’ve never been comfortable using my… celebrity, I guess, like this. I’ve marched, with John Lewis, Martin Luther King, for many varied human rights on many different occasions. You could say I’ve never been apolitical… but I’ve always attempted to keep who I am as a man separate from who I was as a symbol. I never wanted to trade on the good I’ve done, and even today, that’s not my goal.
“But I can no longer abide my prior silence. This is not the usual push and pull of politics. This is the rise of something far more sinister, an enemy we fought a world war against, an enemy I hoped we vanquished for good. Maybe that was naïve of me. Maybe my generation failed to keep the flames of vigilance lit.
“I didn’t decide to speak until last week. I waited, hoping that sanity would return, that someone, anyone, would be able to show the Republican candidate that he’s not just trying to be the leader of conservative America, or scared America, or majority-white America, but that he’ll need to lead all of us. He’ll need to represent the will of all of us. He’ll need to represent the hopes, as well as the fears, of all of us. And their convention convinced me that realization will forever elude him. At his core, he is a divisive and spiteful man. He doesn’t like the idea of an America united, unless he can force us to unite behind him, not as a good and changed man, but as he is: angry, scared and lashing out.
“And with each passing day, the parallels with the fascist rise- a rise that cost our world millions of lives- become stronger, and harder to ignore. Every day, more language about how everyone but America is the problem is used, while more narrowly defining what counts as America. I have seen this ugliness before, I have seen what it does to good men and women caught up in its throes, and I have seen what they in turn do to those they deem unworthy of sharing soil with. I wish I could be here for any other reason, truly. But we do not get to choose our burdens, only how we rise to meet them.
“So please, vote. Not just for Democrats, but for democracy itself, for a return to normalcy, to respecting our differences, and the rights of others. For returning this country to an ideal for the rest of the world to envy. For a world where our most vulnerable are cared for, protected, and safe. For America as we want her to be, and need her to be, not what she was. Because viewing who she was through rose-tinted glasses can’t erase those who were left behind or excluded in that past, and we know better, now, and we have to do better. The only hope I have to leave you with is this: we can do better. I’ve seen it. And I pray I’ll live to see it again. Thank you.”
Jack was numb, and barely heard the roaring crowd, or their applause. He put up his hand, to wave as he left, but couldn’t help but feel that it was all too late.