The real curse - GulfToday

The real curse

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Kennedy

Saoirse Kennedy Hill died from a suspected accidental or intended drug overdose.

The tragic death of 22-year old Saoirse Kennedy Hill, a grandniece of slain President John Kennedy, has reminded the US and the world that the US was once led by a beloved, progressive and inspiring man rather than a widely despised and denigrated retrograde.

Kennedy was everything Donald Trump is not: young, handsome, a World War II hero, a hard worker and a politician with a vision for the country who surrounded himself with men of honour, intellectuals and high-powered cabinet ministers. Kennedy relished challenge and debate on policy. Kennedy was the second youngest president, aged 42 when he took office. He was the first Catholic to be elected to the top job. He narrowly won the 1960 election by taking both the popular and Electoral College votes.

While he had only 1,036 days in office, Kennedy accomplished a great deal on his “New Frontier” agenda despite resistance from conservative southern Democrats and northern Republicans. He eased the US out of recession and established the Peace Corps which sent thousands of idealistic youngsters abroad on assistance missions. He averted nuclear war by negotiating with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushev and contributed to the partial nuclear test ban treaty. Kennedy charmed fellow global leaders and supported decolonisation in Asia and Africa.  He promised to land a man on the moon and initiated key reforms on the environment, health care and housing. He called for racial equality and integration and adopted an equal pay act which was supposed to give women the same pay as men. He proposed immigration reforms that would give preference to immigrants with skills and who had close connections with US citizens rather than those chosen by lottery.

The oldest president, 70 when inaugurated, Trump is not handsome; he uses hair spray to keep his fragile comb-over in place on his bald head. Trump is a draft dodger who is interested only in self-promotion and has appointed to his cabinet a succession of sub-mediocre and compromised figures, some with conflicts of interest. Half a dozen have either been jailed or face criminal charges. Trump is lazy, does not read policy briefs prepared by staff, and spends his time tweeting decrees and insults. Trump is a nominal Protestant who prefers golf to church. He lost the popular vote to rival Hillary Clinton but won the Electoral College vote. This makes him a minority president like his Republican predecessor George W. Bush.

During Trump’s 931 days in office, he has championed white supremacists, deepening divisions in the country. He has striven to revoke positive policies adopted by his predecessor Barack Obama, the first president of African stock. Trump has withdrawn the US from major international agreements, including the Paris climate change accord and the Iran nuclear deal, a decision which has put the Middle Eastern region on the road to war. He has insulted and alienated world leaders and promoted Israeli expansionism and aggression. He has cut taxes on the rich and increased exactions on the middle class and poor by imposing tariffs on Chinese-made goods. He has sneered at poor countries and dismissed their citizens and is trying to make it impossible for Hispanic asylum seekers to enter the US.

Washington under Kennedy was a vibrant, vital city, dubbed “Camelot,” in reference to the legendary Medieval court of King Arthur of England; the US capital under Trump is called “catastrophe.”

The death of Saoirse Kennedy Hill from a suspected accidental or intended drug overdose shows just how far the US has fallen since her great-uncle reigned in Camelot. Key items in Kennedy’s 1961 agenda — health care expansion, educational reform, racial equality and the environment — have remained in limbo due to political stasis in Washington. Today’s Democratic party candidates have adopted these issues in the hope that they can overcome deadlock.

Saoirse suffered from depression and the celebrity of being a Kennedy. In addition to President Kennedy, her grandfather, Robert Kennedy, was assassinated when her mother, Courtney, was a child. Saoirse’s father Paul Hill was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for 15 years by Britain for being part of an Irish Republican Army murder squad. After his exoneration, he was released in 1989. Courtney Kennedy and Paul Hill were married from 1993 until 2006. Saoirse was seven at the time of their separation.

She was a member of a clan which has faced one tragedy after another, giving rise to the belief in a family “curse.” Clan founders, Joseph Kennedy and Elizabeth Fitzgerald, had nine children. Joseph Jr. was killed fighting in World War II; Rosemary was mentally disabled; John was elected to the presidency and assassinated; Kathleen died in a plane crash in 1948; Eunice worked for disabled folk; Patricia had an unhappy marriage; Robert served as US Attorney General. While campaigning for president in 1968, he was shot by Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan, angered over his support for Israel. Sirhan shouted, “I did it for my country.”

Jean was US ambassador to Ireland, and Ted was a leading progressive in the senate for 47 years but was involved in a car accident in which a young woman was killed. Among the grandchildren of Joseph and Rose, David died of a drug overdose. Michael had a fatal skiing accident. John Jr. was killed in a plane crash and Kara and Christopher died of heart attacks. In spite of the Kennedy tragedies, surviving members of the clan are still in public office or involved in good works. Trump’s family members prefer to exploit his high office to make money.