Never was the 1963 Lesley Gore song "It's My Party" as apt as at the History Museums' dedication on Saturday morning:
"It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to
You would cry too if it happened to you"
"The song's chorus, 'It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to... You would cry too if it happened to you!' became a part of American pop cultural language as a phrase used to describe being utterly humiliated and miserable during an event that is supposed to be a happy occasion," according to its Wikipedia entry.
A celebratory birthday party was politicized and polarized. Contemporary Kulturkampf eclipsed a magnificent achievement.
Well beforehand, I noted the inappropriateness of delineating business misdealing or previous romances of a nuptial couple at a rehearsal dinner. It is the time to sing praises. The bicentennial weekend deserved similar dissociation from discord.
The Tacitus quote, mentioned last week, is known through its permutation in President Kennedy's post-Bay of Pigs Press Conference, "Victory has a thousand fathers, and defeat is an orphan."
Credit can be assigned for failures eroding the bicentennial moment. Yet to do so distracts from successes: Hereafter every state's anniversary will receive ample honor on the exact date of statehood. Beautiful buildings will be dedicated on those ending in 50 and 100.
Remembering John Kenneth Galbraith's memoir "Ambassador's Journal: A Personal Account of the Kennedy Years," about his tenure in New Delhi, which I read prior to visiting India as a law student, various members of the inner circle compared notes as to whose ideas were included in the Inaugural Address.
I joined the Foundation for Mississippi History board of directors in 2006. My contribution was suggesting the concept of a "Bicentennial Museum of Mississippi History", circa 2009. Hank Holmes, then Mississippi Department of Archives and History director, responded, "I like the idea of a bricks-and-mortar component to the bicentennial."
Without a date certain for completion, a vacant lot filled would remain at the intersection of Mississippi and North Streets. Legislative budget-cutting would have sent construction appropriations to "the Cutting Room floor".
Two terrific bicentennial museums opened on our 200th anniversary. Where the law of unintended consequences collided with the thought that "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" was the biggest snowfall in 36 years, Presidential participation, and inevitable protest.
Towering heroes such as Congressman John Lewis, who put himself on the front lines during the sit-ins, the freedom rides, and Bloody Sunday and spoke at the March on Washington, could not lay aside differences with the Trump Administration, salute the martyrs of the Mississippi Movement, and use "the bully pulpit" to delineate disagreement.
Where was the courage that characterized those about whom Seth Cagin and Philip Dray wrote in "We Are Not Afraid" (the definitive history of the 1964 Neshoba County murders)? Does civilized society exist when the presence of people with whom one disagrees creates the boycott of a solemn moment on hallowed ground rather focus debate over that to which one objects? The Revolutionary War and Second World War could not have been won if "I'll stay home" was preferred to fighting for one's principles.
Fears that the President might incite controversy and demands that people attend a separate gathering undercut the excitement anticipated.
I could not sleep the night beforehand. I fell asleep while reading, awoke 15-20 minutes later, extinguished the lights, but could not return to sleep. At 5:45 a.m., I cut off the alarm; reckoning that, after two hours rest, being in the cold, damp, and wind for two hours before the dedication and another one and a half hours during it would sicken me, prevent a flu shot during Monday's checkup, and risk worse illness in the coming weeks. My subconscious told me not to participate when the moment had been intended to celebrate statehood.
Where did the country go astray when a birthday party becomes a venue to express polemic rather than a celebration?
I close quoting The New York Times obituary for Mississippi's Fred Larue, a great favorite of mine:
"In the end, Mr. LaRue was one of the first top Nixon aides to cooperate with prosecutors.
'' 'LaRue had stressed that it was time for both of us to think about protecting ourselves and our families instead of continuing to worry about protecting [Attorney General John] Mitchell and the president,' [Jeb] Magruder wrote in his 1974 book, 'An American Life: One Man's Road to Watergate.' "
It is time to think about ourselves and our families instead of engaging in incivility and political invective fomented by those with an agenda, hoping to profit by division. We had best consider the country's futures if a birthday party is a battle zone and an event that ought to have overflowed had unfilled seats.
Jay Wiener is a Northsider.