Columnist John Paradis: Living in the twilight zone of a government shutdown

  • —Contributed photo

  • —Contributed photo

  • Union members and other federal employees rally to call for an end to the partial government shutdown, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019 at AFL-CIO Headquarters in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Published: 1/11/2019 8:21:59 AM

There I was on a Saturday morning late last month, staring at a windswept white concrete structure off Dorchester’s Columbia Point in Boston.

Wooden barriers blocked the lot with a sign reading “Due to a lapse in federal funding the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum is closed.”

Aside from a security car positioned at the front entrance, there wasn’t a car in the parking lot. Not a single person in sight.

The scene was stark. Shall I say apocalyptic?

Over the holidays, I had hoped to visit the JFK library and museum in Boston. I wanted to look at some old manuscripts and to perhaps remind myself of one of the most exhilarating times in our nation’s history.

But here we are instead. January 2019. We are now approaching the fourth week of a federal shutdown, the likes of which our nation has never seen. Today, an estimated 800,000 federal employees are still not being paid.

Contrast that reality to Jan. 20, 1961. Following one of the worst blizzards in inaugural history, President Kennedy delivered what is arguably considered one of the greatest speeches ever. It was a masterpiece designed to foster national unity and positive direction. It was an address designed to make Americans feel that the sky was the limit for our nation — that we were embarking on great things.

Kennedy was blessed with the gifts of intellect and eloquence, and he was someone who prepared and chose carefully the right words and regarded diplomacy as a high art.

Fifty-eight years later, we now have a president who, according to senior people who left the White House in 2018, doesn’t like to read and doesn’t prepare. When he speaks, he is often incoherent. In Bob Woodward’s book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” the president is seen as a national security threat by his own staff.

 “Trump’s behavior has become so erratic, his lying so persistent, his willingness to fulfill the basic functions of the presidency — like reading briefing books, consulting government experts before making major changes and appointing a competent staff — so absent, his readiness to accommodate Russia and spurn allies so disturbing and his obsession with himself and his ego over all other considerations so consistent, two more years of him in office could pose a real threat to our nation,” wrote Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times recently.

Even though I was barely 2 months old on Nov. 22, 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated, I have always been fascinated and inspired by Kennedy’s life and his call to public service.

On the day of his inauguration, Kennedy intoned what is remembered as the great call to patriotic duty: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

In his book, “A Thousand Days,” historian Arthur M. Schlesinger noted that JFK’s famous appeal had long existed in Kennedy’s mind.

Schlesinger wrote: “As far back as 1945 he had noted down in a loose leaf notebook a quotation from Rousseau: ‘As soon as any man says of the affairs of state, what does it matter to me? the state may be given as lost.”

Are we at that place as a nation today? Have we lost what matters? 

Kennedy’s words still have great meaning to me and many Americans. But what happened?

Today, the majority of Americans no longer trust the government.

Over the past two generations, Americans have sadly seen a history of deceit, from Vietnam to Watergate to Iran-Contra, from Monica Lewinsky to Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. People no longer trust their presidents.

“JFK wanted an administration filled with gifted men and women, selected for their ability and commitment, not for their ideology or campaign contributions,” said Theodore Sorenson in 1999 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Kennedy library and museum. “He promised to screen out those who sought government service as a door to power or wealth. And he never lied to us or sent us out to lie to the press.”

When I was in Boston just before the New Year, I was hoping my son could see the library from the inside to see how government can work for and reflect the people. Now our government is closed. What a miserable example for our young people. 

In 2019, we are living in a twilight zone; a universe turned upside-down, an alternative universe of anti-government or, wait, no government. We’re in a universe where facts don’t matter, where our leader assaults the truth with lie after lie. I hope we can take what is happening today, harken back to Kennedy’s words and remind ourselves of what good leadership can be. 

One of the many milestones in 2019 will be the 40th anniversary of the dedication of the Kennedy library and museum on Oct. 20. I pray it will be open. I hope to be there for it. It’s up to us now to make sure that it happens.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence and writes a column published the second Friday of the month. He can be reached at 


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