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God and Country



In 1960, my older brother Sam graduated from Bingham High School. Just a few days later, we loaded into our 1956 Plymouth Savoy and drove to the original Salt Lake airport to wave him off to the U.S. Air Force. I'd barely ever been out of Bingham Canyon, let alone to an airport, so it was a memory cementing moment. I remember him hugging me goodbye then walking out on the tarmac and up the stairs of the propeller passenger plane. Off he went. Every time I saw a plane overhead or heard talk of the airport itself, I returned to that moment. Sam was my first big buddy.

A few years later, I sat enthralled as a Copperton Elementary schoolmate told us of his own airport trip, he being among the throng to welcome President John F. Kennedy to Utah in late September 1963. I took it all in—how the president looked, who he walked with (Utah Senator Ted Moss was one), how his hair looked, and finally his ride to downtown Salt Lake City in his open air limousine (a sad foreshadow of Dallas just two months away). The crowd of Utahns was estimated to be over 125,000 strong.

That's nearly triple the crowd size of the last time the Utes wiped snot on the BYU Cougars at Rice-Eccles stadium. Not to mention that without booze flowing, the football game crowd would be half the size, yet in 1963, 125,000 sober Utahns showed up to honor a Democratic Party president. That's especially telling since Kennedy was a Catholic, at the time untrusted and reviled in American politics for perceived secret alliances to the Vatican Pope—among other bizarre perceptions. Today, we have six Catholics on the Supreme Court and a possible seventh on the way. I only mention that for all the kids out there marching for social change and for the hope that change will happen fast. It will happen. Just not on a predictable calendar.

But I've digressed. Sorry. I also remember Kennedy met leaders of the Latter-day Saints and spoke at the tabernacle. I've recently learned that a main reason for his visit was to remotely flip the switch to start the powerful generators at the newly minted Flaming Gorge dam. Throughout the telling, I kept thinking back to my own first and only airport visit. I was now 9 years old, keeping myself busy with drawings of Air Force jets that might fly me out of Utah. I'm still waiting for that to happen.

Today, we're a week away from the vice-presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and the Democrat candidate, Kamala Harris, at the University of Utah. I imagine both will arrive quietly to Utah, we being mostly past the grand spectacle of a top-tier politician walking among us. I imagine both will meet privately with local members of Utah's potpourri of hooligans, politicians, business persons and religious leaders. I won't be among them. That's a damned shame because I'd not be shy about pointing out to either of them which are the heels and which are the heroes of Utah's elite. I can summarize, though: nearly everyone that Pence will meet is a hypocrite and a heel.

He will be in the company of science deniers, Trump enablers, barely qualified elected officials (think Chris Stewart and Mike Lee) and white gangsters. He will greet an LDS religious contingent that—for the first time in modern American history—will be considered to be more liberal, progressive and open-minded than the Veep himself. Mormons have moved. Pence calls his wife "Mother." He calls his actual mother, "Mary, wife of Joseph."

Ruefully, there might even be a few Greeks joining those laying rose petals at the feet of "Mike, son of Mary." That would be a sight. If word gets to Kamala, though, I can round up a good number of fine Greek Democrats who still remember their blue collar and, yes, Christian roots, and we can guide her through a brief history of Utah reality. She'll confuse most of the locals anyway. It's bad enough that President Trump purposely mispronounces her name, and equally bad enough that plenty of locals find that the apex of good humor. Kamala derives of a blended ethnic and religious heritage. She's of Indian-Jamaican DNA with Hindu-Black Baptist religious cred. Her husband is Jewish. In all, that's a biological combination seldom seen in these parts.

When JFK landed in Salt Lake City, my brother Sam was three years into his Air Force stint, another brother was marching into the Army and a third was nearing his enlistment into the Marines that would send him to Vietnam for 19 months. Meanwhile in New York, a young Donald Trump was fighting off early symptoms of bone spurs while doing all he could to keep his father's housing projects lily white. On occasion, he probably ventured past a church, but there is no evidence he ever entered one.

I'll be a bemused onlooker next week when Harris beats Pence so badly that he flashbacks to his own early memories. Memories are powerful. I hope Harris pounds Pence all the way back to his Kennedy-inspired, Democratic Party and Roman Catholic roots (all true!). He abandoned his roots to become a born-again Republican evangelical.

Maybe there's hope. Pence proudly displays his father's Korean War Bronze Star. Thus, he can't respect Trump, no way. I'm thinking back to 1963, when 125,000 mostly Mormon Utahns gathered with the original Kennedy Catholic Democrat. I'm thinking on my nostalgic airplane memory machine that Pence may wake up, turn to Harris and say, "You know, you're right, Kamala. Let's get rid of this guy."

God and country would appreciate that.

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