Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

A Patriotic Perspective on Your Own American History

…that if you were twenty-four in 1970, you would have been born in 1946, and if you met someone who was seventy-one, that person would have been born in 1899, which would have seemed as long ago to you as 1946 does to a twenty-four-year-old today who meets someone whose seventy-first birthday is in the very near future?

…that to someone born in 1986, the 1980s seem like the 1940s do to someone born in 1946, who thinks of the 1980s as just yesterday, who doesn’t consider big hair funny, who hums “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” in the shower, and who can remember that it was cool for boys to wear red socks with black chinos in 1958?

…that if this were 1966, in World History class someone your age would be studying the Great Depression, the same way people born in 1966 studied the fall of Communism, unless they cut history and became infatuated with High Baroque furniture?

…that if you graduated from college in 1968, graduates fifty years earlier would have been getting ready to fight in the First World War, and that, to them, the Civil War would have seemed as distant as the First World War seemed to you fifty years later, when you were getting ready to not fight in Vietnam?

…that if your father was the boss of a company from 1920 to 1971, and promoted you to president at age twenty-four, you would have had only the cloudiest idea of how he did business, just as your thirty-three-year-old younger son, who became a trustee of your company in 2017, might have only the cloudiest idea of how you did business from 1971 to 2017, when you quit to take a pre-retirement job?

…that if you were born in 1946, when the Russian Revolution was thirty-nine, you would be five years older than a boy born in the Soviet Union in 1952, who, when the Russian Revolution turns one-hundred in 2017, might still possess an illustrated dossier of your every move during your trip to Russia in 2013?

…that if you were born on June 14, 1946, one of Washington’s spectacular luxury developments was burgled only three days after you turned twenty-six, which was almost eight months after October 25, 1971, the day Richard Nixon decided not to fire J. Edgar Hoover because, “We may have on our hands here a man who will pull down the temple with him, including me,” as Nixon taped himself saying forty-five years, eight months and one week before James Comey said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” and one day before you said, “Well, I’ll tell you about that maybe sometime in the very near future”?

Well, how about maybe telling us on your birthday which — you realize — is the two-hundred-and-fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the Stars and Stripes by the Second Continental Congress?

Happy Flag Day, Mr. President!

(Postscript: There are no tapes, you finally told us. Or maybe it wasn’t you who made them. Or maybe nobody could find them. But the Trump Day assault on Congressional batting practice did inspire you, at least, to beg Republicans and Democrats to set aside their differences and “play ball.”)



Author of “News to Me,” a book of his feature stories, with essays on how he got them, as a reporter and foreign correspondent at The Wall Street Journal

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Barry Newman

Barry Newman

Author of “News to Me,” a book of his feature stories, with essays on how he got them, as a reporter and foreign correspondent at The Wall Street Journal