Heading Into Nut Country: From Dealey Plaza to the Tea Party
George Packer has a good piece in The New Yorker called “Leaving Dealey Plaza,” about the Kennedy assassination, whose 50th anniversary is upon us and Dallas. He opens in this haunting fashion:
Ever since the age of seven, I’ve been obsessed with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It took place when I was three, and though I have no memory of hearing the news, the President’s murder, in Dallas, hung over my childhood with the vivid and riveting terror of a dream. On my parents’ bookshelf, there was a slender, crimson-jacketed pictorial account of November 22, 1963—fifty years ago next month—and the days that followed, by the photographers of the Associated Press, called “The Torch Is Passed.” I would sit by myself for what felt like hours and stare at the black-and-white stills—the roses in Jackie’s arms at Love Field; the open Presidential limousine gleaming in the sunlight; the waving, unknowing crowds; Kennedy’s smile in the images just before the first shot; Jackie’s face turning toward him as his fists jerk up to his throat; the black shoe hanging over the back of the seat as the limo speeds away toward the underpass.
Recently he visited Dallas for the first time, so he went, like I went, to Dealey Plaza. He found it much like he'd always imagined it whereas I'd always thought it was located in the center of the city. Not sure why. Because it's central to our history? Instead it's on the edge of the downtown area. It's on the extreme edge. It's the road you take before leaving the center forever.
Packer's article is about the extremism in Dallas at the time, and the hatred—“We're heading into Nut Country,” Jack apparently told Jackie on the flight down—and the difficulty Dallas has dealing with the crime. It's the city that killed the president. Then Packer makes the inevitable update, the inevitable warning, the plus ca change warning. That hatred of Kennedy isn't gone, it's just been transferred. In 50 years, as the rest of us have progressed, the extreme right has managed to change one letter: they've gone from Birchers to Birthers. Nut Country is more diffuse now. It's also in the halls of power. Packer concludes:
Last week, as part of the anniversary build up, the Morning News ran a brutally honest article about the city fifty years ago. The piece quotes Darwin Payne, a historian and former Dallas newspaperman: “You could feel it in the air. When I hear some people express hatred for Obama, it feels the same. But I never have felt we are on the verge of anything like the events I witnessed back then.”
American politics today isn’t haunted by the same fear of sudden, shattering violence. But, as for nut country, it’s migrated from the John Birch Society bookstores to the halls of Congress, where angry talk of socialism and impeachment is almost routine. Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Louie Gohmert are the spiritual descendants of Walker and Hunt. Fifty years later, Dallas would like to move on from Dealey Plaza. This is normal and right. What’s holding it back is the Republican Party.