For its San Diego convention in the summer of 1996, the Republican Party was anxious to avoid the acrimonious tone of its gathering in Houston four years earlier. So the GOP turned to its most respected voice of moderation and reconciliation: Gen. Colin Powell. He did not disappoint.
"Yes, we Republicans have leaders and principles that are worthy of our aspirations," he said. "Let us take our case to our fellow citizens with respect for their intelligence and fair-mindedness. Let us debate our differences with the Democrats strongly, but with the civility and absence of acrimony that the American people long for in our political debate."
Stare at Powell's words just 25 years later and they feel like a relic from a lost era. Civility? Longing? Absence of acrimony? Those ideals have been cudgeled to death by Facebook, Twitter, and a panicked and partisan media.
Powell was male, Black, 84 years old and suffering from a cancer of the plasma cells, all of which combined to make him vulnerable to covid-19, even with vaccination, a lifesaving gift for many but, alas, not without limitations for those with comorbidities.
The son of immigrants was the first Black U.S. secretary of state, serving from 2001 to 2005, national security adviser from 1987 to 1989, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993.
His values, he told the 1996 convention audience, had been reinforced by his parents: "Integrity, kindness and godliness, they taught us, were right. Lying, violence, intolerance, crime and drugs were wrong and, even worse than wrong, in my family, they were shameful. We were taught that hard work and education were the keys to success in this country."
In that 1996 speech, Powell also said: "We were taught by my parents to always, always, always believe in America."
He was stuck with that, whether he liked it or not. Wise heads and kind hearts can see how much he achieved, how much he gave and how apt it now would be for America to work on its acrimony.