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Win or Lose

By Tim Murphy:

I wrote this 4 years ago during President Trump’s inauguration. As Joe Biden’s inauguration approached, I pulled it back out and re-read it. It doesn’t seem to be out of date yet. The original story happened over 50 years ago; it doesn’t seem to be out of date yet either.

As we approach the inauguration, I hear a lot of people commenting on how bad things are, that this is the worst it has ever been. There seems to be a lot of hate. There is no shortage of opinions or emotions—lot of people talking and not a lot of listening. My 35-year-old nephew Josh asked me if I have ever seen it this bad during an election—so much hate and anger—and after the election—still so much unrest? I do remember some things.

I was in 7th grade in April of 1968 when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed—a Black man assassinated by a white supremacist. Chicago erupted in riots, as did most major cities in the US. As a side note, J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, had been wiretapping Dr. King for years and leaking the information to try to sway public opinion and change outcomes. Two months later, in June of 1968, Robert Kennedy, the leading Democratic candidate for president, was shot and killed. He was assassinated by a Palestinian over Kennedy's vocal support of Israel. In both of those assassinations, conspiracy theories ran rampant, as they did four and a half years earlier when John Kennedy was assassinated by a man with Russian ties and even a Russian wife. In August of 1968, Chicago erupted in a week of violence again at the Democratic National Convention. I lived in Chicago and watched on black-and-white TV as the police and fire department were pitted against activists/protestors in Grant Park. Both sides passionately blamed the other. My grandfather was a Chicago fireman, and he didn't feel a lot of love.

Every morning when I got ready for school, I would hear my dad's AM radio station tuned to the Wally Phillips show talking about the weather, the traffic, and the war in Vietnam. Each morning there was an update on the war offensive that would report something like, "4,000 Viet Kong were killed, and 2 Americans died." Day after day, those kinds of numbers were reported. Years later, there were admissions that the numbers were somewhat misrepresented to sway Americans to support the war. In November 1968, Richard Nixon won the presidential election. In December 1968, I was notified that I won an essay contest; the award was a trip to Richard Nixon's inauguration in January of 1969 along with 200 other school kids from all 50 states.

Photo: wallyg on

As you would imagine, the trip was very memorable. We spent 5 days in Washington, D.C., touring the national landmarks that fill the nation’s capital before witnessing the inauguration and the parade that followed. We got to see the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, but on our way to the Washington Monument, we were re-routed because protestors had surrounded the memorial. The situation was deemed unsafe. We went to the Smithsonian Institute, but after an hour we were gathered up and escorted out because protestors were marching on the Smithsonian and, again, it was deemed unsafe. As we were being shepherded out, we met up with the protestors who were storming in, our short line of students passing the seemingly endless line of protestors. We had been given badges to wear that had the word "WINNER" with red, white, and blue ribbons. It helped the chaperones keep us corralled together. As we were passing the protestors, a long-haired foul-smelling guy wearing a green army jacket came up to me, blocked my path, got right in my face, and yelled, "You're not a winner, you're a loser man!" He stood there face to face with me for an uncomfortably long time, then he ran off laughing.

I felt pretty bullied by the confrontation. In 1969, I weighed 85 pounds, stood 4 feet 3 inches tall and wore black-rimmed glasses held together with electrical tape. He was a man, older than me, bigger than me, wearing an army coat, and he said it with great confidence, like he knew something. I was not very confident about anything, and maybe he knew I wasn't really supposed to be with the smart kids. It was very disturbing. As with most bullying situations, I never told anybody about it, I just buried the incident, and it went away. But I didn't like being scared that way. It took some of the celebratory glamour out of the trip. Five years later, Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency in disgrace, which took whatever was left of the celebratory glamour. After his resignation, telling somebody that I went to Richard Nixon's inauguration led to snickers and giggles. "You're not a winner, you're a loser man!" I might as well have said, “I was on the Bozo Show.”

So, nearly 50 years later, my nephew Josh asked me if I have ever seen it this bad before; where the political unrest and protests continue after the election; where people seem to hate each other to the point of killing; where there is racial tension and religious intolerance and a conspiracy theory for everything; where our intelligence agencies are in question; where Russia is accused of tampering with the presidency; where the police are under fire; where numbers are misrepresented to sway public opinion; where people would bully someone to get their way . . .

Kelly always makes me look at the other side of things. It is the therapist in her, and it is annoying because it is so often right. So, the guy who confronted me may have come to Washington to make America great Again (the protestors back then thought that was what they were doing). Maybe our little "WINNER" sign made us look like we thought we were intellectually superior, and maybe he was tired of being bullied by someone who thought they were better because of a higher SAT score. I just thought he came because there were girls and pot.

Yes, it has been this bad before, and maybe even worse. I bring up the subject of bullying because it seems to have reached a focal point. Physical superiority, intellectual superiority, economical superiority . . . all can be misused. The bullied usually put up with it until they can't take it anymore, and then they fix it. Our country was founded on that; they came because they were bullied for religious beliefs. The Revolutionary War was fought because they were tired of being bullied. We Americans put up with things until we can't take it anymore, and then we fix it. So, yes, there are significant problems out there, but we have seen these before. When it gets this bad, we fix things. So, take hope in that. We will be ok. We are not losers, man, we're winners!


Tim Murphy grew up on the south side of Chicago in a home filled with Catholic Irish traditions. He has kissed the Blarney Stone and been given the gift of storytelling. He attended Catholic Grade School, public high school and a Lutheran College—which perhaps has shaped his somewhat irreverent style. In his sixty-four years, he has received many blessings, and despite his misbehavior, they seem to keep coming.

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