At the Atlantic, Tom Junod recalls his friendship with Fred Rogers 16 years after Fred’s death. Junod and Rogers traded 70 emails around the time Junod’s Esquire profile of Rogers, ‘Can You Say…”Hero”?’ was published in 1998. The author considers the movies made about Rogers’ life, as well as how Fred would have responded to today’s routine mass violence and the growing lack of civility in political discourse.
As for Fred: It’s true that he lost, and that the digitization of all human endeavor has devoured his legacy as eagerly as it has devoured everything else. But that he stands at the height of his reputation 16 years after his death shows the persistence of a certain kind of human hunger—the hunger for goodness. He had faith in us, and even if his faith turns out to have been misplaced, even if we have abandoned him, he somehow endures, standing between us and our electrified antipathies and recriminations like the Tank Man of Tiananmen Square in a red sweater. He is a warrior, all right, because he is not just unarmed, outgunned, outnumbered; he is long gone, and yet he keeps up the fight.