This is a walk down memory lane. For those who think these turbulent and disturbing time under the republican President Donald Trump can’t end soon enough and are worried about the harm being done to our country, it is helpful to recall past chaotic, frightening times which we have survived and overcome.
1968 was a truly turbulent year with the continuing Vietnam War without a clear victory in sight. Then there was the back drop of two American icons’ assassinations, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
At the end of March, the sitting democrat President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he would not be seeking a second presidential term after he almost lost the New Hampshire primary to a liberal democrat upstart, the MN. Senator Eugene McCarthy. His VP, Hubert Humphrey would become the favored candidate. Richard Nixon was the republican establishment candidate who won the 1968 election.
In 1968, there was the segregationist and Alabama Governor George Wallace, who decided to run an independent campaign for the presidency which experienced significant support in the South and the Midwest.
On 11/5/68, the results of the popular vote were 31,770,000 for Nixon, 43.4 percent of the total; 31,270,000 or 42.7 percent for Humphrey; 9,906,000 or 13.5 percent for Wallace; and 0.4 percent for other candidates.
A major turning point for the American public’s anti-war sentiment occurred over the Viet Nam Tet offensive started in January 1968. This offensive continued on for weeks as the U.S. withstood the highest number of injuries and casualty losses for our servicemen to date during this war. Without ever attaining a clear victory, this war continued until 1975.
The author Charles Kaiser also compares the U.S. presidential election history between today’s events and those in 1968 in his 3/13/16 Guardian article, “1968: How Donald Trump channels the spirit of one of America’s most violent years.” Here are some excerpts:
“For those with long political memories, Chicago was already famous as the scene of some of the most influential political violence of the last 50 years. As Theodore H White wrote in his making of the President series: “In 1968 the name Chicago won a significance far beyond date and place. It became the title of an episode, like Waterloo, or Versailles, or Munich.”
“When the Democrats held their convention in Chicago in August of that year, at the height of the Vietnam war, at least 10,000 anti-war demonstrators clashed with more than 20,000 policemen, national guardsmen and regular soldiers in the streets of Chicago.”
“And in an echo of the arrest at the Trump rally of CBS newsman Sopan Deb, in 1968, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s “security” team roughed up reporters inside and outside the hall.”
“Of course, the events of 1968 were of a greater scale than those recent rallies and protests by both Trump supporters and non-supporters. In 1968 there were several ant-Viet Nam protests with one on 8/28/1968 during the Chicago Democratic National Convention, involving four days of street fighting, where there had been more than 600 arrests. The Medical Committee for Human Rights estimated that it had treated at least 1,000 demonstrators. The Chicago police department counted 192 injured officers.”
“Democratic Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut (1968) used his turn at the convention podium to accuse Mayor Daley of using “Gestapo tactics… At that moment, the television cameras zoomed in on the Chicago mayor. Daley’s voice could not be heard, but to millions of lip-reading Americans, he had replied by screaming: “Fuck you!”
“Now, the American political system once again seems to be careening out of control, as Donald Trump actively promotes violence among his supporters – “Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK? … I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”
“In 1968, the assassination of presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy was preceded just two months earlier by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, a catastrophe which provoked race riots in 130 cities, requiring 65,000 soldiers and guardsmen to restore order. In Chicago, Mayor Daley ordered his police force to shoot to kill arsonists and “shoot to maim or cripple looters”; in the nation’s capital, fires and looting spread to within two blocks of the White House. Riot troops took up positions on the president’s lawn and machine gun nests sprouted on the steps of the Capitol.”
“But 1968 offers other echoes. On the Democratic side, Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy played the insurgent role now occupied by Bernie Sanders of Vermont. It was McCarthy’s near-victory in the New Hampshire primary on an anti-Vietnam war platform that convinced Lyndon Johnson not to run for re-election and propelled an initially reluctant Robert Kennedy into the race. The establishment doppler for Hillary Clinton was Vice-President Hubert H Humphrey, chosen to be the nominee by the party establishment even though a large majority of primary voters had gone to Kennedy and McCarthy.”
“On the other side of the race, segregationist governor George Wallace of Alabama anticipated Trump, embracing America’s favorite (and not-so-secret) political pornography – white supremacy. Richard Nixon countered by choosing Maryland governor Spiro T Agnew as his running mate.”
“Nixon deduced that many Americans craved a subtle stoking of unspoken prejudice that the riots of the spring had revived. Agnew was the perfect person to do that. A once liberal Republican, he had transformed his image earlier in the year with a rough response to rioting in his state.”
“And as Trump has violated standards of decency and civility with his attacks on everyone from Muslims and Mexicans to reporters with disabilities, Agnew was famous for his ethnic slurs, referring to Poles as “Polacks” and calling a Japanese American reporter “the fat Jap”.
(Southern strategy) Nixon conveyed to voters through strong support for “law and order” and “states’ rights” and persistent attacks on the supreme court, then led by chief justice Earl Warren. All of this was code for allowing southern states to continue to resist school desegregation.”
“A line runs from 1968 to the present. Ronald Reagan continued this scheme, opening his 1980 presidential campaign with a speech extolling “states’ rights” at the Neshoba County fair, just a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town made notorious by the brutal murders of three civil rights workers in 1964.”
“1968 was also the year that Richard Nixon invented the idea of “the silent majority” – such poorer, less-educated whites are clearly the group on whom Donald Trump is depending to propel him to the Republican nomination.”
“Demographic trends, though, are the main reason to remain hopeful that Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders will be able to stop him reaching the White House. Appealing to white prejudice is clearly a game of diminishing returns; Black, Hispanic and Asian voting blocs are vastly more important now than they were in 1968. In 2012, with Barack Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket, for the first time there was higher black turnout than white – 66% of eligible blacks voted compared to 64.1% of whites.”
“Such demographic trends also explain the Republicans’ most anti-democratic impulse: the proliferation of voter ID laws throughout states controlled by GOP governors and legislatures. In the absence of any serious evidence of widespread voter fraud, the only purpose of these laws is the suppression of black and Hispanic voters.”
“The goal, of course, is to make the voting rolls continue to look as much as possible like they used to – in 1968.”