The turmoil of American politics in the last week reminded me so much of the election of 1968, that I did a quick review of it to refresh my memory. What struck me after the review was not the differences, but how the flow of the change, both in the Democratic and Republican parties, mimicked the current election. There was even a fairly successful third party bid by George Wallace (much more successful than the current third party bids).
I was in Vietnam during the entire election, so my view of it was largely the highlights, rather than the details:
- There was an insurgent, Eugene McCarthy, who ran against the Democratic Party’s establishment nominee, Hubert Humphrey.
- There was significant disruption of the Democratic convention (much more than this year)
- There was a surprisingly close election. Humphrey lost by half a million votes, and Nixon won the electoral college with 301 votes.
- The biggest points of contention throughout the election were war and minority rights (race).
After the election, there were a series of political actions by the stakeholders that led to the implosion of the Democratic Party, and the elimination of an effective liberal political agenda for many years:
- Progressives got rid of the then existing Democratic Party elites
- They changed the system of choosing the candidate for president (and the down ticket candidates) so that it would more clearly reflect the specific wishes of insurgent candidates, and prevent the marginalizing of progressive issues.
- The progressive wing of the Democratic Party used this new system to nominate a very nice man who shared progressive values, George McGovern (note, not Eugene McCarthy).
- Although Richard Nixon had promised peace with honor and the reestablishment of law and order, he succeeded in achieving neither during his first term.
- Nonetheless he defeated McGovern by almost 18 million votes in 1972 and took the Electoral College by 520-17.
- It wasn’t until the election of Bill Clinton on a centrist (not a progressive) agenda in 1992 that it was feasible to resurrect individual progressive issues effectively, and it was slow going even then.
It is obvious in stories surfacing now (though there is a huge amount of noise out there, what with social media), that the Democratic Party is going in the same political direction as it did in 1968.
Based on these admittedly abstract parameters, I would predict:
- Donald Trump will fail to achieve the major promises of his campaign
- The Democratic Party will nominate a candidate in 2020 who will embody progressive values
- Donald Trump will be reelected by a wide margin in 2020.
- Progressive values will wallow in the swamp for another decade
This question is not rhetorical: Why are these predictions wrong?
On another note, this election also “re-privileges” race (in the much expanded framework of identity politics and activism) and war (in a framework of war as insurgency, combining both terrorism and the Trump political campaign, an idea so foreign to most of human history that it wouldn’t be regarded as war by past generations-see John Robb’s latest) and reminds me once again that life is the creation and experience of meaning, with anything like truth well down on the list of importance for everyone.
P.S.: It is amazingly difficult to find pictures of the riot on Michigan Avenue at the August 1968 Democratic National Convention. This is despite the fact that even in Vietnam we saw video on TV and huge numbers of pictures of police violence. Conspiracy? Where are they? The one above was from pictures taken by Life Magazine at the time and was the only photo I could find that showed swinging billy clubs.
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