Sunday, May 31, 2020

Chicago, 1968

Are we set to repeat history?

Recent events called into mind the riots of 1968 and the Democratic convention in Chicago that year.  We had moved to the Chicago area in 1965, and I was just a lad.  But my older siblings were caught up in the hippie movement - smoking pot, free love, and protesting a war that they had no chance whatsoever of being drafted in to (upper middle-class whites got deferments, so long as they were in college).

1967 was called the "summer of love" and for a brief period of time, it seemed that maybe love would prevail - and that social change was imminent and would take place without violence or disruption.  Of course, one reason it was called "the summer of love" was that LSD was legal back then, for a brief period of time.

Enter 1968.   Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King are assassinated and riots break out, nationwide.  What starts as peaceful protests, escalates into violence, as a few opportunists use the protests as a cover for vandalism and looting.  When the smoke clears (literally) we find that people have basically burned down their own neighborhoods and destroyed minority-owned businesses in their own neighborhoods.   50 years later, and many of those commercial districts were never rebuilt, leading to so-called "food deserts" in parts of the inner city.

Governors call out the National Guard to quell riots.   Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.   And while the vast majority of Americans condemn the assassinations as well as the underlying discrimination and racism, the vast majority of Americans are afraid - afraid of rioters, arsonists, and looters.

That year, the Democratic party had its convention in Chicago.  The party was divided - again, stop me if this sounds familiar - as the younger voters wanted radical change and an end to the war in Vietnam.   Protests were started and they quickly devolved into riots - broadcast on the evening news.   Americans tuned in, and what they saw on television was anarchy - and the Democratic party was the symbol of that anarchy.

In the end, the convention settled on a compromise candidate that was loved by few - and certainly not by the radical left.   Meanwhile, the Republicans nominate Richard Nixon on a "Law and Order" platform, and the members of the GOP quickly fall in line.  Nixon won, not by much, but would serve four years and be re-elected in a landslide.

By the way, I had forgotten how in 1968, Nixon barely won the popular vote, and a third-party candidate was almost a spoiler for him.   Interesting....

Fast forward a half-century (am I that old?  I guess so) and it seems like we are repeating the same pattern.  America looked on in awe as Apollo 8 circled the moon - a lift we needed after the disaster of Apollo 1 the year before.   Today, we celebrate the return to space with Elon Musk's privately built spacecraft - surely the future is bright, no?

But then, at the same time, we once again have riots, and again, most Americans - the vast majority, even right-wing Republicans - are aghast that a man is murdered on the street by the Police.    I cannot fathom that event, frankly.  We now are learning that this officer kneeled on this poor man's throat for nearly ten minutes - including over two minutes after he died.   What kind of Police training says that crushing a man's larynx is acceptable?

I have a  number of friends who are policemen, and they are appalled, too.   But sadly, when something like this happens, every member of the police force is painted with the same broad brush.   And while people are protesting "injustice" the officers in question were immediately fired (instead of this usual "paid leave" nonsense) with the mayor apparently taking action and willing to risk a lawsuit in the interests of justice.  And the officer in question has been arrested and charged.

Sadly, in a repeat of history, some opportunistic people have joined these protests, some to loot for financial gain, others, of the "antifa" persuasion (suburban white kids, looking for a thrill) are setting fires and throwing Molotov cocktails.  I am not sure why white people feel that they need to do this - it isn't helping the cause of blacks at all.   If you want to protest, fine, just realize it isn't your protest and isn't your cause.   Because at the end of the day, your Dad will bail you out and you can go back to your comfortable house in the suburbs and play X-box and regale your friends how you "stuck it to the man".  The black people really affected by this have to return to the burned-out neighborhoods you set fire to.

Antifa - the real racists!    But I digress.

If history is any guide, we may be in for four more years of Trump.  I say this, knowing my track record for prediction is usually 100% wrong.  I was convinced Hillary would win - after all, who would vote for a buffoon like Trump?   Americans, apparently.  So, if I predict Trump will win, then he will be more likely to lose, right?  Reverse psychology!

The parallels go further - Hillary lost because she failed to campaign, not because Trump necessarily won.   Biden seems to be taking the same laid-back approach, figuring, as Hillary did, that with such a lead over such a buffoon, that campaigning would only serve to create opportunities for the opposition, for example, if you said "You ain't black..." or something like that.   Better to keep your mouth shut when you are ahead - or that was the theory anyway.

But getting back to 1968, Nixon - and his campaign staff, including his "dirty tricksters" (e.g., Roger Stone, et al.) realized that the vast majority of Americans were alarmed by the rioters and violence, and that a message of "law and order" would resonate.   The Republicans didn't so much win the election, as the Democrats lost it.

So here we are 50 years later, with a law-and-order President seeking election, and Roger Stone set to get out of jail.  This time around, though, no one needs to break into party offices or that of a candidate's psychiatrist.  They don't need to put out fake memos on the opposing candidate's letterhead.   No, ratfucking has moved to the electronic age, and rumors and false stories are spread online, with the help of outside forces.   No wonder Trump is alarmed that social media might call him out on his egregious lies - how can you win an election, otherwise?

I suspect we will see images of these riots in the fall, as part of campaign ads for Trump - with the tag line being "Law and Order!" because most Americans don't want race riots - or any other kind of riot, for that matter.

Funny thing, but you would think that people would have learned a lesson from 1968 - after all, some of the players, such as Bernie, certainly remember these events firsthand.   Sadly, many more on the Republican side, also remember - and remember how they leveraged this to win.