I didn’t live through the 60’s or 70’s. But my parents did and they have instilled in me knowledge about how divisive a time it was. Obviously it was an era of great social, political, and cultural upheaval. But, much of that was brought on by certain actors and actions. Today, new Democratic actors seem poised to repeat these actions.
In the heyday of the Democratic Party, prominent political leaders including Bobby Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey attempted to harness the raw power of the new social revolution. History tells any rational person it backfired.
Adlai Stevenson, fresh off two straight losing Presidential efforts, sanctioned the riots in Harlem and Watts. He traversed the country, including Colby College, and said a “even a jail sentence is no longer a dishonor but a proud achievement.” Bobby Kennedy called the “law” the “enemy” in speaking to blacks. Speaking to blacks, Hubert Humphrey said if he lived in slums, “I could lead a might good revolt myself.”
This titans of the party inevitably tied their party to the dishevel that was coming. The party was thus yoked to the assassination of Malcom X, the assassination of MLK and blamed for the riots in Newark and Detroit. Meanwhile, riots occurred on campuses across the nation as the social “revolution” gained steam. By 1968, it is not an exaggeration to say a hundred cities were “burning.”
Politically, these events and the reverberations across the nation had profound impacts on our politics. So what did it do?
The FDR coalition was shattered. The amalgamation of Western whites, Southern whites and Midwestern managers was shattered. Instead, George Wallace actually managed to run competitively in Democratic primaries in Wisconsin and Indiana. In disgust, he broke away from his party and ran as an Independent, carrying five Deep South states.
Meanwhile, in the precursor to such events, LBJ’s Presidency was a disaster. After winning 44 states and 61 percent of the vote a mere four years before he decided not to run for reelection. Hubert Humphrey attempted to lead his party into a bright new, liberal future and instead saw the Convention marred by protesters and club wielding cops of Mayor Richard J Daley (the same who handed JFK the election in 1960).
Arguably, these events helped hand a close election to Richard Nixon. It is not a stretch to say if William Wallace had not run Nixon would have carried those Deep South States and the election would not have been close (a precursor to 1972).
Nixon’s election did not exactly usher in a new time of stability. The US quagmire in Vietnam deepened, anti-war riots persisted and only became worse after the Cambodian invasion. Who can forget the anarchist siege of DC in 1971?
Events like this allowed Nixon to rally not just middle America but conservative Democrats to his side. He was able to create a massive coalition of Southern Democrats, Northeastern elites, Midwestern managers. This coalition, often dubbed the Silent Majority, stood with him throughout the period. Paining an “us” vs “them” framework for politics to be viewed through, Nixon laid the groundwork for his reelection win where he won 49 states.
Democrats, in their zeal to appease the social revolution they had started nominated Goerge McGovern, the champion of the counter-culture. Worse, for Democrats the politics of the day would persist well into the 80’s and early 90’s. Watergate and its impact led to a short-term turnover but the stage had been set for a strong warrior like candidate in Ronald Reagan to lead the nation.
Without the riots and bombings of the 60’s and 70’s none of this would have been possible. It is thus little wonder why so many Southern Democrats defected from their party and became life-long Republicans.
So how does this relate to today?
The divisive politics and policies of the left have been leading up to Trump since Obama first took office. Indeed, Trump and Nixon share much in common. They speak a common language on law and order, on pragmatic, sensible domestic policies and a “peace through power” foreign policy.
When Trump ran as a non-political speak candidate it resonated with voters across America tired of being silenced and beaten down on college campuses, shamed for waving American flags and having their values trampled in the name of others “rights.”
Now, we are nowhere near where we were in the 60’s. There are not massive riots nor systemic bombings or police violence. But, women march in the streets proudly talking about aborting babies, Congress questions Trump’s loyalties and the progressive machine continues to try to walk over those who disagree.
You might think last year would have told Democrats and the left to re-calibrate. Instead, Democrats have embraced firebrands like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to be the face of their party to America. The media debates whether Trump’s administration is in disarray while never venturing out beyond progressive, urban bastions.
The divide in America has not grown to a chasm. Whereas Nixon remade American politics with his law and order message and Reagan birthed Reaganomics, Democrats have no such similar themes to claim. Rather, their emphasis is cultural as it was in the 60’s and 70’s.
One could argue the US is beyond mere fractures. The country is splintering not just along state or geographic lines but things such as race, gender and even educational attainment. It did once before. We all remember the Civil War and its consequences.
It is true that liberals eventually got what they wanted in the 70’s. We left Vietnam and the draft ended. The end to segregation in many facets of public life ended. But, today, it is much less clear what unites and pushes the left. Other than despising Trump and his comments what do they stand for? Exhibit A being Clinton’s unfathomable presidential campaign.
If Democrats want to return from the political wilderness any time soon they would be smart to ditch the “revolution” talk and get back to talking about what all Americans care about, jobs, security and liberty!