OpEd: There is Too Much of 1968 in 2016

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There is a picture of me above this column.

It’s 1968, and I am an 18-year-old college freshman from Hofstra University, on a bus to Rochester, New Hampshire, to campaign for Gene McCarthy, the insurgent Democratic candidate for President.

The ‘Clean for Gene’ campaign stirred the conscience of American youth. He was the anti-war protest candidate, standing up to the establishment sending young men to a far off and distant war in Southeast Asia. He was Bernie Sanders before Bernie Sanders was Bernie Sanders.

McCarthy’s success was so electric that it induced Robert F. Kennedy to make a run for the presidency himself. The U.S. Senator from New York, he galvanized yet thousands of more young Americans, minorities and college campuses. We were going to take back our country.

Sadly, the dream we were seeking — a newer world — came to an abrupt end in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, when Senator Kennedy was slain moments after winning the California primary.

Only two months before in April of 1968, Martin Luther King had also been assassinated, and nearly 100 American cities began rioting in anger, over poverty, inequity and social injustice. Every day, the national news would shake your conscience with stories of death abroad and violence at home.

An unpopular Republican, Richard Nixon, was emerging as their presidential candidate, with a “secret” plan to end the Vietnam War. Defeated for the presidency eight years before by John F. Kennedy, Nixon billed himself as the ‘law and order’ candidate who would bring sanity to the streets and safety to your homes.

You see, it’s 1968 all over again. The Democratic Party establishment was running their own Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, once a civil rights leader, but tarnished nevertheless by his ties to an embattled administration escalating the conflict in Vietnam. The Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese blew away the cover of how we were supposedly winning the war. If you will, the ‘junior varsity’ showed up to be a lot stronger than the American military ever thought they were.

Remember how Trump capitalized on an incident where Iranians held 10 Marines at gunpoint earlier this year while on a U.S. boat? It was January of 1968 when the USS Pueblo and its Navy sailors were captured and taken hostage by the North Koreans. America was humiliated abroad again.

When it came time to nominate a Democratic presidential candidate, the convention was raucous, rowdy and unlike anything America had seen before. Tens of thousands of students gathered in Grant Park in Chicago to protest the war, the establishment and the rigged system promoting Humphrey to his inevitable nomination.  Anyone promoting the opposition was gaveled down inside the house.

Outside the political halls, Mayor Daley wanted order in the streets. He allowed, directed and ordered his cops to beat and maim students senselessly, with Billy clubs and mace. There was warfare in the streets. It wasn’t pretty. Over 100 students wound up in emergency rooms; double that in jails.

Meanwhile, a week before the convention, the Russians celebrated by invading Czechoslovakia. Here is the thing, though. America could not take it anymore. Watching the turmoil abroad and seeing the chaos at home, they disregarded the civil rights gains of the Democratic leaders at home. They elected Richard Nixon and his war machine of crooks and con artists, political panderers and plumbers.

Nixon only got 43.4 of the vote, but it outdistanced Vice President Humphrey, who earned 42.7 percent. The remaining 13.5 percent went to the Southern racist who was promoting segregation, George Corley Wallace. That’s the world we lived in. So I heard David Duke, Donald Trump’s buddy, announced yesterday for Congress. Wonder if they will campaign together?

So here we are, in 2016, 48 years later. And what do we know? One, that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Two that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Is America turning backwards? If we don’t act, perhaps, very much so!

Mark me down then as one who is legitimately concerned that Trump, the all too mendacious, the very evil, can be elected. It’s frightening, but true.

Trump is crude and condescending, belligerent and bombastic, a vile and vicious soul, degrading and demeaning. But he is a master of the media, and he toys with the press like one of his lackeys. He will take legitimate social protest and exploit it for his own political gain.

Trump is also one of two major candidates running for the presidency, and he is already brutalizing his opponent not with brashness, but outright bullying, callous lies and disgusting insults. 

A campaign that was ugly already will get filthier tomorrow. Trump is more like the segregationist George Corley Wallace though, than he is the legitimate nominee. Even leaders of his own party hate him. They created a Frankenstein who they can’t control. But neither can the Democrats.

Hillary Clinton did not mobilize the disenfranchised by naming Bernie Sanders as her running mate, and the protests in Philly are mild today compared to Chicago yesterday. Still, the truth is many of the markings of the past are present today.

We have uncontrollable violence abroad and spontaneous instances of chaos at home. We have a rebel Republican running against an establishment candidate for the incumbent party. Rumor and innuendo, emails and social media posts are damaging Hillary. It’s relentless.

This is not going to be an easy election to win, not for Hillary, the Democrats, or this country. But we damn well better.  As Bernie Sanders said last week, Hillary Clinton on her worst day is better than Donald Trump on any day.

Clinton has been a great spokesperson for our community and has fought for social justice her entire life, learning government and goodness at every level. Donald Trump has never fought for anything but himself. Now it is up to every one of us to fight against him.


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