Today’s progressives are almost proudly ignorant of the history they want to destroy, rewrite and or at least ignore and in the process, they are toying with repeating the mistaken strategy that brought their revolutionary predecessors down in the late sixties.
1968 was perhaps the most turbulent year Americans had faced since the end of the Second World War. It saw the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, riots in major American cities that took hundreds of lives, and the emergence of organized leftist radicals who saw themselves as in a position to destroy the America they had come to detest. The Weathermen, the Black Panthers and radical offshoots of the Students for a Democratic Society threatened those with whom they disagreed, dominated many American campuses, and embraced terrorism as legitimate.
Many liberals of the day sympathized with the radicals and their attacks on the police. Hollywood parties were held honoring them, the media lionized them and agreed that, yes, they were changing the country for the better. Many politicians cheered them on as well and analysts suggested that outrage over the war in Vietnam, racism at home and a system that just wasn’t working would virtually guarantee that Democratic politicians who seemed prepared to placate if not embrace the new radicalism would win that November.
I was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison back then. We lived through riots and those of us who didn’t agree with the left were shouted down or threatened with reprisals for the positions we took. I was informed by a radical debate opponent in front of an audience of six hundred that he wouldn’t dignify anything I said with a reply other than to promise that “Come the revolution, I would be among the first executed.”
The revolution he was so sure was coming never took place. The excesses of the left may have resonated with the media and the smart set, but most Americans watched quietly and were appalled by what was going on. They loved the country the left despised and knew that while they couldn’t compete with them on the streets, an election was fast approaching.
Richard Nixon was elected President, a referendum in Madison, one of the most “liberal” cities in the country, demanding that the US immediately withdraw from Vietnam failed and politicians who had misread the mood of those who Nixon had begun referring to as the “Silent Majority” backpedaled too late.
Sounds a lot like today. Pundits are telling us the upheavals of today will doom a president out of step with the radicals and the media to certain defeat, the country has changed almost overnight and that the American voter will react positively to the mobs looting our major cities, demanding our history be rewritten, and that the Washington and Jefferson Memorials be destroyed.
What began as a protest over legitimate concerns has morphed into something far more dangerous. The demand of justice for a man killed in Minneapolis has been seized by the same sorts of activists who took over the civil rights and anti-war movements of the sixties. While millions of Americans sympathized with opposition to what has been universally portrayed as racism the overreach that has taken place in the days since the death is turning them off in the way that the riots of the late sixties turned millions of voters to the right.
The public today is beginning to see not a legitimate reform movement, but radicals demanding the police be disbanded, that statues not just of Confederate generals, but of Christopher Columbus and Winston Churchill be taken down, and that those who disagree with them or criticize their actions be fired from their jobs and, if possible, destroyed.
It sounds very familiar to those of us who lived through the sixties and it’s likely to end in the same way as voters this fall will have the same opportunity they had in the face of leftist overreach back then. The majority may not be any noisier today than in 1968 but will have the final word in November.