The 2016 election was different they say. There was more drama. There was more mudslinging. Everything was been sensationalized. The ultimate battle between the Washington establishment and the outsiders. National populism vs. radical progressivism. This election was like no other they said.
But this is inherently untrue.
As far back as you can go in American history, a dirty election runs in the veins of Americans. However, the election of 1968 should be of interest today, especially after this recent cycle. Our generation can learn valuable lessons from 1968 to prevent a fatal repeat in the future.
Let’s start with some background.
In 1968, incumbent Democrat Lyndon Johnson was wounded. His popularity was plummeting hard and fast. His decision to perpetuate the Vietnam War proved to be fatal to his ratings.
However, he chose not to seek reelection. A victory for anti-war liberals across the nation. However, the question was, who would be the Democratic nominee? Emerging from the shadows, Robert Kennedy, the brother of the late John F. Kennedy, declared his candidacy in March. Then, Eugene McCarthy entered the race, an ardent anti-Communist liberal from Minnesota.
It’s important to note that Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, was a candidate, but he did not participate in the primaries as the nomination process was still controlled by the parties.
The primary battle was rough, long, and violent. Soon after the Democratic primary in California, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Once again, the legacy of Robert Kennedy became that hypothetical ‘what could’ve been.’ He had won nearly all of the primaries and his demeanor matched the mood of America, but the political leverage Kennedy had accumulated, was thrown behind McCarthy.
The Democratic National Convention in Chicago was marked by heightened violence and war riots. Thousands of Vietnam war protesters gathered outside the DNC to protest the pro-war liberals. National guardsmen and local police assaulted nearby protesters and even some members of the media.
Despite the influence of McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey was still handed the nomination. McCarthy resented this decision and refused to endorse Humphrey for president.
Richard Nixon, after a unsuccessful bid for the presidency years earlier, was able to once again, capture the Republican nomination for president. With no real contenders, Nixon sailed through with his campaign to victory. The face of the anti-war sentiment and the clever political strategy of the ‘silent majority,’ Nixon was handed the win.
But how is this similar to 2016?
1968 was a year marked by unimaginable grief and constant unrest. The unsuccessful, yet contradicting Tet offensive, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., draft card protests, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and the Chicago race riots all combined to make 1968 the year that broke the morale of many Americans.
Today we have again reached a point of violent political discourse and ever-growing division between Americans. A turbulent election cycle left many Americans exhausted, questioning the integrity of our electoral system.
However, if we look to 1968, we can see that what we are going through now as a nation has happened before.
Political discourse is eroding. Civil discussion is all but disappearing. Americans are having a hard time finding a middle ground. It’s not about the issues anymore, it’s about character assassination. The debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton clearly show this. But in 1968, the primaries and the campaign were also the same. Brutal and unforgiving.
College campuses used to be the beacon of free speech, but now any speaker deemed ‘controversial’ is no longer allowed to engage with students and discuss ideas. But in 1968, college campuses were marked by violence and protest, as today. The political climates in both eras brewed a fear on campus the other side was out the get them.
In 1968, the Civil Rights Movement was still at its height, pushing for reform and legislative change. Today the fight is against police brutality and unfair employment opportunities. Though I may disagree that police brutality is rampant, there are undeniable instances that prove it exists.
The school shootings and constant terrorist attacks at home and abroad speak to the rising violence. Instead of the battle against communism, it’s a battle against Western civilization. School violence also shows that the next generation has suffered from the sobering effects of tragedy, including the Great Recession, constant death threats, the rise of suicide, and conflict at home and abroad. The mental health crisis has been overshadowed by the gun control debate.
All the tragedy, unrest, and fear are back. Though 2016 and 2017 haven’t come close to the craziness of 1968, we may be headed that way. Unless we promote unity, engage in civil discussion, understand and combat domestic and international threats with a level head, deal with the economic crisis, and stop identity politics, 1968 will surely come back to haunt us.
2016 shows us that history, does in fact, repeat itself. And if we can’t learn from our past, we can’t take advantage of the opportunities the future has to offer.