Recently I read an op-ed piece by David Brooks, who is a traditional conservative. Like many traditional conservatives he is not a fan of the president. The title was “The Abbie Hoffman of the Right: Donald Trump.” His thesis is that both Abbie Hoffman’s and the president’s goals are the same. They are out to destroy the prevailing culture. Abbie Hoffman did it in the late ‘60s and the president is doing it now. Abbie Hoffman was a graduate of the University of California Berkeley and a founder of the Yippie (Youth International) Party. He was one of the Chicago 7 who were tried for their actions that led to the riots outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968. According to Brooks, if Trump is successful a new culture will have to be built, new values promulgated, and a new social fabric will have to be woven, one that brings the different planets back into relation with one another. That’s the work of the next 20 years.
The country has become PC except as it relates
to the values of the blue-collar workers and whites
I do agree with Brooks’ conclusion that there is a culture war going on. However, I believe that there is more in common with what is going on today and the late 1960s besides the goal of shaking up the system. Just like many say World War II was taking care of unfinished business from World War I, the present cultural battle has its origin in 1968. Those who lost the battle in the late 1960s and early ‘70s are ready for another shot.
In 1968, the country was mostly religious, patriotic, and culturally conservative. The only PC was that you had to support the country. One of the common phrases was “America: love it or leave it.” There was also a strong middle class. A person did not need a college education. A blue-collar worker was able to earn enough to afford a house. I include in this group rural America.
The Vietnam War was the catalyst that fostered division in our country. Those who fought in the war were mostly blue collar. The college-educated fought on the campuses to stop the war. The college-educated also wanted to change values, attacking traditional religious values.
The Vietnam War was just a manifestation of the division and animosity between these groups. One example was the reaction of construction workers to protestors two days after the four students were killed in Kent State University by members of the Ohio National Guard. When protestors came to lower Manhattan, the construction workers beat them up, with little attempt by the police to stop them.
The liberal, college-educated, coastal crowd won the battle. Actions that were once illegal are now celebrated. Moreover, back then it was not considered racist just because the group being criticized was African-American. In 1968, there was a teachers’ strike in NYC called by the Jewish leader of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), Albert Shanker. He was not going to let a community board in Ocean Hill-Brownsville pick its own teachers who had to be of a certain race. At that time, many teachers were Jewish. There were also hints of anti-Semitism. Today I doubt that the union or even a few others would take such an action.
The country has become PC except as it relates to the values of the blue-collar workers and whites. You can attack religion and religious beliefs and whites, but LGBT and minorities are off limits. An example of this was from the Saturday Night Live September 30 show. During the news segment, the anchor accused President Trump of racism in attacking the mostly African-American players for disrespecting the flag. He followed up with referring to the president as a “cracker.” “A cracker is used as an insulting and contemptuous term for a poor, white, usually Southern person.” (Webster’s Dictionary)
This assault is in all aspects of our lives. Hollywood felt the need to go on a rampage against the president during its awards show. Entertainment and sports are no longer off limits for political statements. Would those who are arguing that it is free speech for the players to kneel during the national anthem and make black power salutes take the same position if a player gave the Nazi salute?
Meanwhile, the college elite has done well since the 1970s while the blue-collar worker has suffered. The income inequality has continued to increase. Old wounds that never healed are coming back. Battles are being fought in the same places.
University of California, Berkeley was the most well-known of the college campuses that were involved in protests in the late 1960s. Berkeley is the place where the free-speech movement was born. Students wanted to express ideas that were against the prevailing norms.
Now the same school has become the place where right-wing speakers and supporters of Israel have been barred from speaking or have had their ability to speak on campus thwarted by those from the same political persuasion as those who supported free speech in the 1960s.
In 1968, there was a third-party candidate Governor George Wallace from Alabama. He was the candidate of the old South. A lot that he wanted to retain had changed even before the anti-war protests. For example, forced segregation was illegal.
Just this past week, from the same state, Judge Roy Moore won the Republican primary against the establishment candidate. Judge Moore twice was elected as chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court. The judge has the distinction of being removed from the bench because he refused to abide by an order issued by a federal court to remove the Ten Commandments from the courthouse. After he was removed he ran for election as chief judge. He then refused to uphold a federal court decision prohibiting laws that ban gay marriage, and then resigned to run for Senate before any action was taken against him. His attitude is consistent with how the majority of Americans felt in 1968.
In the 1960s, especially in 1968, there was violence that included assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. by protestors at the Democratic National Convention and on college campuses. Right now there seems to be one group, Antifa, which is using violence. Hopefully, this group will stop and others will not use violence to effect change.
Where this will end is anyone’s guess. I just hope that wherever it ends up, the country can fix the wounds that were never healed from the battles almost 50 years ago.
Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org