Can we es­cape 1968? Only if we stop liv­ing in the past

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - VIEWS FROM BOTH SIDES - E.J. Dionne Jr. He writes for the Washington Post.

CHICAGO — “Get the thing straight once and for all: The po­lice­man isn’t there to cre­ate dis­or­der,” said the late Mayor Richard J. Da­ley in ex­plain­ing the ri­ots in the streets of his city in the sum­mer 1968. “The po­lice­man is there to pre­serve dis­or­der.”

Da­ley’s ver­bal jumble be­came the butt of jokes and the source of claims, in­spired by Freud, that Da Mayor had un­in­ten­tion­ally blurted out the truth.

Yet he may also have been an ac­ci­den­tal prophet. The chaos on the streets of Chicago dur­ing the Democrats’ cat­a­strophic na­tional con­ven­tion 50 years ago this week lives on not only in mem­ory, but also in our frac­tured present.

In clashes played out across the coun­try on tele­vi­sion, Chicago’s po­lice clubbed and ar­rested youth­ful demon­stra­tors gath­ered to op­pose the Viet­nam War. Mem­bers of the me­dia got caught up in the melee, too.

What oc­curred in­side the con­ven­tion hall added to the ver­tigo. Demo­cratic party lead­ers, de­spite pri­maries show­ing strong sup­port for the an­ti­war can­di­da­cies of Robert F. Kennedy and Eu­gene J. McCarthy, in­stead nom­i­nated Hu­bert Humphrey. He was Lyn­don B. Johnson’s vice pres­i­dent and a lib­eral hero now ren­dered into an es­tab­lish­ment stand-in by his re­fusal to break with his pa­tron on the war.

We have pre­served the dis­or­der of that mo­ment in a cul­ture war that seems to have no ex­pi­ra­tion, in di­vi­sions along the lines of class and race, in con­fronta­tions over the proper role of law en­force­ment, and in con­flicts within a Demo­cratic Party that never fully re­cov­ered from the wrench­ing schism opened by the Viet­nam War.

As Nor­man Mailer wrote in his clas­sic “Mi­ami and the Siege of Chicago” about the two na­tional con­ven­tions of 1968, “The grand Es­tab­lish­ment of the Demo­cratic Party and its so­ci­ety life in Washington would soon be shat­tered — the world was shat­ter­ing it.”

For some younger Amer­i­cans, the ’60s in­spire nos­tal­gia. But for more of them, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, they in­spire an en­tirely un­der­stand­able im­pa­tience with the baby boom gen­er­a­tion that con­tin­ues to play out the con­flicts of its youth even as newer voices strain to be heard in the din of old songs by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or Coun­try Joe and the Fish.

There have been many at­tempts to put both the 1960s and the 1980s, book­ends of the same strug­gle, be­hind us. Barack Obama fre­quently ex­pressed im­pa­tience with the chains this past latched on to our pol­i­tics. He tried to honor the best of the ’60s, the tri­umph of the civil rights move­ment es­pe­cially, while seek­ing to turn our sights for­ward to the com­ing half-cen­tury rather than back­ward.

Trump’s elec­tion up­ended Obama’s ef­forts and brought us back to the Six­ties. Here was an­other ag­ing baby boomer. He was on the con­ser­va­tive side of most of the old fights — but not all.

There are rea­sons this past is still so alive to us. The most im­por­tant was of­fered by Michael Kazin who, like Gitlin, is a former New Left leader turned scholar. The sim­ple fact, Kazin ob­served is that the wars of the 1960s, par­tic­u­larly around cul­ture, have yet to yield a win­ning side. If any­thing, Trump’s rise re­opened ques­tions we had hoped were at least par­tially set­tled. Like it or not we need to fight these bat­tles un­til they’re won.

But we can’t keep liv­ing in the past.

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