I’ve seen the first two parts of the CNN Special 1968. My first thought was how young Simon and Garfunkel, and Joan Baez. were. But then, weren’t we all?
I was in Panama, halfway through my Peace Corps service in 1968. Remember that there were no cell phones or wireless, no TV, no newspaper in the village. I’m quite sure I didn’t know Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy had been killed until later. We’d be in Panama City and stop by a hotel bar, and see images of cities in the U.S. burning. From what we saw it looked as if the whole country was on fire, as if people had lost their minds.
Hard not to contrast that time with the relative placidity with which Americans, especially young Americans, are reacting to the outrages of Trump. He assaults the rule of law, and no one is in the streets. CNN commentators are aghast, but no one else seems to be.
The difference then, of course, is that in 1968 middle class white kids were being drafted and sent to Viet Nam and killed. That gave college students real skin the game. 1968 was never really about the poor people’s campaign and Resurrection City, or about the injustice of the war with its terrible destruction of Viet Nam, or about Dr. King’s march for civil rights. The protests were about middle class kids not wanting to get killed.
The outrages of Trump are creating long term damage, but there is little immediate effect that might be akin to the danger of being drafted. The massive tax cuts are going to drain the Treasury and make America a poorer, meaner place — but it will take a few years. I just read an article about British austerity following years of their own tax cuts. We may get there too, but not today or tomorrow.
There’s no spark, yet, to bring people out into the streets — or even to mobilize people to vote. There’s only the steady corrosion of our culture and values, and so far that’s not front and center enough to focus our attention.