OPINION – It’s beginning to look a lot like 1968.
We’re in the heat of a presidential election with two candidates the voting public neither likes nor respects. There is racial unrest on our streets with violence in a number of cities and a culture war raging between ideologues who have carved, perhaps, the deepest chasm between the two parties in United States history.
We haven’t, thankfully, had to deal with the assassination of leaders, although we have seen police officers gunned down by radical extremists.
This has been a bad year politically, with dignity replaced by ignominy; intelligence overtaken by arrogance; discussion toppled by diatribe.
And now the chickens are coming home to roost, landing this week in Cleveland, where the Republicans will gather, and next week in Philadelphia, where the Democrats will meet.
In the run-up to the two grand celebrations of mediocrity this campaign season, the candidates have been engulfed in a firestorm of hate.
Author J.K. Rowling tweeted that Voldemort, the evil, murderous anti-hero from her books, was “nowhere near as bad” as Donald Trump.
Meanwhile from the right, Michael Folk, a West Virginia Republican legislator, tweeted that Hillary Clinton “should be tried for treason, murder and crimes against the U.S. Constitution… then hung on the Mall in Washington, D.C.”
Although the language is vastly different from 1968, the intent is the same.
Back then, the venom was aimed at two backdoor creepy candidates – future crook Richard Nixon, who never saw a dirty trick he wouldn’t use, and the sleazy opportunist Hubert Humphrey, who slithered from a smoke-filled room with the Democratic nomination. Neither approaches the two presumptive nominees this year.
Like this election cycle, nobody was happy in 1968, particularly progressives who had to endure the loss of two of its leaders – the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy – both gunned down by assassins who some say were born of the same cabal.
The disillusionment led to anger, and the anger bred violence, particularly at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago when the cops clashed with protesters.
In the aftermath, it was determined in a report prepared by an inspector from the Los Angeles Police Department for the Chicago Study Team that there was “unrestrained and indiscriminate police violence on many occasions, particularly at night.” The report continued to say:
That violence was made all the more shocking by the fact that it was often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order, made no threat. These included peaceful demonstrators, onlookers, and large numbers of residents who were simply passing through, or happened to live in, the areas where confrontations were occurring.
The report was primarily aimed at events that took place midweek at the Conrad Hilton Hotel on the side streets of Chicago’s famed Loop and on the city’s north side.
The violence was not only aimed at protesters.
“Newsmen and photographers were singled out for assault, and their equipment deliberately damaged,” the report stated. “Fundamental police training was ignored; and officers, when on the scene, were often unable to control their men. As one police officer put it: ‘What happened didn’t have anything to do with police work.’“
And it spread to the convention floor in Chicago, where newsmen were assaulted.
We know protesters have announced plans to attend both conventions.
We know their numbers will be larger than usual.
We also know that rage continues to boil under the surface in many of them.
Given the events of the recent weeks, we also know that law enforcement will go into both events with a sense of foreboding.
In other words, there are a couple kegs of dynamite with very short fuses sitting out there just waiting for a match.
I am hopeful – prayerful – that cooler heads prevail and that we can get through the next two weeks without anger, without strife, without bloodshed.
But I am also not naïve.
I know that there will be violent antagonists out there – whether wearing a badge or carrying a sign – ready to pounce at the least provocation.
Will we see peaceful demonstrations – as guaranteed by the First Amendment – or angry mobs storming the conventions with pitchforks and torches?
Will we see paramilitary cops clad in Darth Vader-like garb dispatching drones and robots, as well as what the old-timers like to call “street justice,” on those gathering? Or will we see some restraint and a genuine attempt to keep the peace?
And what will the tone be like from the podium in Cleveland and Philadelphia?
Will we see some genuine concern and leadership, urging restraint and calm, or incendiary bombs spewed with the intent of spurring the charges to “bust some heads”?
We’ve seen channeled hate here and abroad. We’ve witnessed the bloody aftermath of mindless confrontation. The body count is high and growing.
This is not how it’s supposed to be, not what our forefathers designed, not in the interest of humanity in general.
But this is Election 2016, and the rules of civility were long ago kicked to the curb.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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