It Must Be 1968


Leonard Zwelling

         The country is in turmoil. The cities are burning. A viral
contagion has emerged from Asia that threatens to kill millions and the
occupant of the White House is besieged. Is this now or 1968?

         There was the Hong Kong Flu in 1968 that did kill millions.
Of course, racial strife was rampant and resulted in burning and looting.
President Johnson, beset by his failure to extricate the United States from
Vietnam decided not to run for re-election in March of that year and the draft
had the country wound to a boiling point. That boiling point was exceeded in
Chicago in August at the Democratic National Convention when local police beat
up the young demonstrators as “the whole world was watching.” America has seen
blacker days than those it faces in 2020. And at the end of 1968, men orbited
the moon for the first time in an accomplishment that clearly outdoes the Space
X lift-off to the International Space Station. Neither event was able to quell
the disquiet that permeated the streets of America.

         Now, 52 years later, I am most distressed at the lack of
progress on so many fronts.

         Race relations, despite the country having had an
African-American president, are really not demonstrably better than they were
in 1968. The 400 year stain on the country that is slavery still seems to
resist eradication despite many sincere efforts to try on the part of black,
white, and brown Americans.

         That year, 1968, gave way to the rise of President Nixon and
the sequence of dirty tricks that led to Watergate. Most of us were sure that
no president could ever be worse than Nixon, even while acknowledging what good
Nixon did from the EPA to the opening of China. The current occupant of the
Oval Office is worse, not so much because of his policies, although I don’t
really understand most of them, but because he has so degraded the presidency
with his incessant and insipid tweets and off the cuff statements indicating
his lack of understanding of most complex ideas and his penchant for force and
violence as solutions to all problems. 
And we thought the guys surrounding Nixon were bad actors! Trump World
is filled with the mediocre and foolish led by an Attorney General who has no
idea what his job is other than to fulfill the wishes of his boss. Come to
think of it, it’s like John Mitchell all over again.

         In 1968 we were about to take aim at the moon. In 2020, we
still are, having not returned for nearly fifty years for no really good reason
other than a lack of vision and we now know that even the lunar vision of
President Kennedy was his reduction of the Cold War to a technological race for
bragging rights. No wonder we haven’t gone back. We don’t seem to have found a
good enough reason. Instead, any difficult task is labeled a “moonshot” as a
way to invoke the false memory of Jack Kennedy in the person of some new leader
fancying himself to be visionary.

         What so strikes an old-timer like me is how little progress
seems to have been made on these fronts in the fifty-two years since that momentous
1968. Oh, science has progressed. Cancer treatment today would have been
unimaginable to us in 1968. We have electric cars and the Internet now, not to
mention cell phones and more television networks than one person could watch in
a lifetime. But have we progressed?

         As I look back now I am stunned that the same issues that so
divided the country in that fateful year fifty-two years ago seem still to be
gnawing at our national psyche. Why?

         I believe we just have not been able to place a true visionary
in the White House who is able to articulate the future and the way to get
there. If we had, would our bridges be falling down and our cities burning? I
think not.

         The next election seems guaranteed to give us a president of
little consequence and less potential. Both men are old. One seems cognitively
impaired and one was somehow born without a soul. I have come to the point
where my best hope is that Biden wins after having chosen a VP of substance and
vision. Then, he is somehow disqualified after his inauguration and the female
VP takes over and shocks the world like Harry Truman did in 1945. Can you
imagine an unelected president opting to drop the first atomic bomb in war?
That takes courage.

need some of that courage now. I just don’t know that I can wait until 2024. I
am not sure I have that much time.

         I am quite sure America doesn’t have that much time. Then
again, I might have said the same thing on election day in 1968. And, oh yes, I
didn’t vote that day. You had to be 21 then. I was only 20. I could have been
drafted had I not been in college, but I couldn’t have voted. Some things get

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