Monday, January 16, 2012

I remember

I still remember exactly where I was when I heard that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed. I still remember that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

And although I heard the news on the radio, not the TV, I still feel it when I watch this clip. Even today, I get that same sinking feeling.

That horrible feeling was only compounded when Bobby Kennedy was shot, just a few weeks later, while celebrating his victory in the Democratic primary in California. (And I remembered my shock at hearing of President Kennedy's assassination less than five years previously.)

For awhile, in 1968, it seemed like the lunatic right-wing was targeting those progressives who could actually lead our country forward. And when Richard Nixon was elected in November, it felt like all hope had disappeared in America.

In a way, it's funny, because Nixon would be far too liberal for the GOP these days. But that just shows what a horrible turn to the right America has taken in recent decades.

It was, in fact, the Republicans' "Southern strategy" of deliberately appealing to white racists, wildly successful in a political sense, which gave the party national dominance - despite a momentary interruption after the scandal-plagued Nixon administration - and caused this lurch to the extreme right, too.

What would America be like today if these progressive leaders had survived? Well, it's impossible to say, isn't it? But I still get that same sinking feeling in my stomach when I think about those events.

But although we've gone in a completely wrong direction economically, we've progressed quite far culturally. The fact that we've got a black man in the White House - however hysterical Republicans get about it - is proof of that. And think of how far we've progressed when it comes to gay rights!

The hysteria in the right-wing over these "culture war" issues shows that they know they're losing. And in the long run, they may lose on the help-the-rich, kick-the-poor, corporations-are-people front, too. But they'll do a lot of damage to America in the meantime. Heck, they've already done a lot of damage!

So, sure, it's easy to get depressed these days. But I remember 1968.


Jim Harris said...

1968 was a grim year. The war in Vietnam was going bad. The Chicago democratic convention was a nightmare. The divide between the races never seen bigger. Also the generation gap had the old hating the young and vice versa. Everyone seemed to hate everyone else. And that was the year Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner came out, promising a very bleak future.

WCG said...

True, Jim. On the other hand, that wasn't anywhere near as bad as the Great Depression. Or World War II. Can you imagine how scary those must have been?

Sometimes, when I look at the past, I think we're just a bunch of whiners. There were plenty of times in our history when things looked grim - usually a lot grimmer than today. But people buckled down and got through it, by and large.

Heck, African Americans had to struggle for generation after generation after generation, first slavery, and then segregation and blatant discrimination. Can you imagine how dispiriting that must have been?

1968 was a grim year. Things are pretty grim even today. But human beings have survived and overcome far grimmer times in our past. It's easy to get depressed these days, but just think of how easy it would have been back then.

That's reason for at least a little optimism, don't you think? I feel I need to remind myself of that.

Jim Harris said...

I agree, but 1968 and 2012 seem to be years where Americans are very polarized. I don't think 2012 is as bad as 1968. In 1968 America had a war that divided the country, we had riots and assassinations, protests, and lots of anger.

But you are right Bill, there's lots of reasons to feel optimistic. I think the world is a much better place now than 1968.