Is 2020 1968 All Over Again?

There are some interesting parallels between 1968 and 2020. Those parallels include a pandemic, riots, a divisive presidential election with talk of a screw job directed at a popular candidate,  achievements in space exploration, unprecedented cultural upheaval, racial tensions, and an unpopular, controversial, and unlikable president.

Thus, some people wonder if 2020 could be the start of a new cultural era as 1968 was. Others, will ask if the 2020 presidential election could mark as the end of an era and the collapse of a political order as 1968 was.

Ultimately, many Americans in 2020 feel they are living in an unfamiliar world. Just as their parents and grandparents perceived 1968 as the beginning of a new epoch.

1968 vs. 2020

A forgotten event of 1968 was the Hong Kong Flu pandemic. The Hong Kong Flu; or H3N2 virus, killed over one million people worldwide and around 100,000 Americans.

Frighteningly, the H3N2 virus still circulates worldwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Comparatively, coronavirus killed 367,479 people worldwide and 104,583 Americans in the first six months of 2020, Worldometers estimates.

Most of the Hong Kong Flu deaths were among people over 65 in 1968. Today, most coronavirus fatalities are people over 65.

Additionally, the Hong Kong Flu originated in China as coronavirus did. The first reported Hong Kong Flu cases were in that city in July 1968. However, many experts think the Hong Kong Flu originated in the People’s Republic of China.

Scientists could not enter the People’s Republic in 1968 because China was in the middle of Mao’s insane Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution involved Communist mob attacks on educated people, Mao’s crazed followers viewed as too middle class.

Hence, Maoist fanatics could have lynched any scientist who entered China to search for Hong Kong Flu’s origin. Hong Kong, however, was a British Crown Colony in 1968, so scientists were safe in that city.

America Does Cool Stuff in Space

An interesting similarity between 1968 and 2020 is that America is achieving milestones in space.

On 21 December 1968, Apollo Eight orbited the moon for the first time. That voyage paved the way for the moon landing the next year.

On 30 May 2020, the SpaceX Crew Dragon blasted off on America’s first manned space flight in nine years. The Crew Dragon is the first commercial crewed space craft. In addition, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk intends to use Crew Dragon as part of his plans to colonize Mars.

In 1968 America was making incredible achievements in space as its cities burned on Earth. Sadly, we are repeating the same sorry state of affairs in 2020.

1968 a Year of Riots and Violence

Most Americans recall 1968 as a year of violence and it is easy to see why.

Highlights of 1968 included the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-New York), race riots, terrorist bombings, violent antiwar protests, campus riots, and riots at the Democratic Presidential convention. For instance, riots erupted in over 120 cities after King’s murder.

Meanwhile, extremist groups such as the Weather Underground advocated violent revolution and bombs as tools of political expression.

On 30 May 2020, America experienced what The Washington Post labeled a night of “fire and fury.” Violence flared in 25 cities, including New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, CBS News reports.

As in 1968, the death of one black man, George Floyd, sparked the riots. However, as in 1968, the actual cause of the riots was generations of racism, oppression, discrimination, income inequality, police brutality, and poverty.

Notably, news footage shows most of the people rioting in Denver on 30 May 2020 were young whites not blacks. In addition, I spotted sickles and hammers, the Communist symbol, painted on some buildings in Denver on news broadcasts. Hence, the far left is participating in the violence as it did in 1968.

Interestingly, one 1960s leftist group; the Black Panthers began the tradition of carrying loaded guns to protests. Ironically, far-right groups continue that tradition today.

Notably, there has been no wave of bombings in 2020, as there was in 1968. One reason for that could be that there are no extremist groups promoting bombs as the Weather Underground did in 1968.

Notably, there has been no wave of bombings in 2020, as there was in 1968. One reason for that could be that there are no extremist groups promoting bombs as the Weather Underground did in 1968.

A Year of Political Violence

The most famous American violence in 1968 was the riots at the Democratic National Convention. Violence erupted when antiwar protesters poured into Chicago seeking a national television audience for their cause. Other extremists came to promote the counterculture and far-left politics.

In response, frightened authorities mobilized 12,000 police officers, 6,000 National Guard, 1,000 federal agents, the BBC claims. In addition, the federal government had 6,000 regular Army soldiers sanding by.

The protests turned violent because Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley wanted to teach protesters a lesson by showing no mercy. As a result, police attacked protesters and journalists with clubs and tear gas.

Americans watched on television as law and order broke down in a police riot while Democrats nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey (D-Minnesota) for President. The principal beneficiary from the violence was Republican nominee Richard M. Nixon (R-California) who won the general election.

An Unpopular President

An interesting similarity between 1968 and 2020 is an unpopular and widely disliked president.

President Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) had an average approval rating of 50.3% in his second term (1965-1968), Gallup estimates. Johnson won an astonishing 486 Electoral College votes and 61.1% of the national popular vote, in 1964.

However, by 1968 the unpopular Vietnam War had destroyed Johnson’s support. Tellingly, Johnson dropped out of the 1968 presidential race after antiwar Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-Minnesota) did well in the Democratic primaries. McCarthy’s performance prompted another Johnson enemy; U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-New York) to enter the presidential race.

In 1968, many Americans hated Lyndon Johnson, much as as many Americans despise President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) today. However, Trump has the Republican Party united behind him.

In particular, Trump ha accumulated 1,632 delegate votes to the 2020 Republican convention on 30 May 2020. Only one Trump challenger William Weld (R-Massachusetts) had one delegate.

In contrast, Vietnam had fatally divided the Democratic Party in 1968. Unlike Trump, LBJ understood he could not count on his party, so he dropped out.

A Messy Presidential Election

Strangely, Hubert Humphrey faced a problem, probable Democratic nominee Joe Biden (D-Delaware) faces today.

A cloud of doubt and rumors of conspiracy and betrayal tainted Humphrey’s nomination. To explain, Humphrey, the establishment candidate, had not run in the primaries.

Instead, Democrats nominated Humphrey after the tragic assassination of popular candidate Robert F. Kennedy (D-New York). Predictably, supporters of Eugene McCarthy (D-Minnesota); who had come in second in the primaries, cried foul.

Similarly, there is widespread skepticism of Biden’s surprise win in the 3 March 2020 Super Tuesday Primary on the Left. Notably, the press had crowned U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) the winner in the primaries before Super Tuesday.

However, Sanders has dropped out and made a point of endorsing and supporting Biden. Thus, Democrats are grudgingly and unwillingly united in 2020, unlike Democrats in 1968. However, there is grumbling about conspiracy and a screw job on the left.

On the other hand, the 2020 presidential election is far from over. There is still time for a dramatic surprise such as the death or exit of a candidate. The death of one major candidate (Kennedy) and the exit of the probable winner (Johnson) form from the race disrupted the 1968 presidential race.

Death; or a career-ending health crisis, is probable because of the candidates’ age. Trump will be 74 and Biden will be 77 on Election Day 2020. Moreover, Biden will turn 78 on 20 November 2020.

Cultural Upheaval

Finally, 1968 was a time of great cultural and political upheaval around the world. The Cultural Revolution tore China apart, the counterculture and Vietnam rocked the United States, and France underwent a month of revolution that unseated President Charles de Gaulle in May 1968.

In the United States, the women’s liberation movement began in 1968. Additionally, the modern conservative movement began as third-party candidate George Wallace (D-Alabama) and Nixon made successful populist appeals for working-class white votes.

One casualty of the 1968 was the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition that united working-class whites, African Americans, southerners, unions, and leftist intellectuals. Another was Americans’ trust and faith in their government and political system.

Vietnam and the Kennedy and King assassinations raised doubts about America’s leadership that linger to this day. Humphrey’s nomination raised cynicism about America’s political process to new heights.

Moreover, 1968 was the high-tide of the 1960s counterculture and the sexual revolution. The New Hollywood had embraced sex and violence after chucking the production code.

Meanwhile, the television networks and Madison Avenue were commercializing the counterculture and taking it mainstream. For example, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In used counterculture tropes to mock politicians and middle-class morality on prime time TV.

Today America is in the midst of a cultural upheaval driven by technology. For example, streaming video is destroying broadcast and cable television. Meanwhile, social media is driving the fragmentation of the culture and entertainment. In addition, video games are replacing television as America’s dominant entertainment media.

However, none of those changes are explicitly political or generational as the upheavals of 1968 were. Instead disruptive technologies, such as YouTube, are giving rise to new art forms that could lead to further cultural upheavals.

No, 2020 is not 1968 All Over Again

There are significant differences between 1968 and 2020. The major political issue in 1968 was the Vietnam War, a large and unpopular conflict fought by a drafted army.

America is at war today, but the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are low-key wars fought by a tiny professional volunteer army. None of the conflicts has the hold on the popular imagination that Vietnam had. Unlike their grandfathers in 1968, today’s young people have no fear of the draft.

I think today’s conflicts resemble the Philippine War (1899-1902) rather than the Vietnam War. American intellectuals, such as Mark Twain, hated the Philippine War, but it had a minor effect on home-front politics. Voters reelected the man responsible for the Philippine War, President William McKinley (R-Ohio), by a landslide in 1900.

America fought the Philippine War; a nasty guerrilla conflict that killed 24,000 people, with a small professional army. The lack of a draft and high numbers of American casualties meant there was little interest in the conflict at home.

Why 2020 is not 1968

Another key difference between 1968 and 2020 is the economy. In 1968, America’s economy was booming with a 3.4% unemployment rate, The Balance estimates. Thus, times were agreeable in 1968, despite the upheaval.

In May 2020, the U.S. economy is terrible. For instance, Fortune claims America had a real unemployment rate of 23.9% on 28 May 2020. Moreover, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates America had an unemployment rate of 14.7% in April 2020.*

Thus, America has a terrible economy and political and cultural upheaval at the same time. I think that makes 2020 more similar to 1932 or 1980 than 1968. To explain, in 1932 and 1980 terrible economies drove upheavals that led to a new political order.

In particular, 1932 gave us the New Deal while 1980 led to the Reagan Revolution. Hence, any political upheaval in 2020 could lead to radical new economy policies as the 1980 and 1932 elections did. However, the shape of that upheaval is unclear because Trump and Biden both fear a break with their parties’ traditional economic policies.

Expect radical change in 2020 but do not look for a replay of 1968. Instead, look for something very different.

*https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf