National Commentary

Comparing 1968 to Events of Today

Last weekend CNN reaired in succession four one-hour episodes of the documentary mini-series “1968” which included Tom Hanks as one of its executive producers. It’s amazing that while a good one-hour documentary can tell the story of an entire decade or more, it took four hours to tell the story of 1968, which many of us who recall its events agree was perhaps the most pivotal, sea changing year of both our own and the nation’s modern history.

It was a good time to re-air that “1968” series this June 26, because the events of this June 2020 alone, starting with the nationally-televised murder of George Floyd on May 25, have measured up to the non-stop sequence of critical events in 1968, when so much came to a head to either create meaningful social change or almost did.

But first, consider this June, or May 25 to July 1, 2020. The raw gut-wrenching video of the murder of Floyd under the knee of a uniformed police officer whose face was a picture of evil triggered a national mass revolt that has continued to this day. The nation is seething in angry ferment, and has been met with the most treasonous response from the White House and its dutiful minions in Congress and elsewhere, while at the state and local levels honest leaders are having to struggle with the epochal coronavirus pandemic, its catastrophic health and economic effects, and the explosive anti-racist social ferment.

The non-stop demonstrations have driven our current president even crazier than before. Astonishingly incapable of thinking that anything has to do other than with himself, Trump has seen the virus and the protests as designed to make him look bad. So he attacked them back, silencing health professionals, refusing to wear a mask, and organizing mass events in virus hotspots almost as if to dare the virus to try to hurt him further.

The same has gone for how he’s reacted to the protests, including his infamous walk across Lafayette Square on June 1. The brutally forced, tear-gas clearing of the peaceful demonstrators from the route Trump subsequently walked, soaked as he was with the body language of hatred and spite, to hold upside down a Bible at the St. John’s Church for a photo op, is an image for the ages nearly as reprehensible as the video of Floyd being suffocated for nine minutes from just the week before.

The month has included the revelations of John Bolton’s book, exposing Trump’s endorsement of Chinese concentration camps for the Uyghers and more, Trump’s foreknowledge of Russian efforts to pay bounties to the Taliban for the killing of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, his ongoing efforts at voter suppression and more.

On the flip side, there’s been an escalation of anti-Trump efforts from those in his own party, the TV ads of the Lincoln Project, military leaders’ strong repudiation of Trump’s efforts to deploy them domestically, Trump’s nosedive in the polls, and three momentous, pro-civil rights U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and the eradication of the Confederate symbol from the flag of Mississippi .

In 1968, the year began with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, and President Johnson’s announcement that he’d not seek re-election. The growing anti-war ferment was met with the assassinations of Martin Luther King in April and Robert Kennedy in June, the burning of inner cities in protest, the police riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the rise of the candidacy of the racist George Wallace, and the narrow victory of Richard Nixon over Hubert Humphrey in the November election.

Mostly forgotten amid all this was the Christmas eve launch of the first ever manned U.S. space mission to circle the Moon, a great event to suggest the potential for humankind to unite in a peaceful purpose, preceding the Moon landing in July 1969.

That was echoed this year on May 30 during the first U.S. manned mission to space in ages. It caused astronaut Doug Hurley to repeat the call of his predecessor Alan Shepard Jr. in 1961 to ignite both man’s higher calling and the engines on the rocket by exclaiming, “Let’s light this candle!”