Echoes of '68: 2018 Looks To Be A Very Tumultuous Year

12/31/2017 08:47 pm ET Updated Jan 01, 2018
So that’s “the light at the end of the tunnel.” A lone U.S. soldier in a big hurry is separated from his unit. Powerful attac
Getty Images
So that’s “the light at the end of the tunnel.” A lone U.S. soldier in a big hurry is separated from his unit. Powerful attacks by Viet Cong forces on the supposedly secure South Vietnamese capital of Saigon in 1968 gave the lie to media reports of a winning U.S. effort in the Vietnam War. Increasing jihadist attacks on capital city Kabul provide an echo in the Afghan War, which has surpassed Vietnam as America’s longest running war.

If you think 2017 was a rugged, tumultuous year, well, it’s not going to get any easier in 2018. Crises in U.S. politics and world politics will only increase. And with President Donald Trump increasingly embattled in the seamy Russia affair, his well-established pattern of even more erratic megalomaniacal behavior while under threat will become more pronounced.

But if it seems like America has never been through anything so tumultuous in the past aside from absolute world war, which just might be on deck the way Trump is steering things, it just ain’t so. By a simple quirk of fate, 2018 will be the 50th anniversary of one of the most tumultuous years in history.

1968 was the year it nearly all came unraveled for America, not to mention much of the rest of the world. That was the year that the pretension that America was winning the massively escalated war in Vietnam was revealed, in dramatic fashion by the Viet Cong’s Tet Offensive, to be an offensively ridiculous lie. President Lyndon Johnson, the escalator-in-chief, stepped away from his re-election campaign rather than lose. Youth protests in America and around the world accelerated and became more radical. The Soviet Union cracked down in brutal fashion on nascent Eastern European democrats. Two more of America’s greatest leaders, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, were assassinated, Kennedy just after winning the California presidential primary. Anti-war demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned desperate as a police riot ensued. And the ultimate winner of the year proved to be a man who campaigned on the thesis that he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam.

Richard Nixon had a secret plan, all right, a secret plan to expand the war in Vietnam into other countries in Indochina. His deception and paranoia were to lead to the deaths of vastly many more people even as they crashed faith in American government amidst a growing web of illegal surveillance and profoundly undemocratic repression. The gravest results were only barely averted when he was ultimately forced to resign amidst the Watergate scandal in 1974.

Meanwhile, the counterculture reaction against materialist conformity, and its dominant staid white male stereotype, was reaching critical mass.

The conflicts of that nexus year of 1968 — with my old pal Tom Hayden in the middle of it all, the most sensational political show trial in American history, that of Hayden and the rest of the Chicago Seven, about to come boiling out of the events of ‘68 — continue to reverberate today. Many of them, amazingly to someone who witnessed ‘68 as a boy, are still unresolved.

Not that we lack our own unique variants today.

At the center of it all now, of course, is Donald Trump, as I warned from summer 2015 on ascending as the ultimate backlash politician.

Though there are plenty of other problems, some of which Trump actually correctly identifies, Trump is the ultimate “agent of chaos” in the emergent new world chaos I began writing about back in the mid-1990s while the Clintons were continuing George Bush I’s quaint “new world order” notion. Trump is the Joker as POTUS.

A Saudi air strike hits Yemen’s capital city Sanaa. Saudi intervention in Yemen’s civil war, heavily backed by President Dona
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
A Saudi air strike hits Yemen’s capital city Sanaa. Saudi intervention in Yemen’s civil war, heavily backed by President Donald Trump, has created the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster.

Fundamental questions still unresolved, 50 years after the crescendoing events of 1968?

What is America’s proper role in the world? What should become of U.S. interventionism? The Cold War has been, rather conveniently, notwithstanding the reality of certain security challenges, replaced by the Long War. (I'm not offended as a dove, which I'm not, being a highly selective hawk. I’m offended by the seamless stupidity of it all.)

Where is the sustaining balance point between a technologically adolescent and consumptive society and an ecosphere which is resilient but is hardly endlessly elastic?

The question of American identity in an interconnected world. Who is a “real American?” (Many would still have you believe that even Barack Obama is not a real American.)

What is a real American on a planet which requires world citizenship as well if we are to make it through our technological adolescence of nuclear weapons and climate change in order to achieve the first truly advanced human civilization capable of taking on the question of our role in the universe?

If there is an American exceptionalism, and I think there is, is it anything more than a dated conceit marked by colossal ignorance and some of the stupidest imperialists in world history?

Will America, or more accurately, can America continue on its dramatic drift as by far the most inegalitarian advanced society in the world?

And will we finally come to grips with the multivalent nature of humanity, in which “the other” — which, not incidentally, constitutes the the vast majority of the species, i.e., people of color, empowered and potentially empowered women, people of different sexual and gender orientations, people of vastly different spiritual orientations, most of them dating to the days when it was well-known that the world is flat — is granted equal but not superior status?

Young anti-war protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. At this moment, President Donald Trump is pu
Barton Silverman / New York Times
Young anti-war protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. At this moment, President Donald Trump is pushing current and potential wars in theaters around the world.

Some politicians, elevated to the surprise of most, though not all, of us to the Presidency of the United States in such a tumultuous time would look for a creative common ground, a frankly higher ground in order to avoid obviously gathering flood waters.

That’s not Donald Trump.

In a country and, in large measure, a world marked by division, Trump seeks to divide even further. He governs with the evident aim of turning his vast but decidedly minority reactionary base into a hardened vanguard.

All the better with which to govern in a state of emergency which would avert the efforts of Trump/Russia special counsel Robert Mueller and which could arise from any set of crisis circumstances Trump is exacerbating around the world. I’ve been writing about these crises all year.

The Middle East, Central Asia, North Korea and East Asia, a desperate transnational Islamic jihadism, an overreaching Russian move in one of several theaters, you name it, it could be the trigger for even further conflict and great conflagration.

White supremacists converged on the University of Virginia in genteel Charlottesville over the summer for a torchlight parade
Evelyn Hockstein / Washington Post
White supremacists converged on the University of Virginia in genteel Charlottesville over the summer for a torchlight parade to defend Confederate statues. Saying he was impressed by how neatly they were dressed, President Donald Trump proclaimed them to be “very fine people.”

The stage is certainly set here at home for more conflict and reaction.

2018 of course is also an election year. And right now, the polls look good for Democrats, riding a wave of resistance and revulsion for Trump’s reactionary ways. Things certainly went well in 2017 in Virginia, New Jersey, Alabama ...

But, as my old English English teacher, apparently reaching back to Homer, taught me before I discovered the Beatles, “there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.”

For if there is a party that can screw this up, a party that itself has still unresolved fundamental issues, it is the Democratic Party. After all, and notwithstanding the growing know-nothing anti-Enlightenment forces I began writing about in 2012 which quickly cohered around Trumpism, Hillary Clinton should have won the 2016 presidential election.

And I believe she would have won it, rather narrowly, if she had believed she really could lose. But most all of the media and the Democratic political establishment encouraged a foolish group-think in which the unacceptable Trump was simply unthinkable.

And so we live on with the failures of imagination among the unimaginative.

Happy New Year!

So to speak.

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