Trump thrives in a partisan world that is in many ways more dysfunctional than what we saw in 1968. Whereas the tensions of that year revolved around specific issues, like the war and civil rights, we now live in a partisan world where our institutions perpetuate constant red-blue divisions over almost every issue, no matter how large or small they might be. Everything — even wearing masks to prevent a contagious, potentially deadly disease from spreading — instantly becomes part of this perpetual political struggle, making the resolution to key public questions almost impossible to achieve.
As if the fallout and the politics weren’t bad enough, the economy is more fragile today than it was in 1968. Toward the end of the Age of Aquarius, unemployment fell to about 3.5%. Although there were signs of inflation and slowdown as a result of Vietnam spending, the economy was in pretty good shape overall. It would take several years before the nation began the period of stagflation (inflation and unemployment) that defined the 1970s.
In 2020, we are already there. National unemployment is at 14.7% while 1 out of 4 American workers have filed for unemployment benefits. Entire sectors of the economy, including retail and service, are suffering blows from which they might not recover. Chains — from Hertz to Neiman Marcus — have filed for bankruptcy, while small businesses are shuttering. Meanwhile, our educational system, a key to advancement, will suffer from serious budget cuts. And the death of George Floyd, and so many others, have highlighted the extent to which racial inequality remains a searing issue in this country.
The unrest that we have seen this week has not been nearly as devastating as what happened in 1967, when Detroit and Newark were devastated, both in loss of life and property. But there are ways our current situation is even more desolate. Despite the passage of more than 50 years, it feels like little progress has been made. In 1967, LBJ set up the Kerner Commission, which documented police violence against African Americans and found that racism and police brutality were the primary causes in the surge in riots. The report, released in 1968, famously said, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”
Since then, the issue of criminal justice and racism has never gone away. [Continue reading…]