Feeling Fearful Again, 50 Years After Turbulent 1968

By JOHN M. IMPERIALE | Mar 07, 2018

Not long after the election was over, it was clear that the newly elected president had committed treason. It was a known fact within our own government that, during the campaign, he had one of his emissaries contact a number of foreign governments, including our enemies, on his behalf. The message was clear: Work for his election; do not do anything that would help his opponent; after he wins, you will reap the benefits.

America soon learned that having a man without no moral compass was far worse than learning all they could about him before it was too late. And so he won. And 20,000 more Americans died as a result.

Ever hear of Anna Chennault? She was the Michael Flynn of a half-century ago. Her “behind the scenes” outreach to North and South Vietnam, and to the Viet Cong, on behalf of Richard Nixon led to their stalling the Paris Peace Talks so that they could get a “better deal” when Nixon became president.

Thus, the Vietnam War did not end as it might have in 1968. It continued for five more years. If there was any doubt about Nixon’s treasonous activity, it was put to rest when a campaign memo from Nixon to Bob Haldeman was uncovered last year: “Keep Anna Chennault working on SVN (South Vietnam).”

Of course, the Democrats could have stopped Nixon had they had a well-crafted message, a platform that could unite the party and the American people. But they did not. The party fractured. The most committed activists held protests, rallies and marches, but spent little time focused on changing internal party leadership, or on voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. They made noise, but not progress.

Minorities fought for power also, but a backlash of white supremacy led to an assassination. When the one man who might unite the people and bring back hope stepped forward, he, too, was assassinated. More protests resulted. The police responded in a way that no one expected but everyone should have: They moved to crush protests. Politics became angrier and angrier. Politicians became more corrupt.

It would take more than a decade for the country to regain some semblance of balance and pride. First we had to go through more war, scandal and social upheaval. The backlash from corruption would make America, eight years later, turn to the most decent person who wanted to be our president, Jimmy Carter, even though he had none of the experience or abilities to do the job. That brought more backlash, but Ronald Reagan would finally calm the nation down, except when he would joke about bombing Russia.

It was in 1968, though, that Reagan learned the game of political conventions when he rather lamely tried to prevent Nixon from getting the nomination. Rockefeller and Romney failed to stop Nixon also. 1968 was the most traumatic year in American history. Even the other “war” years – the Civil War, WWI, WWII – at least seemed to make sense: We knew why we were fighting. It is now universally agreed that in 1968 we were fighting the politicians’ “mistake.”

It was scary to be 19 years old in 1968. In fact, it was downright frightening to be an American of any age. I have not felt that fearful since then … until now.

I have always been the eternal optimist, and strive to be one still. But the daily onslaught of outrageous comments from the White House, the failure to protect our children from the scourge of guns while repeating NRA talking points, the fake claims of “fake news,” the indisputable proof of Russian meddling in our elections and a new round of indictments, the latest resignation due to the physical abuse of women, the talk of a dictator-type military parade of strength down Pennsylvania Avenue, the recurring elimination of sound consumer protections, the absurdity of Jared Kushner’s security clearance and his business meetings, the ill-conceived tariffs and upcoming trade wars, and the personal attacks on anyone holding opposing views make it hard to not give up.

But we must not give up. Our government, on all levels, is truly dysfunctional and corrupt. The president is more than incompetent to lead the nation; he is dangerous. As someone who spent decades as a Republican political leader before that party lost its moral center, I know that the time has come for the president’s supporters to be honest with themselves and admit it.

Nixon’s “enemies list” has become Trump’s attacks on the justice system, immigrants, minorities, women, the media, the environment and anyone or anything that disagrees with him. That is not the America we should want to live in. Congress, which has always been partisan but has always found ways to work together for the American people, has now completely abandoned the concept of the common good.

It refuses to enact sensible gun-control legislation that 90 percent of Americans want. The much-ballyhooed tax reform amounts to another weapon in the country’s class warfare. Dreamers have become pawns. Congressional oversight has become blind adherence to preconceived notions on both sides. The national debt will grow because of the tax cut without one additional dollar going toward our crumbling infrastructure.

Our own state government had become a laughingstock, and the new administration, rather than aggressively jump-starting real change, has focused on issues such as expanded legal marijuana while offering no relief on taxation and no reason to stay in New Jersey. Everyone wanted Christie to go away; now we wait for Murphy to show up and do something. Even our beloved LBI cannot seem to get a grip on real solutions for issues including school consolidation and our school and property taxes.

I, for one, am not content to ride out these troubled times. The ultimate lesson from 50 years ago is not that people did not rise up against corruption and protest against the worst practices of our government. Thousands did. Similarly, the lesson is not that good politicians and dedicated activists never stepped forward to offer solutions. Many did. The lesson to be learned from 1968 is that if we, the people, leave it up to “others” to rise up and protest or to step forward and offer solutions, we will lose.

I was a lifelong Republican until I had enough. I call on everyone now, especially Trump supporters, to say enough is enough. We must all be activists now, writing letters, making phone calls, attending rallies, becoming involved in campaigns. However you can, you must.  Every single day do one single thing.

Ironically, it was Richard Nixon who first asked for and got the support of the “silent majority.” The majority stayed silent and the country paid for it. Be silent no more. I praise the activists, the protesters, the young people, especially the women and minorities running for office for the first time, the #MeToo movement, and everyone trying to do something. But they are not enough. Not if the silent majority remains silent.

John M. Imperiale of Harvey Cedars can be reached at johnmimperiale@gmail.com.



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