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This Crisis? It’s Nothing

Mark Bauerlein, writing about Camille Paglia: [1]

She announced it a few months back in an interview with the New York Observer. The very first question asked her about comparisons between President Trump and Adolf Hitler, to which she replied: “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.”

This is a point that deserves repeated amplification. It explains, for instance, much of the indignation we see and hear on college campuses, wherein twenty-year-olds decry twenty-first-century American racism and sexism. The first response to their charges should not be to debate present conditions. It should be to ask them about actual conditions of the past—Jim Crow, the franchise for women and blacks, poverty rates and public health in former times . . . The answers will demonstrate that the only way to believe that America 2017 is a particularly vicious time for certain identities is to know nothing about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And we know, of course, how little history young Americans actually possess.

Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.”

Nothing in my recent experience has brought this home to me like watching The Vietnam War [2], the epic documentary film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, which is airing this week on PBS. (I was able to watch the entire thing in advance.) The years 1968 to 1973 were surely among the five worst in American history, second only to the Civil War, and perhaps — perhaps — the worst of the Great Depression. I was a small child then, blissfully unaware of what was happening around me in my country. Watching this film, I wonder what on earth my parents must have been thinking, day in and day out, as the country tore itself apart.

Most of us of a certain age have at least a general idea of what happened back then. The Vietnam War raged on, the antiwar movement spread, Woodstock, MLK and RFK murdered, radicalization, domestic bombings as routine, Richard Nixon and all his pomps and works, etc. But until watching this film, for some reason, I had not quite realized the depth and intensity of the coming-apart. I thought I had, but no.

I’m going to write more broadly about the film in a separate post, but I want to focus on this one aspect of it to underscore Paglia’s point. For me, giving myself over to The Vietnam War was to be sucked into a whirlpool, and to be forced to answer, over and over, “What would I have done back then?” In that context, the absurdity of people today acting like the Trump era and its polarization is some kind of short-fingered Götterdammerung is made vividly manifest. “Well, Mama, this is hell indeed. Donald Trump’s America is the Ninth Circle,” recently shrieked [3] New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who was born in 1970.

For my readers who, like me, didn’t live through that era, do this quick thought experiment, inspired by the film.

Imagine that the US was involved in a major overseas war in which over 11,000 American soldiers died in one year alone (1967). For a point of comparison, fewer than 7,000 US troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 14 years of combat there.

Imagine that 17,000 US soldiers would die in 1968, and 12,000 in 1969 fighting that war

Imagine that you might be drafted to go fight there.

Imagine what it would be like if you were convinced the war was profoundly immoral, and you had to choose between deserting the country and bearing arms in that war.

Imagine that many college campuses had become hotbeds not of snowflakey sit-ins, but of serious violence.

Imagine that domestic bombings by left-wing radicals had become a routine part of American life (e.g., five per day in an 18-month period in the early 1970s [4]).

Imagine that two of the nation’s most prominent political leaders (MLK and RFK) Bobby were gunned down three months apart.

Imagine that your government and military were lying to Congress and to the American people about the war, and had been for years (as was revealed with the 1972 publication of the Pentagon Papers).

Imagine that major American cities were burning in race riots.

Imagine that cops in a major American city staged what was later called “a police riot” outside a political party’s national convention, and beat the hell out of protesters.

What’s harder to imagine is the historical context in which these shocking events were taking place. The distance between 1958 and 1968 is only ten years, but it surely felt like a lifetime. The country in 1958 was relatively stable, settled, and buttoned-up. A decade later, it was ripping itself apart, and would continue to do so for years to come.

Americans at the start of that period trusted our institutions, including our government. To watch protesters in the street demolishing universities (figuratively, mostly, but not always) and in some cases carrying communist flags into protest — that had to have been a terrible shock to the system. The template for US involvement in war was still World War II, a “good” war; most people could not grasp that Vietnam was not that kind of war. (Indeed, the film keeps pointing out, importantly, that for most of the war, the American people were solidly behind it and the president; this was Nixon’s “silent majority”). Families were falling apart as the divorce rate soared skyward [5], beginning a steep rise that would not peak until the early 1980s. The churches were also crumbling. Drug use was going mainstream. Watching The Vietnam War, even as I felt within myself a growing revulsion to the war, and even rage at the US government officials prosecuting it, and sending those young men into that meat grinder, I also felt total disgust at the images of the blissed-out college student freaks. I can only imagine what ordinary conservative people like my folks must have thought from 1968-73, watching this play out on American streets.

Actually, one of my most vivid memories of my early childhood was my father’s accounts of the disastrous “Celebration of Life” festival in 1971 [6]. It was an attempt to re-create Woodstock on the Atchafalaya River in rural south Louisiana. My dad was a state public health official, and was assigned to inspect the food being sold at the festival. He had to get police protection when he condemned a large amount of fried chicken, and concertgoers threatened him. He said that if those idiot kids had eaten that spoiled chicken, they would have gotten very sick, and some might have died. But all they could see was that the Man was denying them something they wanted. I recall my dad telling my mom about the things he saw at what he called “the hippie festival,” day after day: the widespread nudity and the drugs. Much later, when I was older, he said he had seen a lot of sex there; it seemed that a decade or so later, he was still trying to comprehend it.

I’ll never forget a story I heard him tell my mom. He was near tears of pity and rage, recalling how hippies with children were stoned or tripping, and paying no attention to their kids. He saw one couple with their naked baby lying exposed to the intense sun, turning red. I wish my dad were still alive today so I could ask him for more details. What I can remember was his anguish and total disgust at the doped-up dereliction of that young couple. Seems like an apt symbol of the times.

My dad had taken our Super 8 film camera to the hippie festival. When he had the films developed, he invited neighbors over to watch them in our living room, as an anthropologist might have done bringing back film of some savage tribe in the heart of the jungle. Here’s the trailer for a recent documentary film about that festival. [7]

My point is that these radical changes were all taking place very quickly, in a society that was in no way prepared for them. In one of the film’s episodes, a TV news reporter interviews one of the NYC hardhats who beat antiwar protesters. The man, with his outer borough ethnic accent, was so angry at those protesters, with their communist flags, that he could hardly contain himself. Listening to him talk, I thought: “That construction worker doesn’t know it yet, but in nine years, he’s going to vote for Ronald Reagan.”

So, me, I’m watching this film and imagining what I would have done back then. What if I hated the war, but also hated what the cultural left was doing to the country? What if I hated what the cultural left was doing to the country, but was furious at the fact that squares like me were still behind Nixon, and demonized all anti-war protesters. Would I have been able to be merciful to the returning soldiers, but still despised the war? It turned out that a man from my hometown served under Lt. William Calley, and was charged in the My Lai massacre, though not convicted. [8] How would that have affected the way I saw the war?

I know how I would have liked to have thought and behaved. But would I have done so, in that maelstrom? Doubtful. Given my temperament, I probably would have been either a knotheaded reactionary, or an anti-war radical. In either case, it would have been a profound reaction to the disorder all around me — either the disorder in the streets, or the moral disorder within the government and the military, for what it was doing with the war.

And Watergate was yet to come, as was stagflation.

The point is this: compared to 1968-73, today is a total cakewalk. This is not to minimize the very serious problems we face, politically and otherwise. In fact, some of the moral breakdown that seemed so traumatizing back then has been normalized by our society, such that we don’t feel the pain of fracture as Americans did back then. Still, you want to talk about an American hell? It was then. Watching The Vietnam War [9] is like seeing the history of some other country, not our own. Yet it happened within my own lifetime. When my children are middle-aged, as I am today, they won’t have any films like this to watch about our own period of American life, because for all the corruption and decadence and foolishness afoot, it’s not like those horrible, horrible days.

This is why we should study history.

UPDATE: A reader asks if, in light of this post, I will stop referring to “Weimar America.” It’s a good question, and here’s why I will not stop using that term.

It’s important to note that America today only looks like Weimar (= that the center is not holding, and the nation is dangerously unmoored from its foundations) to religious and social conservatives. If I were not one, I would be a lot calmer about our situation, though plainly there’s still a lot to worry about. It cannot be denied that Christianity is dying out in the West. It is possible that we may turn that around, but not probable at this point. For people who believe that Christianity is the truth, this is catastrophic. We literally believe that the eternal fate of souls is at stake. Besides which the withering of Christianity will likely result in greatly restricted religious liberties for future generations. Tied to the decline of religion is the breakdown of the natural family, the ubiquity of hardcore pornography, and coming biotechnologies that put on the table the question of what it means to be human. If you took people from 1967 and transported them to 2017, and showed them what kinds of behaviors and ideas were totally mainstream and accepted today, they would no doubt be deeply shocked. We aren’t because all of us 50 and under grew up with the legacy of the Sixties and Seventies, which included the shattering of beliefs, practices, and ideals that were once widely shared in American society. Imagine telling someone in 1967 than in 2017, public schools would be teaching elementary school children that there is no such thing as male and female. Someone back then would have thought America would have gone mad. And they would have been right.

To return to the main point: the crisis is only alarming, it seems to me, from the perspective of a religious conservative who understands what’s at stake today. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was anarchy in the streets in places, and thank God we don’t have that today, at least not yet. But behind the façade of establishment control in the White House, in the Pentagon, and elsewhere, there was significant decadence, which was no less significant for being concealed by outward order and decorum. In the same way, a perfectly pleasant suburban house in which the parents and kids are secretly immersing themselves in hardcore porn on their wired devices is not a symbol in which one should have confidence.

121 Comments (Open | Close)

121 Comments To "This Crisis? It’s Nothing"

#1 Comment By Lllurker On September 21, 2017 @ 1:58 pm

So Rod I was cleaning out some old files on my tablet and I came across the following comment. I don’t know if I ever actually posted it, but it certainly supports your newfound perspective regarding the Vietnam era verses today:

“Another problem with your dark interpretations of current US trends — and the reason they don’t resonate with me and perhaps some of the others here as well — is the 60’s. The tumult during that period and especially 1968 and the subsequent few years makes what is happening today seem relatively benign by comparison. To buy your gloomy take on things requires one to turn a blind eye to the strong self-corrective tendencies that exist within our democracy where many issues tend to self-correct on their own. Most of them really.”

#2 Comment By Ryan On September 21, 2017 @ 3:35 pm

I haven’t watched the documentary, but I’m a student of the history, having lived in Vietnam and having family there. I had a couple comments about two claims made earlier.

“The documentary makes clear that from the very beginning and repeatedly thereafter RVN was under assault and subversion from the communist north.”

The RVN was under “assault and subversion” in precisely the same sense as Vichy France was under “assault and subversion” at the end of the Second World War. The RVN was in no sense a legitimate government or state. It had only been created in the first place as a vestige of French colonialism, and even then was supposed to be temporary. The Geneva Accords made quite explicit the principle that the division of Vietnam was only a temporary administrative measure. For the Americans to set up a regime in the South, then try to preserve it in violation of the Geneva Accords was an act of aggression, full stop. The NVA was responding to that aggression, not initiating its own.

[NFR: The documentary makes it very clear that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were very far from heroes. I admired their incredible resiliency, but also was left aghast at their brutality. Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan — especially Le Duan — were some kind of monsters. The war was not immoral for Vietnamese to fight, but after it became clear to our leaders in the mid-1960s that we couldn’t win that war, to keep sending US troops into that meat grinder was wrong. — RD]

I think this comment is quite unfair to Ho Chi Minh. By the time of the war with the Americans, Ho had little influence on the management of affairs, and was mostly a figurehead. In the lead-up to the war, he tried to push for a political rather than military approach for as long as he could, precisely because he was wary of unleashing a war as brutal as he knew the war with the Americans would be. It was largely by winning this argument that Le Duan managed to sideline him in the first place. In any case, Vietnamese brutality must be seen in context (although this doesn’t excuse, but only mitigates it). The French treated the Vietnamese abominably, and inadvertently taught them a lot of the cruel tactics they would later use against the Americans (for example, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” began as a French prison, which was run much the same way the Vietnamese would later run it). On account of French, then American aggression, entire generations of Vietnamese were born and then grew up in circumstances where life was cheap and cruelty casual. Hard times make hard men, and (to get back to the question of Ho Chi Minh), the really remarkable thing was how humane and non-vindictive he managed to be. Given the circumstances, a character like Le Duan was unfortunate, but quite understandable. A character like Ho Chi Minh was an admirable example of moderation and humanity. We Orthodox Christians venerate as saints a number of political leaders who were more brutal than Ho ever was, without facing nearly as desperate circumstances (Most of the royal saints from pre-modern times who dealt to any great extent with war would fit that description) Ho Chi Minh fully deserves the adulation he continues to receive in his home country.

#3 Comment By C.K. Dexter Haven On September 21, 2017 @ 5:23 pm

The present crises may not be as serious but our political institutions are much weaker. Johnson and Nixon had their flaws but were legitimately elected, not flukes of the Electoral College. Congress still functioned and could even pass important legislation – the Fair Housing Act in 1968 or the environmental legislation in 1970.

In 1969 we had the landing on the moon. You have to go back to the liberation of Kuwait, now over 25 tears ago, to find a national achievement to be proud of. The Nixon impeachment hearings were said to have shown that “the system worked.” Would anyone now claim that of the Clinton impeachment? The Vietnam War at least made some sense in the context of the Cold War. The invasion of Iraq was just ignorance and arrogance.

#4 Comment By cdugga On September 21, 2017 @ 8:11 pm

My dad was in Saigon 67 to 69. He was in B-52’s. I was a pretty good pitcher when I was 9 and 10. Dad had us send as many whiffle balls to him as we could. He taught the Vietnamese kids to play street ball like he had in new york. I don’t think he ever saw me pitch. My dad never really recovered from the war and never said anything to my family about the war except for the one time he told me, not quite crying, that the kids loved playing street ball with the whiffle balls. My dad was detached from us and very annoyed at the world. As a teenager I did not understand and was not understanding. It is too late now.
He never told me how his country had betrayed him into dropping napalm on people like the ones he taught to play street ball. He never told me how he worked with defense contractors to improve the electronic warfare defenses against the soviet supplied SAMs. And, he never told me about his crew being shot down and who hit the tail and who survived. He just told me that the kids in Saigon loved playing with the whiffle balls we sent. He did not really shield me from what was going on. After having our windows blown out on Okinawa in the dead of night, he took me up to a hill overlooking the runway where we saw it on fire from one end to the other. I don’t think anybody survived that B52 crash. But he did take me down on to a taxiway right by the runway one time, and left me in the VW by myself. A blackbird taxied right in front of me and then out on to the runway and took off at around a 45 degree incline with torch like flames way out the engines.
Vietnam made my dad, and probably allot of people, very angry that their patriotism and service had been so abused. LBJ and his administration said that they did not know what to do. I say, they did not do what they knew they should have done. And that’s all I have to say about Vietnam. Stupid did not do it, but it was stupid to think they would get away with it. I will defend my patriotism, my christianity, and my country against the people who wear it as a badge waving a bible in one hand and a gun in the other, and who say they stand righteous against the ones they claim are the morally deficient, depraved and are not patriotic like them. And I do so without empathy for the idea that they are simply misguided. There is money to be made in war, and it bends righteous men to its will and perpetuates itself, since the alternative would be to admit being wrong and being responsible for so much death and destruction. God will forgive them. I will fight them, even if it is just with words they dismiss in order to justify themselves and their inability to change course and accept responsibility for leading our country in the wrong direction; even after seeing themselves that they were leading us in the wrong direction. I’ll see your depraved naked and stoned hippies sunburning their baby, and I’ll raise you with the bombs our MIC has so much trouble producing enough of. Point, judge and label, but I’ll show you where the money goes. The crisis may be nothing in the beginning, but we should follow the money now to see where our morality and patriotism is spent.

#5 Comment By Patricus On September 21, 2017 @ 9:23 pm

I was alive through that traumatic time except not many appeared to be traumatized. Exceptions were those who served in Vietnam although most of them never faced danger. Graduating high school in 1970 I didn’t face the draft until the last draft which was a lottery based on birth dates. Only the top 30 birth dates would face conscription and my number was 355. There were many gatherings of so called war protesters. Few cared about the war. These were places to meet girls and indulge in drugs and alcohol. A few hard cases relished the opportunity to throw bricks at cops.

For myself and most others life was a cakewalk. I came from lower middle class parents. It never occured to me that any Ivy League degree was desirable. A young high school grad could find a good paying job. College tuition was very cheap. Rents were low. A used car could be purchased for $100. The sexual revolution was just getting started but AIDs and other horrors had yet to make an appearance. If those were the challenging years in American history the future will be easy.

#6 Comment By Ken T On September 21, 2017 @ 9:47 pm

When talking about the late 60’s and the Viet Nam generation, it might be helpful to remember that we weren’t born in 1965. There was a lot that came before. My memory of the 1950’s, as a child starting school, is one thing – air raid drills. Starting, if my memory serves me, on the first day of Kindergarten. By 1960 or so, that had evolved into Basement Bomb Shelters. Yes, kids, that really was a thing. They’ve been mostly forgotten now, but back then most people did have the deepest corner of their basement stocked with food, bottled water, and some basic medical supplies. It was real. Picture yourself being sent home from school carrying official, government printed pamphlets on steps your family should take to survive the coming war. What to do when the Russian bombers fly overhead (Note: the word was when, not if. Adults may have picked up on some nuance, but to a schoolkid, it was presented as a certainty).

Then the assassinations started. JFK, MLK, RFK.

And it was into this atmosphere that the war blew into our consciousness. And we started getting drafted to be sent over and killed. For what? For the glory and power of the same older generation that had created the mess that our entire lives had been since we were born.

Rod, you talk about your father being shocked by the behavior of some hippies. Well guess what – That was the point! It was supposed to shock him. It was intended to shock him. Tell me – was he ever shocked by the nightly parade of flag-draped coffins coming home? Was he ever shocked by a million dead Vietnamese? “Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll” were our generation’s way of spitting on the smarmy self-righteousness of the generation that had so totally screwed up the world, and then sputtered indignantly when we objected to being handed the bill for their sins.

#7 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 21, 2017 @ 10:45 pm

Johnson and Nixon had their flaws but were legitimately elected, not flukes of the Electoral College.

C.K. Dexter Haven betrays appalling ignorance of the meaning of words, and the substance of constitutional government. Many have criticized the outcome of Electoral College allocation, including me, and proposed various alternatives, which might be instituted by constitutional amendment. But there is noting illegitimate about being elected by a majority of the Electoral College, deviating from the popular vote. It is THE prescribed process for choosing a President of the United States.

Two thinks are flukes: One is the rise of party politics, which was not even contemplated by the framers of our constitution. The other is the counting of popular vote totals for presidential elections, which was not actually contemplated either. A constitutional amendment might be a good idea, or might not. We could do even worse!

Incidentally, Richard Nixon in 1968 won a plurality of the popular vote, not a majority, because George C. Wallace was a substantial third party candidate. If a few popular votes had shifted, Wallace might have claimed enough electoral votes to throw the election into the House of Representatives.
Given the number of Democrats elected by states such as Utah and Idaho, that might have resulted in Hubert Humphrey being elected president.

#8 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 21, 2017 @ 10:49 pm

This one seems a bit more authentic. Senator Dodd, for those too young to remember, was a quintessential conservative (and corrupt) Democrat.

#9 Comment By kgasmart On September 22, 2017 @ 9:57 am

To return to the main point: the crisis is only alarming, it seems to me, from the perspective of a religious conservative who understands what’s at stake today.

I disagree with this Rod, I’m not a religious conservative but I share this feeling of crisis, of America as Weimar Germany, of a nation that sees decadence as a positive good.

That’s the true legacy of the ’60s, isn’t it? Where there once was structure and norms (oppressive norms, lefties will say), now there is… nothing. We tear down all norms, be they sexual, familial, gender, and whatever we choose is, by nature of the fact we’ve chosen it, A-OK.

And whatever costs occur (as with the decline of the traditional two-parent family), we socialize them.

Consider that even Weimar would have denied it was “Weimar.” Decadence and narcissism and “just be cool to everyone” are not pillars upon which any society can rest; at their core, they’re rotten. And all that’s required, of course, is for some movement, some man on a white horse, to come give them a good hard kick.

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 22, 2017 @ 10:46 am

That’s the true legacy of the ’60s, isn’t it? Where there once was structure and norms (oppressive norms, lefties will say), now there is… nothing.

I’ve grown old enough, and had enough adult experiences working with children, to recognize that parental authority, and authority of school staff, has an important place. But when I look back at the 1950s and 1960s, I also see that what caused the “Question Authority” theme is that the adults I dealt with as a child had, in large part, come to accept their own authority as natural and integral and assumed, but had lost the ability to articulate why they held authority, how authority should be used, and what the benefits were — including benefits for those who were supervised.

A wise old communist I once knew suggested that the proper question would be the Latin phrase “Quo Warranto?” which can be found in Black’s Law Dictionary. Its not all authority, or the existence of authority, that should be questioned. It is, by what authority do you do this?

As a union shop steward, I recognized that there is such a thing as a legitimate management prerogative, but, I also saw a great deal of arbitrary abuse of authority by management personnel. There is a difference.

#11 Comment By Sheldon On September 22, 2017 @ 12:31 pm

As a follow-on to my earlier comment, Andrew Sullivan elaborates on one of the the new and extremely dangerous developments of the current era, here:

[10]

#12 Comment By JonF On September 22, 2017 @ 1:20 pm

Re: The Nixon impeachment hearings were said to have shown that “the system worked.” Would anyone now claim that of the Clinton impeachment?

In a sense, yes, and because those reponsible paid a price at the polls for their folly (The GOP loist seatsi n the House in 1998– almost unprecedented for the “out” party to suffer that in a six year mid-term)

Re: But there is noting illegitimate about being elected by a majority of the Electoral College, deviating from the popular vote.

Illegitimate? No. But problematic in the larger sense? Yes. Two presidents in less than a generation have taken office with only a minority of the popular vote– the most recent one with a stunningly large gap between him and the plurality winner. Add to that the gerrymandering of House and state legislative seats which have produced a Congress and many legislatures well to the right of the electorate (and dedicated mainly to servicing the elite). And the fact that the GOP is now having yet another go at ramming down our throats a healthcare “reform” that enjoys the popularity of mosquitoes and the flu. All of these things casts doubt on the legitimacy of the American government, destroys loyalty to our institutions and adds fuel to fires we should never, ever want to see lit.

#13 Comment By Jeff K On September 22, 2017 @ 3:27 pm

cdugga says:
September 21, 2017 at 8:11 pm

“My dad…
…The crisis may be nothing in the beginning, but we should follow the money now to see where our morality and patriotism is spent.”

No truer words said. Follow the money that lead us to be $20 Trillion in debt. Endless Wars. Tax breaks for the rich, who need it least. Crony capitalism. The Military Industrial Complex (which consumes $800 Billion a year but in the end we are less safe). The Medical Industrial Complex (where most patients are 2 o4 3 paychecks away from serious financial issues but executives make multiple millions of dollars a year, and the employee parking lot is full of BMWs, Lexus, Infinitys, and maybe a token Cadillac or two). The College Industrial Complex, which pumps out way too many useless degrees for $25,000 per year.

I am going back to New Castle PA for a weekend with high school friends. First time back in 10 years. In the 70’s the mills were running wide open, everybody was working, and life was good. Now it’s a shyte hole. Detroit drug gangs own the streets. Prostitutes openly walk the deserted down town. Now it is reported to be the worst place in PA to live.

When the next crash comes, and believe me, being 20T in debt, it is coming, do you think ‘The Deplorables’ will go quietly into the night? I think not. The elite should not sleep too comfortably, because I don’t think all of those guns will be kept in the closet or pawned for a few dollars when the sheriff comes to evict, so that a wall street speculator can buy their home for pennies on the dollar.

#14 Comment By mrscracker On September 22, 2017 @ 4:49 pm

You know, I think bringing back the draft would be a very good idea. But not just for military service but for community service.
I saw someone from Americorps being interviewed regarding helping recent hurricane victims and he encouraged young people “living in their parent’s basement ” to get off the beanbag, put down the Cheetos, and come serve others.
A year or two of that after high school would make a difference I think.

#15 Comment By C.K, Dexter Haven On September 22, 2017 @ 6:11 pm

To Sialys Jenkins and JonF: Obviously, the failure of a presidential candidate to win a plurality, let alone a majority, of the popular vote is of no Constitutional significance. It is, however, of some political significance. Rutherford B. Hayes, known in his own time as “His Illegitemacy” pledged not to run again. Benj, Harrison did run again and lost to the previous popular vote winner, Grover Cleveland. Donald Trump obviously thinks the popular vote matters or wouldn’t claim that five million illegal votes were cast!

I’m well aware that Nixon won only a plurality in 1968 although it was good enough for a comfortable 301-197 victory over Humphrey. Nixon knew that his 43 per cent of the popular vote left him in a weak position and sought to broaden his support. His inaugural address produced no memorable lines but did strike the requisite notes of magnanimity and humility. Trump squandered the opportunity of his inaugural address and make himself ridiculous with his claim that his crowd was bigger than Obama’s

#16 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 22, 2017 @ 8:42 pm

Now, if we can sort out distinct things, and examine each on its own merits, we might get somewhere.

Is the Electoral College the prescribed body for choosing a president of the United States? Yes. Is a president chosen by a majority of the Electoral College illegitimate? No. Is such a president politically weak? Yes.

If anything is illegitimate, it would be that we now vote for “slates” committed to a candidate, rather than for individual Electors whom we know and trust to make the final decision. But that wouldn’t work very well either.

Even Dexter Haven considers the size of Nixon’s Electoral College vote a significant factor in making his election “comfortable.”

Almost everything Trump does or says is delusional, ridiculous, or opportunistic. It is the latter that puts him in his best light — at least he occasionally cuts a deal that lets something good or necessary happen if its the only way to generate some good press.

The gerrymandered federal house districts, and state legislative districts, are a separate question. Of course they are a gross distortion of republican government, although not without past precedent. I read that the Dems now have a committee focused on getting better district lines in 2021, but as they so often do, they were caught napping in 2010 when the GOP had plans to win THAT YEAR at all costs, and then draw lines that would keep them in power for ten years.

There may of course be a connection, as the GOP has suddenly become a fan of awarding electoral votes by congressional district… since they would get more votes that way than by slates based on statewide vote totals.

No matter who was president after the 2016 election, it was going to be someone with a minority of the popular vote, who had a consistent 70 percent negative rating. Compared to that, the Electoral College frankly pales by comparison. Sanders was indeed kind of milquetoast, and Kasich likely to pursue a drearily familiar foreign policy. The choices offered were the more serious impediment to expressing the “will of the people.”

#17 Comment By kijunshi On September 22, 2017 @ 9:20 pm

An old thread, but I am now watching this series as it airs – it’s great watching, if at time difficult. I am greatly enjoying the chance to learn how this war changed my country within living memory… I hope someday they will do it for Iraq/Afghanistan too, but who knows if they’ll still be making documentaries by that point?

Anyway, upon re-reading it wasn’t you who mentioned that it was “hard to watch” North Vietnamese soldiers reminiscing with a smile about how they killed Americans – it certainly was – but I also wanted to come back and mention the American soldier at the beginning of Episode 5 who revealed that his unit regularly killed prisoners of war before they could become “official”. Even though the upper brass were begging for Viet Cong captives. This documentary has been released in Vietnamese as well; it has to be “hard to watch” for those soldiers’ children and grandchildren too.

I actually think the soldier’s admission was commendable – it helped shine a light on what anyone can be pushed to do in a bad situation. I don’t believe all soldiers in the Vietnam war committed such atrocities, but enough of this was reported, that I understand (though still don’t agree) why the students spit on the returning soldiers now. Poor men – they really were victims, even if some of them were also war criminals 🙁

#18 Comment By JonF On September 23, 2017 @ 9:35 am

Indeed. And when a president takes office under those circumstances he ought govern in as bipartisan a manner as possible. To his credit George W Bush followed that course initially, until 9-11 changed everything. Trump doubling down on a narrow, unpopular agenda (healthcare “reform” bills polling in the teens!) has merely inflamed passions that a wiser man would seek to allay– and further impugned his legitimacy.

#19 Comment By connecticut farmer On September 23, 2017 @ 12:31 pm

“…compared to 1968-73, today is a total cakewalk.”

Comparing different eras–generations if you will–can be problematic. Each era is different, with different issues to confront and solve (if in fact they are even solvable) utilizing methods that change from one period to another. I was in my twenties during the ’68-’73 period. It was not fun. But I would hardly describe the current unpleasantness a “cakewalk”? This era in which we are now living is fraught with its own dangers

#20 Comment By Charlieford On September 23, 2017 @ 6:47 pm

kijunshi says: “I understand (though still don’t agree) why the students spit on the returning soldiers”

Myth.

See “The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam,” by Jerry Lembcke

#21 Comment By Howard On September 25, 2017 @ 7:30 am

@sigaliris the Greatest Generation and the Millennials are both Civic generations according to Strauss and Howe’s theory. So both of them may be more open to authoritarianism in the name of “order” (in radically different ways!) than the Boomers were.