The Flawed Politics of a Law-and-Order CampaignHistorians in the News
tags: crime, Richard Nixon
Five days of anguish and protest. Five nights of anger, broken windows, out-of-control police behavior, and the nauseating television images of tear-gassed citizens and burning squad cars.
As Donald Trump played Nero to a burning Washington, and as the homebound Joe Biden offered a moving speech about “the soul of America,” thoughts inevitably drifted to the November election. Despite the polls consistently showing Biden with a healthy lead, skittish Democrats are worried that the urban uprisings will allow Trump to triumph with a guttersnipe “American carnage” campaign.
The parallel on everyone’s lips is 1968—that wrenching year of assassination, riot, racism, war, and the breakdown of the bonds that hold us together as a people. That was the year, as glib TV commentators explain, that Richard Nixon defeated Vice President Hubert Humphrey in a campaign built around law and order. Now Biden, a former vice president (get it?), is consigned to the hapless Humphrey role, while Trump, like Nixon, plays to white fears.
That, anyway, is the myth, although the reality was far more complicated. Looking back at the early Nixon years with a half-century’s hindsight actually offers reasons to hope. Even in 1968 and the divisive 1970 congressional elections that followed, voters were not easily gulled by Republican rabble-rousing.
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