In 1968, Republicans nominated the highly unlikable Richard Nixon for the presidency. He won narrowly, not because he was such a genius, but because the Democrats decided to implode: campus takeovers, race riots, and chaos at the Democratic National Convention made Americans feel unsafe. Nixon campaigned as the anti-chaos candidate – a strong law and order man who would restore sanity in a country gone insane.
Most Americans remember the late 1960s as a time of disorder and craziness, a time when all moral standards broke down, a time when crime skyrocketed and social fabric tore wide open. Democrats remember it fondly as a time of change and protest, their shining moment. Hillary Clinton publicly tracks her political activism to 1968. The Democrats believe that they were virtuous in undermining America during the Vietnam War; they believe they did yeoman’s work in promulgating the sexual revolution; they believe they helped racial minorities by creating a vast welfare state and destroying city governments all over the country. And they believe that riots and violence were part and parcel of that hope and change.
And now those Democrats are back, preaching the 1960s gospel to their friends’ grandchildren. Hillary panders to the Black Lives Matter movement; Barack Obama incentivizes riots; Bernie Sanders promotes violence. At least in the 1960s, Democrats could claim that there were deep ills worth fighting: the aftermath of Jim Crow, restrictions against women in the workplace. What’s the big deal today? Transgender bathrooms?
But young people always have a need for communal activism. They feel the need to change the world, to rebel against authority. George Orwell summed up this sentiment well in 1940, explaining why young Germans flocked to Nazism:
Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades.
But ironically, the violence and chaos will have a predictable result: the rise of a strong figure to quash it. 1968 ended in Nixon’s victory; the continuation of that legacy led to the rise of Ronald Reagan. When Donald Trump tweets thusly, most Americans nod along:
The protesters in New Mexico were thugs who were flying the Mexican flag. The rally inside was big and beautiful, but outside, criminals!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2016
The rioters of 1968 will never die in the minds of the Democrats. But they will destroy any semblance of peace and prosperity in perpetuity.