The year 2016 will go down as one of the most volatile years in recent memory, portending what may lurk around the corner. Author Yascha Mounk, Harvard political lecturer and Carnegie fellow, explained how a week in July may have altered the course of democracy into the near future.
Political systems across the globe seem to be on the precipice of dismantling, from Brexit in the UK to terrorist attacks in France and Turkey, to America’s own democratic regressions: voter suppression, attack on women’s rights, decline of social mobility, dwindling wages, disappearance of the middle class, and decimation of social programs, to name just a few.
In America, it seems the only thing on the incline is inequality and the cost of living.
In 2016, the national angst erupted into civil unrest, resulting in marches, riots at political rallies, assassination of law enforcement, and homegrown extremists driven to mass murder. The national dialogue has been corroded by partisan media; by unchecked, incendiary political rhetoric; and by an uptick in hate speech, social media threats, and violent behavior.
If history is repeating itself, many indicators suggest we are reliving the 1960s.
The decade of the 60s began with the promise of equality, but it became one of the most shameful periods in America, fueled by racism, bigotry, and power politics.
In retrospect, there is little doubt who stood on the wrong side of history, which makes it all the more dumbfounding how so many of us fail to recognize the signs as we make the same mistakes again.
Consider: In the 60s, the president waged war in Vietnam with full military force, essentially defunding the war on poverty to pay for it. Protests erupted in the streets at the time, and history now views the Vietnam War as one of the U.S.’s biggest failures, as it would prove impossible to win.
Today, the US wages war in Iraq, spending trillions, as domestic poverty levels rise, partially due to seriously underfunded social safety nets. Protests ensued, and already, history views Iraq as the U.S.’s biggest blunder since Vietnam. It would also prove impossible to win.
Consider: In the 60s, part of what sparked the anti-war protests and the civil rights movement was the medium of television broadcasting these injustices into our living rooms. Today, where traditional media has now failed in that duty, it’s been social media that’s fueled today’s awareness of these current injustices.
Consider: In the 60s, after JFK’s commitment to end injustice and inequality, racially conservative whites abandoned the Democratic party for the Republican party, uniting Republicans around race-baiting issues for the next 50 years. (Democrat presidential candidates would never again win the majority of white voters after the Civil Rights Act is passed.) It was the conservative racists who incited violence and tried to block all civil rights progress. Today, this is not unlike Obama’s election, which was thought to signal the end of injustice and inequality. However, racist conservatives led by rightwing media struck back by demonizing the first black president for policies that were essentially previously supported by Republicans. It’s no coincidence that it was Nixon’s campaign strategists still fueling this Duraflame fire.
Consider: In the 60s, the president signed into law the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination, and ended Jim Crow laws, which had legalized segregation in the South. Today, we learn that the War on Drugs and the War on Crime were tools to incarcerate minorities, resulting in 1 in 3 black men serving time in prison, in effect returning us to the Jim Crow era.
Consider: In the 60s, the president signed into law the Voting Rights Act, removing voter-suppression tactics that kept minorities from voting. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act, citing it’s no longer needed. As a result, dozens of states craft voter restriction laws, with 22 states in less than 2 years.
Consider: In the 60s, the young and disenfranchised became more vocal about social and economic inequality, embracing counterculture, dropping out of politics, and protesting in mass demonstrations. (It was this that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in the 1970s.) Today, the young and disenfranchised became more vocal about social and economic inequality, culminating in both Occupy Wall Street and the Bernie Sanders movement.
However, unlike in the 60s, political and social unrest has been stoked by media outlets and a rising demagogue in the form of Donald Trump – the culmination of 50 years of Nixonian smear campaigns, propaganda, and race baiting.
The 60s were a nasty decade that brought out the worst of human nature, spreading anger and hatred, which incited violence and aggression, which led to hate crimes and assassinations.
It took the demise of multiple American heroes to temper the populace: JFK, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, even Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Sharon Tate – a barrage of historical loss that left the nation humbled in their shared grief.
But unlike in the 60s, there are sadly no modern-day voices like JFK or MLK advocating for peace, harmony, and non-violent equality.
Instead, 2016 has given rise to Trump, a demagogue, condemning minorities, inciting anger and rage, leading his followers to violence, and deliberating stoking emotional tinder that will have no choice but to burn at full intensity.
Instead of squelching it, both traditional and social media repeat it. And repeat it. And repeat it.
If the message is repeated, without being condemned like it is on social media, then the national conversation is only going to degrade.
As a result, there is a growing trend of fascist dictators like Trump popping up across the globe, which has more than one historian fearing that we may be on the cusp of repeating a decade far worse than the 1960s:
We may be reliving the 1930s.
The culmination of unregulated financial institutions and the greed of the economic elite directly caused the Great Depression, resonating throughout the globe. Nearly 25% of Americans were unemployed in 1932.
In 2008, the culmination of deregulated financial institutions and the greed of the economic elite directly caused the Great Recession, which reverberated throughout the globe. Once again, real unemployment numbers reache17%.
American inequality is at the highest rate since the Great Depression. The Robber Barons have returned in the form of the 1%, and their greed, in the form of free-market ideology, has redirected tax dollars to the obscenely wealthy and to multinational corporations at the expense of the Middle and Lower Classes.
Every effort made by the U.S. Government after the Great Depression has been repealed, deregulated, replaced, or discarded in order to serve corporate interests, in the disguise of Congress, Reaganomics, and partisan media outlets.
The poverty and uncertainty of the 1930s led to fear, anger, and irrational behavior by the destitute and suffering poor, which propelled authoritarian dictators to power across the globe: Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, etc.
These rulers preyed on the desperation of their people, directing their anger at immigrants instead of the real culprits, capitalizing on terrorist attacks to invade other countries and limit liberties, pouring money into military initiatives instead of social welfare programs to fight poverty, and stirring a xenophobic, self-righteous nationalism in the populace that led directly to the Holocaust and World War II.
Trump is directing the lower classes to hate immigrants for stealing their jobs, when in reality, it is the economic elites like Trump who have gamed the system, funneling money away from government programs and middle class wages into the hands of CEOs, Wall Street, and the .01%.
It was the shock of 9/11 that allowed our leadership to wage war on a country that was of no immediate threat, and had nothing to do with 9/11.
The U.S. is going bankrupt providing for the largest military in the world, engaging in endless war, with trillions that can never be repaid, while Americans suffer from unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, outsourced jobs, and wages that have not increased since the 1960s.
We are a melting pot of desperation growing hotter with each mass shooting, each police brutality, and each attack on police.
We are witnessing a rise in vitriol, violence, and hate crimes, both on social media and in the public sphere. The KKK has resurfaced to unprecedented numbers, and they are no longer shamed by being publicly named.
The subtext of partisan politics, founded on racism and class warfare, has been elevated into the text of our current political discourse.
The inevitable next leap will result in action.
And it’s that action that will determine if we are condemned to repeat the 60s, where a noble few may be sacrificed before the many can be tempered.
Or we may be doomed to relive the 30s, where many may ultimately be sacrificed by the temper of the few.