America today is a very different country than in my youth. I attended a segregated high school. We had separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites at the Greyhound Bus station. And the black folks I knew called me Master Bobby. I myself cheered wildly when the Mississippi Rebels cheerleader raced across the football field with a large confederate battle flag flapping majestically in the wind. I was too young and propagandized to understand the meaning of that flag. That was then.
The opposition spirit of the times was captured by a musical group known for their satirical political songs. The Chad Mitchel Trio gave us up Barry's Boys, Your Friendly, Liberal, Neighborhood Ku-Klux-Klan, and John Birch Society. They were the Jon Stewart of their day, shining an antiseptic light on right wing skullduggery.
America was founded as a progressive nation when it split off from the conservative British Empire in 1776. And Americans are still progressive even if their leaders sometimes are not. We have taken the 2 steps forward progressively and the one step back conservatively several times before and after. Undoubtedly we will do so again and again until the end of time as this seems the natural rhythm of the universe.
After the successful Eisenhower Republican Presidency in the 1950s, our country became a hotbed for radical change. Republicans fought back in 1964 with the candidacy of the then very conservative Barry Goldwater. Considered a complete right wing radical by some at the time, he was beaten soundly while winning only six states in the electoral college and a 13% shellacking in the popular vote.
LBJ's truly landslide victory, partially boosted by the reaction to the assassination of JFK, paved the way for the two steps forward legislation such as the The Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Medicare for the elderly also in 1965. Two steps forward.
Civil rights success gave way to the Vietnam anti-war movement as the 60s moved on. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, Snapchat or CNN, only the big three: CBS, ABC, and NBC. The progressive torch was carried by college students and their music.
The defining moments that ended the US incursion into South East Asia and our role in the deaths of millions perhaps came with the Walter Cronkite Vietnam commentary in 1968 regarding the Tet offensive, or the revelation of lies from the Pentagon and the publication of the Pentagon papers leaked by Daniel Ellsberg and published by the New York Times. It was the beatings by the Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic convention and the shootings at Kent State University in 1971 the helped turn the tide against the war. Two steps forward.
The opposition to the opposition was fierce with liberal "malcontents" protested by rural white conservatives who were then still mostly Democrats. That was all to change as Richard Nixon developed and implemented his racially charged southern strategy in 1968. It was this bigoted posture and Nixon's interference in the Paris Peace talks that snatched the election for anti constitutional radicals. One step back.
It was LBJ's and Republican Senate leader Everett Dirksen's failure to expose Nixon's treason that later lead the Reagan campaign to most likely commit its own treason with Iranian embassy hostages that undoubtedly sunk the Jimmy Carter reelection bid. Without the Reagan presidency would we have had his VP the Elder Bush presidency or without his father the Younger Bush Campaign?
Without the traitor Nixon and radical Reagan would Ross Perot have been compelled to run in the election of 1992 that propelled Bill Clinton, the conservative who ran as a progressive, into the White house. It is highly doubtful.
Had LBJ exposed Nixon perhaps the first black president would have been the progressive Jesse Jackson ,the fighter for economic justice, instead of the more conservative compromising Barack Obama. Without the Bill Clinton presidency would we have had the Hillary Clinton candidacy? Unlikely. One step back.
We are where we are after all. But we must learn from how we got here and who will lead us out of the radical conservative wilderness. We must embrace America as the progressive nation that it is and recognize that our history is merely punctuated by short term fits of narcissism, arrogance, and indecision rather than defining what and who we are.
Progressives must understand that conservatism also plays a role in the ascent of humanity. It provides forbearance and caution in the reach for the stars. And conservatives must understand that progressiveness is the hope and vision of a better world that moved us from the cooking over open fires and tossing stones for entertainment.
Bernie Sanders, not Trump, showed us the true populist route to victory and the Clinton campaign showed us the elitist insider road to defeat. It is a classic battle we face between the forces of good and evil, the greedy and generous, the callous and empathetic, the spiritless and spirit-full. Freedom-loving Americans, progressive and conservative alike, must band together in opposition to those now in power to truly "Make America Great Again". We can not expect an authoritarian demigod to deliver us from evil.
The current Republican party has been described recently by Chuck Schumer as the proverbial dog that chased the bus and caught it. What now? Republicans are caught in a trap of their own making. Either turn America into a tyrannical dictatorship that can stiff-arm the populous in the short run tr pass their radical agenda, or compromise with the American majority and face the wrath of the radicalized mob that "brung them to the dance".
After all is said, teeth gnashed, and feet stomped, all the world will see that these destructive radicals now in power can't govern effectively. It is beyond their nature and comprehension. And typically constructive conservatives only hold power necessarily to give progressives the chance to catch their breath and lick their wounds before bounding off to slay more dragons.
About the Author
Robert Jennings is co-publisher of InnerSelf.com with his wife Marie T Russell. InnerSelf is dedicated to sharing information that allows people to make educated and insightful choices in their personal life, for the good of the commons, and for the well-being of the planet. InnerSelf Magazine is in its 30+year of publication in either print (1984-1995) or online as InnerSelf.com. Please support our work.
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Major Problems in the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era: Documents and Essays (Major Problems in American History Series)
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