The 60s Redux?

I had an interesting inquiry from a friend the other day. He wanted to know how I thought the upcoming few years would compare with the turmoil of the late 1960s–and whether I thought American divisions are as deep now as they were then.

As those of you who are regular readers of this blog may recall, when Trump “won” the election, my first prediction was that we were going to see a replay of the 60s, but on steroids. So yes–as I said in response to my friend’s inquiry– I think the country’s divisions are every bit as deep as they were then.

But I also think those divisions are different in kind; I think they run along different lines of demarcation.

When I was doing research for my book “God and Country,” I learned about a phenomenon called paradigm shift—times in human history where social/experiential/intellectual change is so profound that people on either side of the shift can no longer communicate with each other. The phrase was coined by Thomas Kuhn, a physicist and philosopher who, as a student, read Aristotle and realized he didn’t understand him. Kuhn concluded that neither he nor Aristotle was stupid (!), but that the nature of the realities they inhabited had changed so dramatically that they no longer spoke the same scientific language.

Kuhn concluded that competing paradigms are frequently incommensurable; that is, they are competing and irreconcilable accounts of reality. Today, I think urban and rural Americans, and educated and uneducated Americans (to grossly and unfairly oversimplify the categories) live in those incommensurable different realities.

Election data strongly suggests that a significant percentage of Trump voters harbored sexist and racial resentments. When your world is changing, when technology is confusing and new norms are disorienting and your formerly privileged status is no longer so privileged, it is comforting to have someone to blame for that bewildering new reality. Trump obligingly provided those people with scapegoats: Muslims, African-Americans, women, Mexicans, Jews.

Meanwhile, educated people in urbanized environments, people occupying the new paradigms, comfortable with diverse populations and new technologies, have increasingly embraced that paradigm’s more cosmopolitan and inclusive worldviews.

So — yes, the divisions are certainly as deep as they were in the 60s. On the other hand, while history may “cycle,” it doesn’t actually repeat itself.

The wild card, as I see it, is that Trump is so obviously deranged and dangerous he makes Nixon look normal. Nixon was a much more conventional bad actor, and he did know how government worked, did understand foreign relations. He even championed policies that today’s rightwing would consider unacceptably liberal; he established the EPA, wanted national healthcare, went to China…

Trump is a very different kettle of fish. Moreover, he is pursuing all sorts of “policies” (if you can call his ego tantrums “policies”) that enrage multiple different constituencies. America has never seen anything like Trump, and my guess is that only hard-core neo-Nazis and other White Supremacists are going to stick with him for very long. Furthermore, Nixon did actually win the popular vote, albeit by a very small margin, while Trump started in a three-million vote hole that would have been even deeper but for GOP vote suppression.

Bottom line, in the 60s, not only were the “sides” more equally balanced, the so-called “country club Republicans” were firmly in the anti-flower-child camp. Today, those Republicans– Chamber of Commerce business people, responsible conservatives, mainstream Christians, officials from prior Republican administrations–are appalled by Trump, not by those who oppose him.

The critical unanswered questions are, first, whether several decades of persistent assaults on our constitutional and electoral institutions (gerrymandering, vote suppression, abuse of the filibuster, etc.) has weakened them so badly that a minority of lunatic Republicans can continue to keep control of the federal government despite the fact that majorities of Americans disapprove and are finally engaging politically; and second, if our time-honored checks and balances do fail, what happens then?

Comparisons to the 60s only take you so far. We’re in uncharted waters….


  1. Excellent, I see the weakness of the ‘gentrified’ urban areas expressed in their lack of unity thus those responsible conservatives are left to twist in the wind. Yes, uncharted waters.

  2. “…that the nature of the realities they inhabited had changed so dramatically that they no longer spoke the same scientific language.”

    As I see it; the nature of the realities we inhabit today has brought about such dramatic changes that we no longer speak the same English language. This is why so many millions of us are thinking to ourselves and asking others, “How the hell has this happened to America and Americans?” I have felt for months that I have been dumped into a foreign country and have no knowledge of the language.

  3. Those checks and balances aren’t working these days. How could they? The majority party in Washington no longer plays by the rules. Because of their thievery now to the lexicon of history books we add the terms “stolen supreme court seat” and “alternative facts”. What a legacy the Republicans are leaving to all of our grandchildren!

  4. It is sickening to watch Trump pretend to be president. He embodies the reason those divisions in the country will persist. I watched the announcement of his selection for SCOTUS justice last night. The carnival atmosphere seemed inappropriate for such an announcement but government is now the new reality tv. It did provide one good laugh for me (maybe for the other participants in our club) – Trump said that he had studied Judge Gorsuch’s writings, with a straight face. His public speaking skills are weak, his vocabulary is limited, but he can lie like nobody else I have ever seen.

  5. “a minority of lunatic Republicans can continue to keep control of the federal government despite the fact that majorities of Americans disapprove and are finally engaging politically”

    This is what we are continuously assaulted with and it does seem that they continue to gain more power by the day. Now, with R control in every branch, the extremists finally have the opportunity to take over complete control. The Rs that aren’t considered to be extremists are allowing this to happen because they are more beholden to their party than to the country and the citizens they represent.

  6. Copied and pasted from the Totally History web site:
    “The debate format was strenuous by today’s standard. The first speaker (Douglas) was given a full hour to speak uninterrupted. His opponent (Lincoln) spoke next for 90 minutes. Then the first speaker was given an additional 30 minutes to rebut.”

    The words above give us one thing to be grateful for regarding the debates we were subjected to which provided fodder for SNL and Alec Baldwin. I escaped the Trump Marathon this morning by watching the movie “Abe Lincoln In Illinois”, it didn’t provide a total escape. Searching through the History Channel web site for the Lincoln -Douglas debates (1858), I found similarities to our current situation which, to me appears to be Trump and the GOP renewal of Douglas’s view of states rights (sovereignty) position regarding slavery with Trump’s addition of other entire groups of people to deny basic civil rights to.

    From the History Channel web site:
    “Fundamental to Lincoln’s argument was his conviction that slavery must be dealt with as a moral wrong. It violated the statement in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, and it ran counter to the intention of the Founding Fathers.”

    Change the word “slavery” to “basic civil rights” and we are watching the ongoing protests, marches and rallies against states rights (sovereignty) being expanded to the federal level by Trump, Pence and all members of their administration. “The 60’s Redux”? We are witnessing and victims of the 1850’s rather than the 1960’s; how can we possible relate to what is going on? We are in”uncharted waters” regarding the 1960’s but the charted waters of the 1850’s leave no doubt as to where we are headed – if Trump & Co., cannot be stopped.

  7. The difference between today and the 60’s is the direction in which we are heading. During the late 60s, the Left was incensed because the Conservative Era had begun. Historians pinpoint the birth of the Conservative Era as 1964 and the campaign of Barry Goldwater. Irving Kristol, William Buckley, came to prominence in the early 60s. Today, the intransigence of the Right can be explained by their disgust with our much more liberal and open leanings. Liberals won the culture wars, the Right just refuses to accept it.

    I sensed this in 2009 when the Tea Party sprang up to protest a Black president and Keynesian economics to pull us out of the Great Recession, which, but for, Keynesian spending would have been another Great Depression. Watching the Tea Party protest by carrying pictures of President Obama with a bone through his nose gave me the insight to understand my dad’s disgust with Vietnam protestors. Most of my reading since 2009 has been to give me more insight into the phenomenon. Thanks, Sheila, for adding a new dimension to explore.

  8. As the tumult has unfolded since Inauguration Day, the picture today looks, to me, different than it did then. I don’t ask any more what would/will Trump do, but what would/will Steve Bannon do. I believe that the Republican gamble that Trump would settle for the celebrity while Pence ran the country has already failed. Trump has been taken over by Bannon. So the question is what would/will Breitbart do.

    One answer to that question which we see the beginnings of now is to invent reality. Like most extreme world views, neoliberalism doesn’t advocate adapting to reality as evolution and natural selection presuppose, but creating a world order that fits the authoritarian mindset of the extremists. They realize that perception is reality to many people so if one controls the perception of what is, one controls minds, and power follows.

    A paradigm shift and a compliant culture is created.

  9. In the 1960’s there existed two political cultures that were based on not on alternative facts, but alternative strategies. Each strategy had its stong and weak points, and within the mainstream of each party each strategy was a legitimate choice as a direction for our country.

    The Republican party of today does not have a legitimate strategy for the future of our country. It is a scam, a takeover vehicle for oligopolists that only gains political strength in in its shrewd misleading of the uneducated in our society, and the in intentionally dividing Americans along cultural lines.

    The division today, unlike in the 1960’s, is not about real futures and pasts. It is about the now and the imaginary past as created in weak minds by con men who use their political power to loot the country.

    And it is working.

  10. As always Professor Kennedy this is an insightful paper on the current crisis. As one who grew up in thgthge turbulent period of Vietnam and the attendant social clashes I see some similarities but a few differences. The glaring problem is that there is so much to fight in Drumph and his criminal band. In the sixties the main problem was the war, a solid and definable goal. Now the evils flowing from Washington are all over the place. You are tight Johnson and Nixion had many faults but they were at least sane and somewhat democratic. The Drumph cabal is lunatic incarnate. Our problem now is not just to bring an end to a specific evil such as the war but to bring down an entire corrupt system. This includes the current Republican regime, congress and all and the underlying institutions enabling them. Those include fundamental christian sects, tea parties and all other supremest groups.
    Uncharted waters is an understatement, we have to have a complete revision of out society.

  11. Sheila is “right on” with her post this day. Along with millions of others, I am incensed and outraged not only with the substance but also the breakneck pace of policy decisions being made by Bannon (aka the Orange One, the guy who signs the edicts for the TV cameras – always the showman) without consultation of the peoples’ legislature which, although dominated by Republicans, would at least offer an opportunity for minority debate via hearings etc. It seems that the plan is to get by with as much as is possible before the courts call a constitutional halt to such dictatorial tactics (though, as suggested and then abandoned, Trumpies have indicated that they may not even obey court orders in their zeal to destroy what is left of our democracy).

    Trump has already committed impeachable offenses with his abuse of power. He is clearly headed for trouble in holding on to his office and will not last four years before (I hope) some whistleblower ends Bannon’s quest (via Trump) for some sort of fascist government designed to supplant the tattered democracy to which we cling, hoping for an end to such assaults.

    Trump’s apparent love for Putin and disdain for NATO are, in my opinion, directly responsible for renewed Russian attacks in just the last few days in the Ukraine in which several troops were killed. Putin is testing our resolve and must feel rather confident that we will do nothing and may even remove sanctions against Russia, especially since Trump has posthumously approved Russian annexation of the Crimea. One has to wonder why Trump is so hard on our friends and so nice to our enemies. Could it be that Trump’s tax returns would show lots of loans from Russian oligarchs and banks? Likewise, and in a different context, why didn’t he add Saudi Arabia and Egypt into his travel ban that is causing such an uproar at our airports? We know he has businesses in both such countries. Any connection there, or are two and two five in this new and surreal world he has concocted for us and our future?

    Paradigm shift between now and the 60s? For sure, but then such shifts based on the issues of the day have been going on since the Revolutionary War, the slave or free arguments of new territories to become states leading up to the Civil War etc. It is not so much the “shifts” that concern me as our attempts to accommodate bringing such new ideas into altered mores and folkways and our economic and political cultures. I categorically reject fascism as such a means, and while democracy is a messier system than pure law and order under a dictatorship, it is a system that has my vote. I prefer the courthouse over the gestapo.

  12. The circumstances were different but the 1960’s and early 1970’s were cataclysmic. We had Malcom X, JFK, MLK and RFK assassinations within the 1960’s. The massive anti-war and civil rights demonstrations. Civil Rights workers were being killed, our inter cities were burning all across the country. We had the Vietnam War and all the Americans being killed each week. LBJ was forced not to run in 1968. There was also George Wallace as force.

    So as much as the Trumpet being elected was a shock, so far it pales compared to the 1960’s.
    I have already read and heard distressing news about the Democrats wanting to work with the Trumpet. Unless the Democrats can muster up the courage to oppose Trumpetism at all levels they will continue to be the minority party.

    The Republicans spent Obama’s eight years engaged in a scorched earth campaign. Do the Democrats have the courage to do the same thing???

  13. I don’t think we can understand what Trump is doing without understanding Steve Bannon, who has been openly explained that he is all about disrupting norms and creating paradigm shifts. I admit I completely missed the extent of his influence over Trump and overestimated Putin’s influence over Trump, but some of Bannon’s anti-globalist views (such as his distaste for the EU and NATO) dovetail quite nicely with Putin’s goals of expanding Russian influence at the expense of the influence of the U.S. and Western Europe. Right now, I can’t tell where Trump ends and where Bannon begins. Although I don’t think Trump is nothing more than Bannon’s marionette, I nonetheless think most of the ideas for what Trump has done originated with Bannon.

  14. I think it will be much different this time around. We have social media and 24/7 cable news that feeds on hysteria which wasn’t available back in the 60s.

    When #45 signed that executive order to ban Muslims, social media and twitter lit up and thousands of protestors showed up at airports around the country. Shoot when #45 was elected, a grandmother in Hawaii asked on facebook, “should we set up a protest the day after the inauguration?” That action alone fueled the largest march around the world on 7 continents; the largest in history. The orange one I now will refer to as #45 or Twitler needs to be careful. We can activate just as quickly.

    I got an email from your son today about beta testing his web site and I’m excited. The Indivisible Groups around the country are doing the same. I’ve joined a team in AZ to find new web applications with the same direction and idea your son came up with. We are a connected world like never seen before. We’re just in the infancy of protests and democracy. #45 will come to respect our methods because right now, he’s distracting us from his mission to rewrite our laws with his executive orders. We will #Resist!

  15. I don’t think people harbor sexist and racist “resentments” because the world is changing too fast and/or white privilege is threatened. They simply have acquired their bias through enculturation. Lets not give them a pass. If the world slows down and Trump restores white privilege, does anyone believe they will be less prejudice? I think we were shocked to find out so many of them remain.

  16. John; Trump destroyed any white privilege still existing in this country; the millions of white, honky, racist, bigoted, rednecks who voted for him just haven’t figured that out yet. His Executive Orders and destruction of rights includes them, too. His words and signed documents have not yet been fully activated. They will be destroyed along with those of us voted against him; he will show no favoritism between races as he rushes down his road to destruction of all semblance of democracy. His destruction is also aimed at Christians who do not read Pence’s Bible and follow his sermons to turn on those who do not meet his requirements of white, straight, racist bigots. Between Trump and Pence and with their appointees, they have run the gamut of people and beliefs to hate and destroy. The signs “The First 100 Days” is a clue to when the action really begins.

  17. Most real change takes decades to cement. I’m not certain we are in a different paradigm shift as much as we are perhaps mid-shift. We went from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, to the Age of Enlightenment, to the Industrial Age. We are now in the Post-Industrial Age and none of us has figured it out yet. What do we do with those whose lives have been disrupted? Their old jobs are never coming back, because they can be done more efficiently and more effectively by robots. A dying mule will give you one heck of a last kick. I’m hopeful that that’s what this period is.

  18. Racist Jeff Sessions would have fit right in the 60’s. Bannon and others, as well.
    Wingnuts are making it abundantly clear that they will use their congressional majorities to ram their racist, misogynist, pro korporation agenda through-changing the rules to get the people in power they want.

    Drumpf hasn’t drained the swamp, he has added millions of acres of new territory for it to grow.

  19. So now Trump “won” the election. Great.
    Also, citing “election data” seems a little self-serving, given their breathless predictions of a Clinton win. Can you list the data that proves that Trump supporters are uneducated country folk? Over simplified indeed. Or maybe just bigoted?

  20. Mike you remind me of the saying, when someone show you who they are; believe them.

    Sessions and Bannon haven’t changed; now they are in charge.

    And. Smirking.


  21. AgingLGirl, how does one reconcile a Jew in the WH working alongside a Leninist and white supremacists? Sounds quite potentially volatile and flammable to me. But what do I know?

  22. Yes, if this country and democracy are going to survive, we’ll need enough Republicans to do the right thing and neutralize or get rid of the mentally ill resident of the White House, at least until the midterm elections. However, when I see Republicans in leadership positions, like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, pander to Trump’s ego to get what they want, it frightens me. We are in uncharted waters, and I also think this era in history may end up being a reset button for democracy. [It’s the optimist in me–bad things have to be part of a bigger picture and lead to good things that wouldn’t have otherwise happened, or it life would be intolerable]. I’d like to believe that Trump, his extremism and mental illness will cause citizens to actually get involved in shaping the future in record numbers by taking to the streets to protest, pestering their Congressional Representatives to vote against Trump’s agenda, running for office, educating themselves on what’s going on, watching MSNBC, talking politics with family and friends, and so forth. That would be a good thing. Maybe in the long run, he’ll shake us up enough so that something good will come of it.

  23. Fox News deletes false Québec shooting tweet after Canadian PM’s office steps in. The office of the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has forced Fox News to apologise and retract a “false and misleading” tweet that inaccurately described the suspect in the Québec City mosque shooting as a man of Moroccan origin.

    The FOX News business model is “false and misleading” all the time.

  24. “When your world is changing, when technology is confusing and new norms are disorienting and your formerly privileged status is no longer so privileged”

    Oh please. Grow the fuck up.

    I have ZERO patience with these people, I CANNOT WAIT FOR THEM TO DIE. Yes, I actually look forward to their deaths. Sue me.

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