I turned 7 in 1968, and though my memories are necessarily fuzzy, I can still sum up a queasy sense of the chaos that pervaded the year as it streamed out of the 12-inch black-and-white television in our dining room.
The president announcing he wouldn’t run for reelection. Assassinations, first of Dr. King and then of Bobby Kennedy. Urban riots showing neighborhoods burning along with nightly footage of the war in Vietnam. Massive demonstrations against the war, and Columbia, the university in my neighborhood, shut down by a sit-in.
The long hot summer, concluding with Chicago cops clashing with protesters outside the Democratic National Convention. The year 1968 was characterized by violence at home and violence abroad, and a sense that America itself was on fire.
My son turns 7 in a month. Forty-nine years from now, will he summon up a similar feeling of chaos when he thinks back to 2017?
The first five months of the year have certainly felt like a time of political disorder in the United States, a disorder that some have welcomed as the cost of changing the country’s direction and others have found enervating and frightening.
It’s been bad, but not 1968-level bad.
But then came Wednesday’s ghastly shooting spree at the congressional Republican baseball practice.
This was a planned act of political slaughter to make what appears to be an ideological point — the first such major event since the assassins’s spree that began with JFK in 1963, reached an apogee in 1968, and came to an end with the nearly successful attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Will this prove to have been a lone event? Or is it the beginning of another long hot summer my son will remember forever — the herald of a new kind of chaos with a signature frighteningly reminiscent of 1968?
Even the fact that I can ask this question, and that I’d wager you are not immediately scoffing at it, suggests we may be at the precipice.
We all know the kindling is there. The baseball-field shooter was a consumer of far-left anti-Republican media; it would only take one consumer of media on the other side to seek to equalize the suffering to ignite a national powder keg.
I don’t want to invoke all the clichés of the past decade but you know them all — we’re a divided nation, we’re all living in our own bubbles, we don’t even accept the same facts and we hate each other.
The problem is these clichés are largely true.