During the rebel Sixties, one could easily identify the ranks of the hardcore left by their constant predictions of a coming fascism and the evident glee with which they welcomed the prospect. Whether this was the product of a serious attempt to read the political winds, or merely a radical wish was irrelevant. They defended it as a strategy of “the worse the better.” In the 1968 presidential election, it was better to elect a fascist like Nixon than a moderate like Hubert Humphrey – that is, if you were serious about revolution.
Of all my memories of the Sixties the revelations provoked by these perversely revealing encounters remain the most vivid. This is not difficult to understand. The life I had devoted to a “progressive” revolution was about to be derailed by a political murder that opened my eyes to the fact that the movement I was part of was actually driven by a malignant hatred, which could only end in destruction, and the perversion of every value that my comrades and I claimed to cherish.
These revelations were crystallized in conversations I had with the late Tom Hayden, a Machiavellian leader of the New Left and (I am ashamed to admit) a friend of mine at the time. In 1968 Hayden organized a bloody riot at the Democrat convention which he had designed to destroy the presidential campaign of Hubert Humphrey and elect Nixon, the very politician whom he was predicting would institute fascism in America, and cost millions of Vietnamese lives.
The following year, I found myself standing next to Hayden during the so-called “Battle of People’s Park.” Leftists had occupied land owned by the University of California, which its officials had reserved for student housing. Ronald Reagan who was governor of California at the time ordered in local police and the California Highway Patrol to disperse the occupiers. As the cops began firing tear gas canisters into the crowds, a chasm opened up between Hayden and myself. I was frightened that people would get hurt – and one young man did lose his life. Hayden saw my fear, turned to me, and in the calmest voice explained that “we have to lure middle class kids into situations where they get their heads cracked by the police. That will radicalize them.” In short, the worse the better. I was horrified.
Events of the last weeks have brought these disturbing memories to the surface. The curves of the coronavirus are flattening, hospitalizations are falling, medical supply lines are being strengthened and extended, potential viral cures are being successfully tested and the stock market which was headed towards depression levels has rebounded with the greatest two-week gains since the Great Depression. Yet, even as these positive developments are creating optimism and hope in the country, the left is warning that hope is dangerous, while escalating their attacks on Trump — the man on whose watch this turnaround is being accomplished.
The attacks are directed even at the encouragement Trump gave to the 22 million Americans recently unemployed because of the shutdown orders from (mainly) Democrat governors. These Americans of modest means are fearful that the downturn could get so great their jobs would never return. The leftwing site The Daily Beast even ran a headline saying “Trump Leads Pro-Plague States in a COVID Civil War.”
Polarization over the prospect of reviving the economy had already begun with Trump’s presidential hope that the shutdown could be accomplished on Easter Sunday, a date which his scientific advisers caused him to abandon as premature. In Michigan, flag-waving Trump supporters descended on the State Capitol to protest their Democrat governor’s excessive and arbitrary shutdown orders. These actions dramatized the political responses that divide the nation.