There’s an old joke that goes, “If you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t there.” I confess to being a horribly vapid teenager in the Sixties. Though I grew up just 35 miles from the Haight-Ashbury, I never had any urge to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” When I did actually go to the Haight-Ashbury, in 1970, it was on a school field trip that was more anthropological than experiential. And by then, the influx of disillusioned teen-agers from around the country had subsided.
But I find myself fascinated by that time. And sadly … living through it again.
In the 1960s, we had a highly vocal minority of society protesting against the majority. Where the left felt we had no business in Vietnam, others felt we were saving it from Communism and the domino theory.
The rest of the country looked on in shock and dismay at these youngsters, kids who had had the cushiest upbringing ever, protesting against the very life and society that gave them the freedom to protest. Add racial tensions that caused cities across the country to ignite in flames almost every summer, along with too many assassinations to count, and a lot of people thought America was disintegrating before their very eyes.
Fast forward 40 years, and what do we have? A highly vocal minority of society protesting against the majority. This time, however, it’s on the right. The Tea Party is speaking out against taxation, against immigration, against excessive regulation of everything from guns to commerce. And they’re doing so with vociferousness that gives me a bad case of déjà vu.
Consider these quotes:
“The lines are drawn. Revolution is touching all of our lives.”
“We cannot as a nation survive much longer. We must take a page from our own history at the Alamo and ‘draw a line in the sand.’”
Sound similar? The first one is from Bernardine Dohrn, a University of Chicago student who joined the Weathermen, quoted in a 2003 article in the UK Guardian. The second one is from right-wing tongue-wagger Glenn Beck.
(Note: It galls me to link back to Glenn Beck, because in the world of Web traffic that indicates influence, which is the last characteristic I would want to ascribe to someone who reminds me of nothing more than the bastard offspring of Captain Kangaroo and Dancing Bear.)
Now that I’ve grown out of being a vapid teenager, I’m looking slack-jawed at this vocal minority and thinking, What the heck are you protesting? You’re protesting immigration in a country built by immigrants? You’re protesting gun regulations when the mentally ill can roll into shopping center parking lots and start shooting congresswomen and their constituents? You’re protesting government regulations when corporate executives clearly favor their salaries and bonuses over sane economics? You’re protesting big government but refuse to give up Medicare? The Tea Party makes no more sense to me than the rioters and the Weathermen must have made to my parents.
The real question is, what did those Sixties protests change? Today the U.S. still seems to enjoy telling its military to buckle up and head off into foreign countries where traditional warfare is outmoded. And the Communism we were so worried about? China is now one of our biggest trading partners and is reputed to hold the mortgage on the U.S. treasury. As for the rioting, we may have more tolerance and less racism, but we still have ghettoes full of discouragement.
Though anger boiled over then, and anger is boiling over now, America is still here. It didn’t disintegrate after the 1960s and it will not disintegrate after this decade either. But like a horribly vapid teen-ager, it just doesn’t seem to learn anything.