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We are living through the most turbulent times since the Vietnam era

Posted by / June 1, 2020

The Associated Press recently ran an article with a disturbing title: “‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters US.” I take serious issue with this kind of catastrophizing language, which is why I want to reframe their point and compare the past several years to the Vietnam Era. Let’s stick to two points of comparison:

  • Watergate/Trump: Law professor Neal Katyal, the Obama-era acting solicitor general has said the Trump White House is “engaged in unprecedented obstruction, in many ways even worse than President Nixon during Watergate.” Whether or not Trump is guilty of anything (let’s not get into that here), we can’t deny that there is a crisis of leadership in the United States right now, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the mass disillusionment with government during the Vietnam War and Watergate.
  • Riots: The Kent State shooting was but one example of protestor-police clashing and violence during the Vietnam Era. There have been similar examples since, notably the Rodney King riots in the 1990s. What separates the protests of the past few years from those in the years after the Vietnam War is, 1) their scope, and 2) the backlash against police brutality. Unlike any time since Vietnam, the past years have seen a rise in nationwide protests, mostly against Trump. What’s worse, we’re seeing a rise in police brutality against protestors and a massive public backlash against such authoritarian measures.

These are not separate points. They’re interconnected, they create a feedback loop contributing to a crisis of authority. I don’t think we can look to the post-Vietnam Era to predict what will come next, unfortunately, but whatever happens it will be big.

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