2020 feels like 1968.

Peaceful protests erupt into looting and burning. Police battle demonstrators in the streets. Black Americans vent their rage and frustration.

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination in Memphis lit the fires. This year, it was the death of George Floyd at the hands of policemen in Minneapolis.

In 1968, the nation was already divided by the Vietnam War — and protests against the war. This year, our nerves were already rubbed raw by the COVID pandemic, the economic meltdown, stay-home orders — and protests against the orders.

Then, as now, there was the sickening sense that the floor under American society was collapsing.

1968, like 2020, was a big election year. 1968 ended 36 years of Democratic dominance in Washington, since FDR’s election in 1932. It ushered in an era — more than half a century now — dominated by a Republican Party dependent on white Southerners and dedicated to the proposition that government is the problem, not the solution.

In 1968, an anguished president was trapped inside the White House by protesters chanting, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Four years after winning a historic landslide, he withdrew as a candidate for re-election. His dream of a Great Society slipped away.

Today inside a White House again surrounded by protesters, an angry president lashes out at critics, the media and political opponents. Four years after winning a historic upset, he fears his dream of a smashing re-election victory fueled by a rising economy is slipping away.

Nixon benefited from Democratic disarray, Roger Ailes’ TV genius and Strom Thurmond’s Southern Strategy. Republicans began their rise in North Carolina and the South. In 1972, North Carolina elected a Republican governor and a Republican Senator named Jesse Helms.

It almost didn’t happen. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the seemingly hapless Democratic candidate, nearly caught Nixon in the final days.

Former North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford and his chief political adviser, Bert Bennett, helped lead Humphrey’s national campaign. Bennett said years later that Humphrey would have won with another week.

But he didn’t. Nixon won and promised to “bring us together.” But he didn’t. The Vietnam War dragged on, and our racial divide persists today.

Politics, like life, rarely moves in a straight line. We don’t control events; they control us. Even people with power — governor, president, police chief, protest organizer — are no more in control than a ship in a storm is in control of the winds and waves.

A few months ago, we thought this election would be about impeachment and a roaring, soaring economy.

Then a virus kills 105,000 Americans and puts millions out of work.

A white policeman keeps his knee on a black man’s neck for almost nine minutes even after the victim pleads, “I can’t breathe.”

An angry protester throws a firebomb.

History pays no attention to human intention.

Gary Pearce is a former political consultant and frequent Pilot contributor. He was an adviser to Gov. Jim Hunt, 1976-1984 and 1992-2000 and is author of the book “Jim Hunt: A Biography.”

(2) comments

Kent Misegades

This is already dated - the economy is already roaring back. In 1968 the economy was in bad shape. In January 2020 it was in great shape, the reason the left manufactured the Wuhan flu crisis in a desperate attempt to influence the election. Just like Russian meddling, Ukraine, a ridiculous impeachment attempt, the usual cavalcade of lies and slander, the Wuhan Flu and the feigned outrage over an isolated incidence of a bad cop will not change the outcome of the upcoming election or the growth of the economy. There are two America’s though: one is leaping forwards, the other is still in denial over the 2016 election and rise of the moral majority.

ken leary

Kent, as your observations are generally considered astute disseminations of the current social, political, and economic realities existing in our society, perhaps you could develop your suggestion as to why the thousands of people protesting are "feigning" outrage: and probably even more fascinating will be your explanation as to how thousands of people all manage to, as you suggest, cohere in what you consider a subterfuge. As to the isolated bad cop theory, if one "bad cop" lies and all the good cops back the lie to protect the "blue wall" are they just a little wormy, still fit to consume? And, by the way, the only reason our economy is even solvent is that the financial terrorists have their own private bank at the Fed which buys all their bad bets. Be happy Kent, Trump will probably win again; and even if he doesn't due to his recent performance, Biden, who put both Alito and Thomas on the Supreme Court, is a good second choice for conservative republican types.

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