It is slowly dawning on me – or, perhaps more accurately, sneaking up on me, because I certainly do not feel it – that I will be turning sixty this fall. Whatever effects this may or may not be having on me on a personal level, though, is something best left for another time. You see, this post is not about aging. Rather, it is (for lack of a better term) about history.
I will start by putting things into a rather astonishing perspective: Sometime in mid- or late December of this year, I will have officially been around for one-fourth of the history of the United States. (Do the math, kiddies.) I can already hear the comments from some implying that I was probably around for the Civil War; I will tell you right now to zip it, you young whippersnapper. No, I was not even around for World War II or the Korean War. (I know…technically the Korean conflict is still going because of the lack of a signed armistice…work with me on this one.) Even at that, things were quite hectic globally when I made my grand entrance (although my mother might have viewed it as more of an exit, perhaps). There was something of a conflict (translation: “war”) in the Middle East over the Suez Canal; at the same time, the Soviet Union was leading an invasion of Hungary with the aim of ousting a reform government. So…my world was off to a fine start from the get-go. And, although there were historic triumphs over the years, a goodly percentage of the historical events in my lifetime were of the sort that were, at best, a matter of dodging a proverbial bullet (Watergate, the Cuban missile crisis) or, more commonly, flat-out disaster (9/11, the JFK assassination). Now, not everything that happened over the years was on the same scale as these events…but there were moments scattered throughout that were destined for the history books. And the key word here is “scattered”; there might be a couple of historically notable stories in a given year…but as a rule, the really big stories seemed to spread out…to give one a chance to catch one’s breath, as it were.
And then there was 1968.
If there will ever be more of an effed-up year than 1968 in my lifetime, I really would not want to know about it. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy; the Tet offensive and the My Lai massacre in Vietnam; the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, mirroring that of Hungary a dozen years before; the collapse of Lyndon Johnson’s re-election bid; the debacle at the Democratic convention in Chicago…all of this as I was beginning to understand that, throughout history, events had ramifications beyond the events themselves. This was a fine time to first be grasping such an awareness…to be looking at the world around me and wondering just what in hell was going on, at the same time that the adults were likely wondering the same thing.
But now we are in 2016. There is the rise of Donald Trump, both in terms of him personally, as well as the spectacle of his rallies and his followers, and the pushback that is beginning to take shape – along with the uncertainty of how this will play out, in terms of the nomination, the election, and its aftermath. There is the imminent showdown over the vacancy on the Supreme Court. There is everything happening in the Middle East, with both the regional and the global implications – and how we here in America should best deal with the related threats. In regards to the opening sentence of the previous paragraph: I fear – for all of us – that 2016 may yet top 1968 when history looks back a generation from now. And, if it does, just what the implications will be for all of us.
Hopefully, though, I will someday celebrate the fact that I will have been around for one-third of our nation’s history…and that 1968 will still be tops on this particular list.