[Author’s note: I am stepping out of 1968 and back into 2020 for this post. As some of you know, I have been writing about a “simpler time” for the past few months. It’s been fun creating the Lake Country News Society page and letters from Irene. But one of my readers informed me that his recollection of 1968 was significantly different from the one I was creating on my blog. So I have been researching the “then and now” which brings us to this post. I hope you appreciate this writer’s confession, that all that glitters is not gold–and while it may have been a simpler time, it was far from perfect.]
From Covid-19, civil unrest, Olympics and elections, the similarities between 1968 and 2020 bears examination. Does history repeat itself? And what can we learn from it? Or is every generation doomed to reinvent the wheel, oblivious to what came before.
It feels uncanny. I first became aware of the similarities between 1968 and 2020 while writing a blog about the innocent and carefree life of living on a lake in northern Minnesota, 1968. While I waxed on about the simplicity of 4-H clubs and state fairs, I realized the undercurrent of the times were not unlike today—civil unrest, killings, a divided nation, a global crisis.
So here are a few notable events:
- 1968: it was Leap Year! Olympic year! Presidential election year! Just like 2020.
- North Korea was a pain in the neck then as they are now. In 2020 North Korea’s Kim Jong Un revealed a new intercontinental ballistic missile that they claimed can carry nuclear warheads to the United States thereby increasing the tensions between North Korea and the rest of the world. In 1968 they captured the USS Pueblo, and put 83 US crew members into POW camps. After accusing the US of spying, they tortured the US POW’s until finally releasing them December 23, 1968. They kept the Pueblo as a souvenir.
- We have Covid-19, they had the Vietnam War. The highest war casualty toll recorded 543 killed in action and 2547 wounded in a single week. In one DAY–November 6, 2020–126,400 Covid-19 cases were confirmed, and 1,186 deaths were attributed to Covid-19 in the US alone. The Vietnam War was a flashpoint of conflict and plagued President Lyndon B. Johnson’s term. The way President Johnson handled the Vietnam War became a key issue for the Presidential election. Likewise for Trump and Covid-19. While Johnson didn’t run for re-election, his VP Hubert Humphrey did. In the weeks before the 1968 election, Johnson pulled troops from Vietnam, but it was too little, too late. Hubert Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon. In the weeks before the 2020 election, Donald Trump and a circle of his supporters and family contracted Covid-19. He recovered, but his campaign did not.
- Donald Trump dodged the literal and virtual bullet in the early months of 1968 and 2020. In spite of being a high school athlete, he received a 1-Y medical deferment from the military for bone spurs thus avoiding military service during the height of the Vietnam war. In early 2020 Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, but was acquitted by the US Senate, thereby remaining in office.
- Two icons of the 1960s era were assassinated: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. On Memorial Day Weekend 2020, George Floyd gasped, “I can’t breathe,” as he lay pinned down and dying under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis.
- The War, Kennedy and King’s assassinations sparked student protests initially at Columbia University in New York. NYC police broke up the protests, beating and arresting hundreds of protesters. Protests spread worldwide in places like Poland, West Germany, Mexico City, Paris, Italy. Likewise, after George Floyd’s death, protests broke out across the United States and the world, reigniting the Black Lives Matter movement. The deaths, War, and Covid-19 became political flashpoints for their respective eras.
- Nixon and Trump became the candidates of “law and order.”
- The Democratic Party candidates were both Vice Presidents, Hubert Humphrey served with Lyndon Johnson, Joe Biden served with Barack Obama.
- 1968 and 2020 were Olympic Games years. At the Mexico City Olympics Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised black gloved fists during the National Anthem in recognition and support of the Black Power movement. They were kicked off the US Olympic team and stripped of their medals. The 2020 Tokyo Games were postponed until 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice at a 2016 NFL game. After 2020 George Floyd killing, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that the league should have recognized and supported Kaepernick and other African American players, and allowed players to peacefully protest. Protests and support of Black Lives Matter were visible throughout professional athletics the remainder of 2020. Kaepernick, who was fired from the NFL and San Francisco 49ers, still had not been picked up to play football.
- The presidential election was contentious and close. Nixon wins with the “Silent Majority.” George Wallace ran as an Independent with a segregationist platform. Final tally: Nixon, 301 electoral votes, 32 states, 31,783783 popular votes; Humphrey, 191 electoral votes, 13 states plus DC, 31,271,839 popular votes; Wallace, 46 electoral votes, 5 states, 9,901,118 popular votes. One could say Wallace cost Humphrey the election. In 2020 Joe Biden is declared the president-elect on November 7, four days after the Tuesday election. Four states were key: Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. Trump tweets and speech blocked for fact checking, no concession speech was forthcoming. Unprecedented voter turnout, a substantial number of votes cast via absentee and/or mail-in due to Covid-19. Trump threatens massive legal action. Tally to date*: Biden, 290 electoral votes, 25 states plus DC, 75,629,529 popular votes; Trump 214 electoral votes, 25 states, 71,060,118 popular votes.
Many have said 2020 is a year to forget. I would argue it is a year to remember. Let’s not make the same mistakes twice…
or three times;
*as of November 9, 2020.
2 thoughts on “Similarities between 1968 and 2020 include Presidential elections.”
Not sure if this is true for you, but 68 was the year I turned 21. I was in college at Univ. of Michigan. I had transferred there and was new to the campus. I also had changed majors so EVERYTHING seemed new to me. Vietnam was terrible in 68. Early in the year was the TET offensive which involved even more killing on both sides. LBJ gave up running for President when Minn. Senator Eugene McCarthy did well in early primaries. Then came the MLK murder followed by urban riots. The primaries were favorable to Robert Kennedy until he was murdered in June. Humphrey plodded along in the campaign under the shadow of LBJ, without a clear Vietnam policy. Nixon said he had a secret plan to end the war. The Democratic convention was held in Chicago and was the scene of a police riot against protesters, some of who were from Univ. of Michigan. I recall voting absentee and voting for the only black candidate on the ticket since I couldn’t see much difference between Humphrey and Nixon (I was of course wrong.). It was a depressing year (See archived exhibits at MN History Center.) One redeeming feature was the late December flight of Apollo 8 that went around the moon and sent back great photos of Earth from the Moon. We have much to learn from history, but 1968 is mostly about what NOT to do.
It was indeed a tumultuous year. But you are right, Apollo 8 capped it. I didn’t add Apollo 8 because we are still waiting for the 2020 redeeming feature, but it may be the vaccine? Thank you for your insightful comments.