Tilting at windmills.

Author:Noah, Timothy
Position:2016 presidential race
 
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2016 isn't 1968

A lot of people have been comparing 2016 to 1968, and there are some parallels: racial turmoil, angry politics, violence. Just about everyone I know who's around my age--I was ten that year--remembers a parent saying the same thing, usually in the same words: "I don't understand what's happening to this country." That's what my mother said to me after Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were killed. America felt violent, unpredictable, and full of unappeasable rage.

This year doesn't feel, to me, as frightening or out of control. Maybe that's because I'm older, but there are real differences. Young Americans aren't being drafted to fight in a distant unpopular war, political leaders aren't being picked off by deranged assassins, and a once-popular president isn't taking the extraordinary step of canceling his bid for reelection. Despite Donald Trump's aspiration to re-create 1968's law-and-order election (with Trump cast in the unflattering role of Richard Nixon), the violent crime rate isn't doubling, as it did during the 1960s; it's halved over the past two decades. When we look back on 1968, we understand that its tumult was mostly a reaction to large and abrupt shifts in societal arrangements concerning race, sexuality, and deference to any sort of authority.

The current year is quite different. Americans are worried not about sudden disruptions but about problems of long standing like wage stagnation, growing income inequality, Islamist terrorism, easy access to military-style firearms, and police brutality. The only really rapid change has been in social acceptance of homosexuals and, now, transgenders, and I'd be very surprised if LGBT issues play much of a role in the general election; Trump just doesn't feel comfortable discussing them. Otherwise, the issues that voters are worked up about aren't new. People don't feel scared so much as fed up. Still, between mass shootings, Donald Trump's unfriendly takeover of the Republican Party, an endless stream of videos showing police killing African Americans, and (at this writing) two fatal ambushes by African Americans on police, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that parents once again are sharing their anxieties with young children. This time, though, I'd guess they're putting it in the past tense. Not "I don't understand what's happening," but "I don't understand what's happened."

The futility of trying to normalize Trump

The press really can't figure out how it's supposed to cover Donald Trump. In May, Joe Pompeo reported in Politico that Wall Street Journal editor Gerry Baker had admonished editors to be "fair" to Trump because he was a serious candidate, and because many serious people would support his candidacy. Pompeo took this--quite reasonably, I thought--as a sign that Rupert Murdoch, who owns the Journal, was getting behind Trump. But Pompeo's scoop prompted Alan Murray, chief content officer at Time Inc., to take exception. "Baker's lecture is totally appropriate, and even necessary," Murray wrote in an email. "The fact that there's barely a single person in the press corps who supports Trump, but a sizable segment of the nation [that] does, suggests we have to bend over backward to make sure we give our readers fair coverage." Margaret Sullivan, press columnist at the Washington Post, wrote in reply that "a considerable amount of bending over has already taken place," and that those press outlets that called Trump on his many falsehoods were typically answered with "insults and threats." Sullivan warned against inventing a "false equivalency" between the candidacies of Trump and Hillary Clinton.

False equivalence is precisely what the Wall Street Journal's Carol Lee and Reuters's Jeff Mason--the outgoing and incoming presidents of the White House Correspondents' Association--conveyed in a July op-ed in USA Today protesting the treatment of the press by the two presidential campaigns. First Lee and Mason cited Trump's refusal to grant access to certain reporters "because the candidate doesn't like a story they have written or broadcast." They then continued: "Similarly, refusing to regularly answer questions from reporters in a press conference, as...

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