Surreal seems to be the proper word to describe this current presidential election cycle, whatever your political party. There have been accusations of it being rigged, with two highly distrusted and unpopular candidates each accusing the other of lying. There are revelations through damaging videos, past sex scandals, members of one political party publicly bailing on their prime candidate, an illegal email server, embarrassing WikiLeaks hacks and accusations of Russian interference.
We still have a few weeks remaining before the voting. Who knows what new revelations are in store?
In actuality, this election seems to follow a pattern that has antecedents in the 1952 and 1968 presidential elections, according to George Friedman in his “Geopolitical Futures” article entitled, “Is the 2016 Election Unique?” The similarity that unites these three periods of political history is that the United States was emerging from a foreign war that had gone badly.
The election in 1952 took place in the midst of the Korean War. That war was a fight against the Communist North Koreans who had invaded South Korea to unite the country. In June 1950, U.S. and South Korean forces had been pushed to the southern tip of the peninsula and were fighting for their survival, when American Gen. Douglas MacArthur staged a daring amphibious invasion on the port city of Inchon, catching the North Korean Army by surprise, and forcing them to retreat to the north.
Victory for the West seemed imminent when, upon reaching the Yalu River on the border of China, the communists sent over 1 million soldiers. United Nations forces were pushed back to South Korea as bloody fighting continued, eventually ending in a stalemate. Because of the conflict, President Harry Truman became so unpopular that he chose not to run for another term.
The quagmire in Korea caused the rise of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who raised the alarm that communism was spreading, not only in the world but also into the U.S. government. He began a witch hunt, making wild and unproved allegations against government officials, then the motion picture industry and the Army. McCarthy was extremely popular with a huge American following. Offering an explanation for U.S. lack of success in Korea brought about his rise to fame.
The Vietnam War was the cause of the turmoil in the 1968 election. The war had gone badly, with no end in sight. President Lyndon Johnson, realizing that he, like Truman, had no chance of winning, declared he was not going to run for re-election.
Bobby Kennedy became the Democratic frontrunner against Richard Nixon. An angry Palestinian immigrant ended Kennedy’s life in Los Angeles after he had won the California Democratic primary. Only two months earlier, a white racist had assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis. The unpopular vice president, Hubert Humphrey, became the Democratic nominee, although he was seen as a lackey of the despised President Johnson.
The Republican candidate, Nixon, was also unpopular, having lost the 1960 presidential race to John Kennedy and having been unsuccessful in his attempt to become governor of California. But the Republicans viewed him as “acceptable.”
He appealed to “the silent majority” and turned anti-war protesters into traitors against American values. Nixon also subtly, but successfully, suggested and encouraged racism to gather support in the South.
Do you see parallels in these two election cycles and our current presidential circus? The one common factor is, according to Friedman, having to cope with frustration of failures against foes, be they North Koreans and their Chinese communist and Soviet allies, or communist North Vietnamese and their allies, or Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East.
During the 1952 and 1968 elections, McCarthyism was crushed, a mainline stable Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency in 1954 and Nixon defeated the anti-war movement to win the election in 1968. Later, Nixon had to resign in 1974 over Watergate, but from then until now the opposing parties have viewed no presidential candidate as a threat to the nation’s survival.
“American politics is rough, but the sense that the current situation is unprecedented comes from Americans’ failure to remember their own history,” according to Friedman.
We can learn from the 1952 and 1968 elections to see what the pattern might be in the future. According to Friedman, America is in another phase of rebalancing after a difficult war against implacable foes. We will surviveand rebound.
This too, shall pass.