Ghost of 1968 Democrat Convention Riots Returns to Chicago

Chicago 1968 Riots CC

Donald Trump was forced to cancel a Friday campaign rally scheduled in Chicago, ahead of Illinois’ primary on Tuesday, as thousands of protesters marched outside the planned venue for the rally, raising the threat of possible violence.

The scene echoes the 1968 rallies outside the Democratic convention that helped give President Richard Nixon his 1968 landslide.

These protests comes at a fortunate time for Donald Trump. In the past several days, his campaign has faced scrutiny from the press over the behavior of some of his supporters at his campaign rallies. The Trump campaign has argued that his rallies have been beset by disrupting protests throughout the campaign.

In a matter of hours, a campaign talking point became a real visual image for millions of American voters. There is a growing anxiety in the country, beset by economic stagnation and increasing unrest in the world.

The times seem ripe for a Trumpian version of Nixon’s law and order campaign targeted at that “silent majority.” The ghosts of 1968 have risen again, and perhaps lifted Trump closer to the White House.

Democrats still live with the ghost of street protests and violence that marked the 1968 Democrat national convention. During that convention, the national Democrat establishement, led by President Lyndon Johnson behind the scenes, orchestrated the nomination of Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

After President Johnson announced he would not seek reelection, the Democrat Party was ripped apart by a bitter primary between activists opposed to the Vietnam War and allies of Humphrey, who supported continuing Johnson’s policies in Southeast Asia.

The Democrat primary occured against a backdrop of anti-war protests and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Kennedy, at the time of his murder, was a leading contender for the Democrat nomination.

Vice President Humphrey did not campaign in any primaries, prefering to collect delegates at party-controlled caucuses.

At the time of the convention, no candidate had enough delegates to secure the nomination outright. Kennedy was second in the overall delegate count, but his death had left these delegates uncommitted.

Eventually, through the aggressive intervention of Democrat party leaders, Humphrey secured the nomination over anti-war candidate Sen. Eugene McCarthy.

It was not an auspicious start to the Democrat campaign, but it was probably still winnable against a resurrected Richard Nixon, former Vice President and failed Presidential and California gubenatorial candidate.

It was events outside the convention, however, that ultimately doomed the Democrat ticket.

Anti-war protesters marched around the convention, protesting the Vietnam war and the machinations of the Democrat machine inside the convention hall. Then Chicago Mayor Richard Daley dispatched Chicago police officers to contain the protests. The protests quickly devolved into a violent riot.

The images of the violent street protests were beamed to TVs around the country, distilling the unrest that had been building around the country into live, streaming images.

Nixon ran his campaign on the issues of law and order and achieving a peaceful end to the Vietnam War. Nixon’s campaign was intended to apppeal to the “silent majority” who were weary of the anti-war protests and the violence that was increasingly prevelant in America’s cities.

Nixon won the election against Humphrey in a landslide. It should be pointed out, though, that Nixon was hugely assisted by a third-party run by Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who split the Democrat vote. Wallace won almost 50 electoral votes in the contest.

The images of protests in Chicago circling the globe on Friday reawaken the dark days of the 1968 Chicago riots. Over the past several months, Chicago has been plagued by a series of protests against the police.

These protests have largely been hidden from the public, as the media has turned its attention to other issues. The massive protests on Friday, however, thrust into American homes the very real unrest that is building in America’s cities.


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