Sunday, July 10, 2016

2016 is NOT 1968...

For the past week various pundits have called up memories of 1968 while speaking about the mood of contemporary America.  A similar thought passed through my mind as reports from Dallas started, but I sense the comparison is too facile to be useful. There was a greater innocence throughout our culture in 1968 that has long since given up the ghost in 2016. Yes, we are entering an era of awareness about what is at stake in contemporary American race, gender and class politics that has parallels some of the challenges of the late 60's. But the American soul is far more cynical today than it was then. Indeed, too many of us have become inured to a level of social violence that would have been scandalous in 1968 to say nothing of a disdain for the common good that is normative.  Remember, Dr. King was still advocating and organizing for the "Beloved community" when his life was snuffed out in Memphis. Today, even the sound of this call to commitment sounds naive for the best we can hope for is a respite in the carnage.

In 1968, Sly and the Family Stone were inviting us - black and white and everyone else - to "Dance to the Music." The Beatles were singing "Hey Jude" and Paul Mauriat ruled the airwaves with "Love is Blue."  Joan Didion got it right when she noted in The White Album that like the Beatles themselves, our world was starting to spin apart - especially after the Manson murders. But she was only able to comprehend this in hindsight. In the moment, we were still "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" with the late Otis Reading,  "Feelin' Groovy" with Simon and Garfunkel, dancing to Marvin Gaye's "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," toking up with Janis and the Holding Company to "Piece of My Heart," and going wild with Jeff Beck's "Truth." The Stones released "Beggars Banquet" and the world was becoming more intense with dreams for peace, love and happiness. The Chambers Brothers were on fire with "Time Has Come Today."

That is clearly NOT the groove in 2016:  music, politics, popular culture, religion, economics and the quest for gender  justice are polarized to the breaking point. There is profound mistrust of the police in 2016 as 50 years of racial injustice breaks through white denial given the ubiquity of social media. Our Anglo population is bewildered that the election of Barack Obama did not initiate a post-racial America and continues to insist that ALL lives matter even as black blood flows in our streets. A staggering number of white people now celebrate "the Donald" as a viable alternative to the status quo even as he retweets white supremacist images and ideology.  And no one speaks about faith, hope and love as a shared political agenda in 2016. The best we can muster is that Secretary Clinton - a noble but deeply flawed candidate - is less ugly than Mr. Trump. 

I was listening to The Roots' while painting my living room earlier this week and thought: these brothers have been keeping the dream alive.  But they are preaching/singing to the choir. So, for those in denial, maybe 2016 feels like 1968. But it is much, much worse. And, at the same time, holds the possibility to make changes that are much, much better if we listen to the wounds and pain of our 21st century streets - and reclaim the invitation of love.

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