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'68 to '18

It is 2018, which means that it has been fifty years since that iconic year in Americana: 1968. For millions of Americans who lived through ‘68, the events that year defined a generation and still continue to impact current events today. Looking back at the many demonstrations, assassinations and scandals that defined 1968, we can note some obvious parallels to the present experiences of so many Americans in 2018. 

For many Americans, the turmoil of ‘68 began with the Tet Offensive, which rocked public confidence in the government’s conduct of the Vietnam War. Walter Cronkite—the broadcast journalist known unofficially at the time as “the most trusted man in America”—in reporting on the events during Tet helped to catalyze public opinion against the Johnson administration. Fifty years later in 2018, public trust in the government remains at a historic low, with mainstream media continuing to report on governmental misconduct. As journalistic bodies continue to comment on the incessant scandals of the Trump administration, we can perhaps look back at 1968 with a glimmer of hope; Americans have survived worse instances of government mistrust after all. 

‘68 as a year was also defined by a number of shocking assassinations. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April that year, while Robert F. Kennedy, the leading Democratic presidential candidate for the ‘68 election, was killed less than two months later. Young liberal America that year seemed to be robbed of its youthful, relatable political leaders to redirect our nation in more progressive direction. Flash forward to 2018, and the condition unfortunately has repeated itself; the Democratic Party continues to be defined by a stalwart geriatric elite. 

With police brutality continually making national headlines today, we can perhaps relate to the events at the Democratic National Convention in ‘68. At the DNC that year, the police attacked protesters, largely made up of radical left-wing students, who were protesting against the decision by party elites to endorse a moderate candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Considering the deep divisions within the Democratic Party of the present, which continues to deal with liberal elitism post-2016, the political parallels between 1968 and 2018 are eerily similar. Just like in 2016, when political divisions between more radical Sanders supporters and moderate Clintonites resulted in a miserable electoral defeat, 1968 likewise ended with Humphrey’s defeat to a figure so hated among liberal America at the time: Trump Tricky Dick. 

Lastly, here on campus in ‘68, the Silent Vigil at Duke represented the first instance of mass student activism at a hitherto sleepy parochial institution. During the Vigil in April, hundreds of students camped out on Abele Quad and pushed the administration to meet certain student demands. In 2018, especially in an age of great institutional diversity, there remains a similar sentiment for the administration to be better responsible for marginalized groups on campus. The student activism that helped to define Duke’s campus culture in the late ‘60s, however, remains largely missing in 2018.

Comparing the atmosphere of ‘68 verses ‘18—both years being characterized by a deep distrust in government, crises within American liberalism and deep political divisions—numerous parallels can be noted. Though we in the present tend to view the events of fifty years ago as far removed from our current lives, history continues to define who we are as a nation in the late 2010s. Commentators in 2068, no doubt, will retrospectively look back at 2018 with a similar historical eye, rummaging through our Twitter and Facebook feeds, to piece together the mood of our nation in ‘18. 


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