US ELECTION 2020: history in the making … again

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In the run-up to today’s US Presidential election our student reporting team aims to explore, explain, enlighten and  even entertain you on the race for the White House.
Lyndon B Johnson is sworn in as President of the US on board Air Force One, as Jackie Kennedy looks on, immediately after the assassination of her husband, President John F Kennedy, in 1963.


THOSE who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, goes the saying … and it seems this US election proves the point.

If we wind the clock back six decades to the Sixties, it’s possible to see the direct parallels 60 years on.


Take 1964, for example…


Perhaps no other election can claim to be more similar to the current race than the 1964 clash between President Lyndon B Johnson and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.

This year has seen racism at the heart of public struggle, with the Black Lives Matter movement spreading across the United States and the world after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minnesota police.

Back in 1964 the issue of race was also highlighting the central schism in American society, with Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement fighting to break down segregation in public places, as well as remove barriers put in place by several states to prevent African Americans from voting.

The reaction from the occupant of the Oval Office then – Lyndon B Johnson – could not be more different to that of its current occupant.

The civil rights movement in ’64 was boosted by ‘LBJ’, to address concerns of African Americans, such as segregation and the right to vote, particularly in southern States. He continued the work of assassinated President John F Kennedy and guaranteed significant civil rights by signing into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Johnson’s support of civil rights also put him on the war path with his Democratic colleagues in congress, who saw it as an attack on the southern way of life.

President Trump has introduced a nationwide ban on the use of choke-holds by police in response to the murder of Floyd, but has not been as conciliatory to the concerns of the BLM movement as Johnson appeared to be.

Trump has even claimed that BLM “is hurting the black community” and has sought to portray the protesters as the enemy, while placing himself firmly on the side of law enforcement.

While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not eradicate racism in America, it was a major step forward in the fight for civil rights: it remains to be seen whether the Black Lives Matter protests will have the same impact on the presidency of either Donald Trump or Joe Biden.


Then there was 1968…


Civil unrest in America was also a hallmark of the 1968 election, which saw America tearing itself apart, again over the issue of race, but also over the Vietnam war, with the country seeing protests over the death of Martin Luther King and also the continuation of the conflict, as well as the much-criticised US military draft (conscription) system.

The Republican contender in that year was a certain Richard Nixon.

Celebrity-loving President Richard Nixon pictured with Elvis Presley – not the last president to enjoy the limelight of celebrity.


Both Trump and Nixon, in the face of mass public unrest, sought to present themselves as the candidate of law and order: Trump has aligned himself firmly with law enforcement, publicly backing police officers and the use of force on protesters.

Where the two elections differed is that Nixon was the opposition candidate, criticising the administration failure to uphold the law from the outside, whereas Trump has been in charge while civil strife has grown under his administration.

On the Democratic side, the party seems as split now as it was in 1968, albeit over different issues.

In 1968, the disagreement was most notably on the issue of the war, with the party establishment favouring continued US presence in Vietnam. These events came to a head at the party convention in Chicago, when the event was overshadowed by protests outside, with over 500 protesters arrested by Illinois police. Today the debate rages between the progressive wing, under Bernie Sanders, and the party establishment under Biden.

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