A Brief History of the Last Fifty Years in This Nation of Swine

Photo by Diego Torres Sylvester | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Diego Torres Sylvester | CC BY 2.0


I’ve been trying my best to comment no further on the election, that replacement for democratic participation in this dying if not dead republic. This one in particular is an exercise in hatred of those whose lives don’t matter in the halls of power that too many citizens believe they have a stake in; and non-citizen residents hope their stake, their work, their lives are not dismissed and destroyed because of fear cynically manifested and manipulated.

My involvement in presidential election campaigns is rather spotty. This is primarily because after 1972, I figured out the fix was in. Nobody who even came close to agreeing with my politics was ever going to win the damn thing in the United States. In 1968 I was thirteen and supported Bobby Kennedy, then George McGovern. Along with Gene McCarthy, they both wanted to end the war.

After Kennedy was killed and McCarthy and McGovern failed in their efforts, I decided to support Dick Gregory who was running on the Peace and Freedom ticket. This decision was reached after watching the Chicago cops beat the shit out of protesters and everyone else who got in their way during the Democratic convention in that town.

Eventually, I passed out campaign literature for a variety of local Democrats in my town. On Election Day, I stood in front of the polling place my parents voted at holding a sign for a local antiwar candidate. He lost. I heard arguments between George Wallace supporters and supporters of Richard Nixon over who would be tougher on longhaired commies and Blacks. Suffice it to say those arguing didn’t call them Blacks or even Negroes. My understanding of my fellow citizens was negatively enhanced that night. After the vote was over, that became even more so.

Good old McGovern ran and won the Democratic convention in 1972. I was going into my senior year of high school on a military base in Germany. Several of us–GIs, military wives, local US civilians and a few of us high schoolers–campaigned for George up through Election Day. I would stand just off the base property passing out leaflets for the antiwar candidate. My memory tells me that most GIs took the leaflets and nodded their assent. So did many officers’ wives.

I rarely got harassed by military members who liked their man Nixon, but did almost get my ass kicked by a drunken government contractor who I later found out worked for the CIA. A couple Germans pulled him off me. The calamity of the landslide re-election of Nixon was only slightly lessened when he went down in flames a couple years later.

Although the drama of Watergate was delightful to watch, the damage had been done. The war was still dragging on, the revolution had been shot at, killed, co-opted and otherwise destroyed and the war on drugs was changing what citizens were willing to accept when it came to policing. In other words, many citizens had no problem with no-knock police raids and stop-and-frisk.

People look back on those days, especially, right-wingers and those who weren’t around and tell me that Nixon was a liberal compared to today’s “conservative” politicians. I’ve got at least two responses to that line of lies: firstly, he wasn’t a liberal; secondly the fact that people can get away with saying he was proves that his reign opened the way for the authoritarian, not quite textbook fascist reality we accept as commonplace today.

Nixon did some liberal things, but only because he had no choice. There was a popular left-leaning movement in the streets and that was reflected in the makeup of Congress. New Deal politicians and policies still had the favor of enough of the legislature in Washington to get modified versions of their programs made into law. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan fixed that, especially Ronald Reagan. His time in the White House was a reactionary house party complete with women-hating religious fanatics, Black hating attorneys, greedy corporate swine, union busters in the mold of Rockefeller in early-twentieth-century Ludlow, Colorado and a grade-B actor with a lying mouth, a sickly fake tan and a wife stoned on valium and cocktails. In other words, it was business-as-usual except with a special vengeance.

Reagan had made his political hay by baiting Blacks, Latinos, communists, hippies, gays, and pretty much everyone else Richard Nixon talked about on those tapes he made in his offices. As governor of California, Reagan saw Blacks and white radicals killed. In one utterance after Berkeley citizens turned a vacant lot into a park, he called for a bloodbath; it wasn’t his blood he wanted to bathe in. He made sure his buddies in corporate agriculture could do whatever they felt necessary to keep unions out of their fields. That included killing a few of the union’s organizers in the process. He increased the police powers and budgets and demanded the Bill of Rights be changed to make it even easier for police to get away with their daily thuggery.

Then Reagan brought all of the men and women who helped him in California to Washington, where they proceeded to fuck up the rest of the country in the California manner. Capitalists from Wall Street to San Francisco made DC a go to destination. Even though it had always paid off to have friends in that town; it paid off even more once Reagan took the reins.

Although his wars were small potatoes when compared to Vietnam and Korea, not to mention the big ones, his war budget soared. Crime of the Washington white collar sort was now legal. How else do you think Oliver North and his crew of scumbags got away with all that skullduggery in Central America? Richard Nixon told David Frost that “If the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”

Under laws passed before and during Reagan’s stay in the White House, most of the stuff that Nixon was talking about (and got caught for) was made legal. Banks got away with theft on a much grander scale and Oliver North got away with drug smuggling and illegal wars which included their share of war crimes. Hell, the Reagan team got into the White house by promising the Ayatollah and his men missiles and other ammunition for their military equipment they assumed control of after the bloody Shah departed his throne and the nation of Iran.

That election was called before a lot of Californians voted. I was in line at my polling place in Berkeley and left when I heard Reagan was the new boss. A couple thousand of us marched through Berkeley and burned the bum in effigy. He had ordered the troops into Berkeley in 1969 that killed James Rector and wounded many others in the battle over People’s Park. The next day we took over the administration building, got arrested and after being admonished by the liberal DA who told us to work within the system, went back to the streets.

Before he won re-election in 1984, we snuck into a campaign rally in Cupertino, unfurled a banner against Reagan’s wars in Central America, laughed as he lost his place reading his speech from a teleprompter and got escorted from the well-guarded rally site by some big ugly bouncers. After Election Day, we settled for some graffiti styling around Oakland.

After watching how it worked in the fascist post-coup state of Chile, Reagan and his friend Alan Greenspan made the meanest capitalist Milton Friedman the seer of the free market and joined the Wicked Witch Maggie Thatcher in selling off as much of the public trust as they could. They knew their successors would continue the sale. The banks did their Scrooge McDuck exercise in swimming pools of dollar bills and working people wondered what the hell was happening to the American dream. Bruce Springsteen, god bless him, made millions from singing about that washed out dream of hope and the growing despair of reality.

Bill Clinton took what Reagan wrought to heart, making friends with all sorts of financiers and other less than reputable types to take us through a good part of the Nineties. Credit was opened up so debt became the reason those of us who worked kept going no matter what the bosses did to our hours, conditions and pride. Without credit the dream would have died in the 1970s and the banks would have gone belly up well before 2008.

Clinton and his Congress put tens of thousands more police on the streets, armed with military weaponry, an aggressive set of new laws to enforce and a disdain for their fellow residents that would eventually rival the disregard the US torturers at Abu Gharaib had for the men they detained and tortured. Credit was expanded and the debt of a mortgage was shared by millions more. The banks traded money that existed only in the minds of those who thought they had it because of papers they signed.

Like Reagan, Bill Clinton kept his wars low key, only killing foreigners with cruise missiles and in low-intensity conflicts maintained by threats of something greater. That something greater arrived when the bombers began dropping their tonnage on bridges in Serbia. The bombers haven’t stopped although the targets have moved.

Clinton’s Democratic label kept the liberals out of the streets until some of them joined the anarchists, Marxists and labor in the streets of Seattle protesting the first of the new “free trade” deals. I never trusted Bill Clinton and never voted for the dude either. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig. That’s what the Democrats have been doing ever since Strom Thurmond left the party–when the Klan changed over to their GOP suits. The pretense is that they are the progressive party. The fact is that not only does the voting public believe they are, in the US of A, they truly are.

We find ourselves a couple weeks away from the biggest electoral contest in years. It is a contest between two candidates whose interests and politics coincide much more than they collide. The level of personal insults has sunk to a deeper low while the level of political conversation between the two is less than zero. Sexual assault is a topic for the campaign trail in ways never heard before. Debates come with a PG-13 rating and a trigger warning. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, America doesn’t talk, it swears. If this is the end of the Empire, let’s get on with it.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.