The past two years have been characterized by an inescapable sense of déjà vu. The last week, however, has taken the country back to a much darker place. We must resist sinking into the bitterness of the Vietnam War years.
President Donald Trump has been throwing tweets at his Democratic opponents that ring all too familiar to senior and near-senior citizen boomers.
He tweeted, “IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE! .... This is about love for America. Certain people HATE our Country.”
Substitute Richard Nixon and his supporters for Trump and his. Substitute the rhetoric of Tom Hayden and Mohammed Ali for that of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar. Substitute the Vietnam War and race relations for immigration and health care.
Supporters of the Vietnam War, especially the presidential administrations that pursued it, were subjected to overboard personal attacks like being called “baby-killers.” Radicals who called for a revolution that was never going to happen conflated bad foreign policy with capitalist economics.
The hurtful and ultimately un-American charges that war protesters hated America and the love-it-or-leave-it insistence hurled in political cynicism and genuine patriotic passion were the same then as now.
With thousands of Americans already dead in Southeast Asia, it was easy for some politicians to paint antiwar protesters as dangerous leftists and borderline communists. Many so feared and vilified then are captains of industry now.
It was just as hard for those passionately opposed to a bloody conflict that seemed like it would never end to limit rhetoric to polite persuasion and use only the tactics of electoral politics to get their point of view across.
In kitchens and living rooms across the country, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and longtime friends found themselves in passionate arguments that could and did end relationships, sometimes permanently.
True Americanism insists that all people can and should express whatever beliefs they have in whatever words they choose. That insistence is the most difficult and the most indispensable kind of American patriotism.
In the heat of the moment, it is hard to remember that vigorous debate is the beating heart of democracy. Every American, especially the president, should defend, not demonize, those so engaged.