Law and Order—by Peter Eisenstadt

26 Nov 2014, London, England, UK --- London, United Kingdom. 26th November 2014 -- People hold candles, posters and placards at the candlelit vigil for Michael Brown, calling for justice and stressing that 'Black Lives Matter'. -- Over a thousand people, angry at the decision not to charge Darren Wilson with murder, attended a candlelit vigil at the US Embassy calling for justice and an end to the racism that allows police in the US and UK to shoot black people. --- Image by © Peter Marshall/Demotix/Corbis
Image by © Peter Marshall/Demotix/Corbis

First, the good news: Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton today, to the discomfiture of some diehard Bernie or Busters, and the gratified relief of everyone who wants to see Donald Trump defeated in November. Extended political campaigns tend to bruise feelings, and this was no exception, but the Dems will be united, behind a strong platform (wish it could have mentioned the occupation, however) and should be well positioned to win, with the backing of liberals and progressives, whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians, and everyone who is serious about not wanting Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.

So much for the good news. In Israel, a harsh new law restricting human rights NGO officially marks the turning away of Israel from international law, and the good opinion of mankind, though this was certainly a long time in the making.

In the United States there has been a week of disturbances, random violence, shootings and murders, that reminded many of the social dislocations and fissures of 1968. (However, with 200 plus soldiers dying weekly in Vietnam, and assassinations of major political figures, we still have a way to go in 2016 to catch up.) Still, as if to complete the analogy, Donald Trump said yesterday that he was the “law and order candidate.” He continued, ‘we must maintain law and order at the highest level, or we will cease to have a country, 100 percent, or we will cease to have a country.”

Is Trump the new Nixon? I don’t know, the two men are very different. (For starters, Nixon was much more intelligent.) But they certainly have this in common, and we in 2016 have this in common with 1968. These are both years in which America is staring into the abyss, the cover ripped off the usual lies that white Americans tell each other about race.   And whenever that happens, a lot of whites blame blacks for ripping off the cover, and making them feel uncomfortable.

Progress on racial equality is always going to be complicated and halting, with a balancing of many disparate agendas, and will proceed more gradually and less completely than many would want. And some would argue that we have made no real progress since 1968. They have a point: our cities are as segregated, if not more so, than they were forty years ago; there are a lot more guns; police violence remains endemic. I would argue that there have been changes, and not merely cosmetic ones, but that is an argument for another place and time.   And I reject the idea that America is so irredeemably racist that it is unable to deal with our most basic flaw.

But I would argue that the election of Richard Nixon essentially ended whatever progress had been made over the previous two decades. Bussing stopped, attempts to create school districts that combined urban and suburban areas were ruled unconstitutional; efforts to deal with ingrained segregation in housing patterns came to an end. White Americans became convinced that they had done enough, if not too much, to help blacks, to which blacks responded with increased levels of crime. The NRA began to emerge as an unstoppable and immovable force for the promiscuous proliferation of guns and firearms of all types.

We are having much the same debate now. We can agree to try to seriously address these problems, or we can fall back on the rhetoric of law and order. Electing Hillary Clinton certainly won’t solve all these problems. But if we repeat 1968, and elect the law and order candidate, we will solve nothing, and as our problems only worsen, less than nothing.