Head To Head: A Brief Look At 1950-1979

Los Alamos Daily Post


As promised, we’re going to take a fairly shallow dive into the history of the current “tribal” politics that seems to have taken over the stage recently.

Of course political divisions are not new. We did fight a civil war after all, but many of the roots of the current conflict between the two major political parties have their roots in the period beginning post World War II.

This period was followed by the 1950s and the McCarthy Era. Without dwelling on the complications, the identification of the American left as “un-American,” including in the mix, not only communists, but socialists, liberal democrats, fighters for social justice for African Americans and other “agitators” by the right wing of the Republican party, along with some Democrats, especially those from Southern states, left its mark on both political parties.

Many Southern Democrats would change their allegiance over civil rights, culminating in the presidential run of George Wallace as an independent candidate in 1968, running as a populist opposed to integration. That election was won by Republican Richard Nixon, in a comeback from his loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960. The 1960s saw the rise of political rhetoric about the “silent majority” who Nixon purported to represent, and the “east cost elite” represented by Kennedy.

This face-off was not based on the working classes vs. capitalists. Nixon was speaking for a “middle class,” now redefined to include almost everyone who wasn’t a member of the ruling elite, which included not only the rich, but intellectuals as well. The silent majority was envisioned as Christian, white and very patriotic.

A lot had changed in eight years between 1960 and 1968. The Vietnam War was in full swing, as was the rise of counter-culture. Rednecks battled hippies in the popular imagination, though support for or opposition to the war was never this clear-cut. The youthful nature of the anti-war movement and the counter-culture opened a “generation gap” where parents feared they were losing influence over their kids, who were seen as rejecting their values as well as their politics.

Many of the stereotypes of the “liberal” and the “conservative” in their current form were born in the 60s and 70s. A coalition formed between those who opposed the war and those fighting for various kinds of social justice. The political left, from cultural liberals to Marxists, made a comeback. A second wave of feminism arose, as did the gay rights movement. Anti-racism became a hallmark of the left, in words though not always in deeds.

Political rhetoric heated up in some symbolic (and simplistic) displays such as flag burning. Suddenly, it was uncool and politically incorrect to be patriotic if you were on the left. War became synonymous with imperialism. Although purportedly on the left, a weird prejudice against ordinary working people, especially if they lived in the South or somewhere rural, were serious Christians or served in the military and of course, were white, took over some people’s brains. Even a love of country music could brand you as a member of the no-nothing, prejudiced, jingoist right in some eyes.

Conversely, opposing the war was seen as running down the country, if not being an actual commie sympathizer. Being a feminist meant you wanted to burn your bra, hated men or wanted to destroy the family as an institution. Because many intellectuals opposed the war and many protesters were college kids, being educated was suspect. Living in a city or on a coast identified you as “not a real American.” Wanting a simpler life closer to nature obviously meant you were a dirty hippy. And so on.

This is very simplistic so don’t bother writing to tell me so. It’s painted with the broadest of brushes because we’re at the end my word count and we’re only to 1979! On to 1980 in the next segment into which we will squeeze 1980-2016.

Then we’ll tie things together and see what we’ve got. What does being a feminist have to do with opposing U.S. foreign policy or being born-again have to with support for the military? How does this stuff connect to being a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal or a conservative?

Stay tuned.