I wrote this a year ago for the Times-News in Burlington, North Carolina when the nation was on fire — shootings were rampant, political turmoil was everywhere and we seemed on the precipice on a major cultural shift. A year later here we are only in this reality America elected George Wallace. This is the column.
When one of our summer interns came in to work on Friday his first stop was my office. His eyes were bloodshot. He looked about two hours short of a good night’s rest.
I knew how he felt.
He had a question.
“Are we living in the end times?” he asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied. “It’s more like we’re living in 1968.”
The horror that had transpired in Dallas just hours earlier was still fresh in my mind as I walked into our deserted newsroom on Friday morning. My first thought upon walking into the Times-News building: The reporting staff at the Dallas Morning News certainly isn’t operating in an empty space this morning. They’re still out at the scene of a massacre born from a combustible mix of hatred, anger and insanity. They’re exhausted. They’re dirty. They’re hungry. Their families want them to be at home. They need to know they’re safe. They need hugs.
But instead, they’re still working to tell a story, a story America has to not only hear this time but actually listen to — there is too much at stake to do otherwise.
Five Dallas police officers shot dead, seven more wounded in a well-planned attack at an otherwise peaceful protest about police-involved shootings of black Americans that occurred earlier in the week. It happened not far at all from one of the worst crimes in American history — Dealey Plaza, the site of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
This one will rank near it.
And my next thought was we’ve been here before.
I WASN’T aware of the shooting in Dallas until just before midnight Thursday, a couple hours after it happened. That’s like dog years in the modern digital world of immediate news and instant conjecture. By the time I logged on early Friday morning, the usual camps were already forming. There is a mourning group, the questioning group — those seeking answers to that which can’t be rationally explained by anyone. And there is a blame group, the cynical and skeptical group. They provide quick windshield observations often based on political views. They don’t seek solutions, mainly scapegoats, blame magnets and punching bags.
But there seemed to be a difference this time. The first camp slightly outnumbered the latter. It usually shakes out about 50-50. Somewhere in there, a new camp emerged.
I’ll call it the frightened group — the almost mortally petrified group. They can’t understand how society has devolved to this point. They want lives that make sense, safe cities and neighborhoods filled with polite and caring human beings. They want police who aren’t shooting people without reason. They want people who do as police ask and don’t put officers in a position to make potentially deadly decisions. And they want people who aren’t taking potshots at police officers doing their jobs.
What they want is a safe nation for their kids. They want a peaceful community for themselves.
They want something normal.
Nothing else makes any sense at all.
I DIDN’T get to bed until around 2 a.m. Friday morning. That isn’t so weird. I’m a night owl. But Friday morning I was working — updating our website from home. I thought people needed to have the latest accurate information out of Dallas. The last Associated Press update I posted moved at shortly after 1 a.m. I spent another hour interacting with a shocked public on social media.
People of my generation, the new breed of dinosaurs walking upon the earth, were pretty uniform in one observation. This all feels very much like 1968. That was a volatile year in America, a time when a presidential candidate and civil rights leader were both assassinated. One of the major political parties had a presidential nominating convention where rioting and violence erupted, which was subdued harshly by Chicago’s police and played out on TV. Both parties nominated candidates for president they weren’t all that excited about. An angry, agitating and hate-mongering populist named George Wallace ran as a third-party candidate.
Old political alliances were failing, and new ones swam in wet cement. American culture was in flux. Generations were sharply divided about war, morality, the economy, religion, race, and which direction our nation would take. Protests happened daily somewhere. Violence erupted daily almost anywhere.
And it was all packaged for TV on the nightly news.
Like I said, we’ve been here before.
Finding our way back to something normal is tougher to figure out. Friday I spent much of the day talking to people who felt hopelessly lost in the anger and hate that is rolling over our nation today like kudzu on a Southern riverbank. The answers are within us all, but unlocking the vault to the kind of national self-awareness required to make a difference will take a special key.
Later Friday morning, a retired pastor stopped by and asked to see me. He sought two things: One, he asked that I try to write something to help him make sense of it all. And two, he wanted a hug.
He got the second. I’m still working on the first.
Madison Taylor is editor of the Times-News. Contact him by email at email@example.com
8 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: 1968 revisited — only we elected George Wallace this time”
Madison, George Wallace was an incredible man. He was strong mentally & physically & lived many years following being shot & paralyzed during that presidential campaign. He was a beloved figure in Alabama by all–both his states rights advocates and the civil rights advocates. His wife Lurleen became governor and no doubt G W had a large influence on public affairs and progress in the state of Alabama. If he hated anyone I think we would find it difficult to prove.
With respect to where we are as a society & the impacts of large, powerful governments at the local, state, & federal levels, it seems that larger portions of citizens’ freedom and liberty are being taken away. More people are encouraged to “get theirs” from the government rather than being told that they actually don’t have a right or entitlement to every thing they want. Both political parties are sold out to unions, corporations, certain charitable groups, NGO’s with no regard to being able to say “No” and produce balanced budgets and begin paying down the debt.
In my opinion young people especially but older folks as well would feel more secure about their society and our future if we have far less government and far more financial good sense & responsibility. Just ask anyone how she feels now that her home and vehicles and college loans are all paid for, instead of being $ 150,000 in debt!
History of our great nation is not being taught; the great lessons from history are not being learned. The perspective that those bring is the factor that makes us know we can survive anything and grow and improve. You can tick off your own list of catastrophic events since the war of 1812 (when the Brits burned our White House for God’s sake) through 9-11, through Vladimir Putin meddling with political campaigns. Were any of these fatal to the Republic? Heck No! We simply need a Leader who will challenge us as individuals to become Great, To be the Best that we can Be!
It seems that Individual responsibility is not being taught by parents, pastors, teachers, employers, law enforcement officials, and most certainly not by politicians. With discipline comes strength–no pain, no gain. With strength & firm belief in traditional values and that historical perspective of knowing from where we’ve come, there is no room for fear and uncertainty.
Thanks for the perspective.
Dr. Conners died at Duke July 5 . if you’ll send me your email to firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll send you some good stuff that I think you would like to see. No matter how we feel about each other I will always appreciate the fact that you were open minded enough as a journalist to cover the meeting that he was at when he was in Burlington.
I’m very sorry to hear this about Dr. Conners. I’ll send you my address. Thanks for letting me know and best wishes to you. I always found your opinions worth my time, except those rare occasions you caught me in the middle of something I had to finish immediately.
Give me some context re the meeting with Dr Conners????
Has nothing to do with this column. It relates to some ADHD diagnosis concerns Tim had about four years ago with ABSS. Dr. Conners was an acknowledged expert in this field and attended a meeting about it in Alamance County — with a NYT reporter. The Times has an excellent obit on Dr. Conners.
Thanks for info Dr Conners!
I paraphrased your intro below. Ironically the nation is on fire with class envy, discontent, lingering racism, political partisanship. Shootings are rampant
( 2000 in Chicago alone since 1/1/17), plus the mass shootings, & I am pretty sure we are over the precipice of
Societal & cultural shift.”
“I wrote this a year ago when the nation was on fire — shootings were rampant, political turmoil was everywhere and we seemed on the precipice on a major cultural shift. “