Monday, October 24, 2016
The death of Tom Hayden is a timely reminder of a previous turbulent time in our history. I was a teenager, and I just missed the Vietnam draft. (I turned 18 in the last year of the draft and had a high lottery number.) To me, and in my circle of friends and acquaintances, it as just normal and natural to view the U.S. as war in Vietnam as a crime against humanity, to see the government as largely an agent of plutocrats, the society as fundamentally racist, and capitalism as fundamentally exploitive.
I haven't really changed those views, but of course I'm more jaded now. The revolution never came, though we did make some progress. The 1960s left was male dominated and took patriarchy for granted; women were largely placed in a subservient role. As Hayden's obituary notes, he was part of the problem, and he eventually got slammed for it as feminism rose up within the left. Nowadays we see gender equality -- and gender equality going beyond the binary male/female categories we took for granted -- as being essential to progressivism.
George W. Bush got his illegal war of aggression but there was much more resistance early on than there had been to the Vietnam atrocity. We learned the hard lesson that the widespread resistance to the Vietnam war that eventually emerged was driven in considerable part by the draft that threatened middle class white kids. With no draft, the Iraq war, while controversial and ultimately repudiated by most responsible commentators and the public, generated far less passionate dissent.
Women and gender minorities have come a long way since the '60s, we did get Medicare and Medicaid, but the plutocrats still rule. In fact inequality has only increased. Racism is less socially respectable but I'd be hard pressed to say there is a whole lot less of it. The military-industrial complex is as entrenched as ever and we can't say the national surveillance state is less intrusive than it was in the days of J. Edgar Hoover. And what progress we've made on environmental protection faces continual rearguard action and we're pretty much neglecting the existential crisis of civilization facing humanity.
An extremist ideology has taken over one of the two major parties and managed to insert some false premises into the conventional wisdom, particularly that the national debt is an urgent problem and we need to cut entitlement spending, threatening the gains of the New Deal and Great Society. (Viz. Krugzilla.) Voter rights are under assault once again. I'm not sure whether Hayden looked back on his lifetime of advocacy with some small degree of satisfaction or if he felt essential despair. My own feeling is that progressive ideals generally have wider currency but do not have proportionate political effectiveness. I wouldn't say we've gone backwards but we're climbing the ratchet of progress very slowly.