Has 2020 been worst peacetime in US history?

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — An American president who has no experience in governing and does so by the seat of his pants is seeking reelection, and facing likely defeat for failing to cope with a deadly pandemic.

Shortly before the voting, he was stricken by that virus but has survived, describing his recovery as “a gift of God” and citing it as a rationale for his reelection.

In all, it sounds as if American politics has hit rock bottom, with the nation’s core democratic principles of self-government on the line in the approaching Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections.

At the same time, Donald Trump is bent on an executive branch takeover of the judiciary, via a third Supreme Court appointment that will give his Republican Party a dominant 6-3 majority.

He seems to be counting on it to save his presidency in a bold and desperate effort to defy the voters. He charges the election will have been “rigged” against him if he loses.

It is a horrifying scheme that has no equal or comparison in any previous peacetime presidential election.

The only other quadrennial election that comes to mind is that of 1968, when another authoritarian-minded president, Richard Nixon, survived in part by suggesting he had a plan to the end the Vietnam War, with none in hand or articulated.

I described that fateful year in my book “The Year the Dream Died: Revisiting 1968 in America,” which chronicled the turmoil in which two liberal icons, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, were assassinated.

Their deaths capsulated the furor in the country not only against the war but also in burgeoning civil rights protests that linger and intensify to today.

For all the heartbreak of 1968 and the collective sense of loss in its uproar and outcome, it could be remembered by liberal Democrats and even some old doctrinaire GOP conservatives as a laxative in the eventual removal of the smarmy and crooked Nixon.

Even so, upon his subsequent death Nixon received a respectful burial at which even Democratic President Bill Clinton found decent words to say of him.

But 2020 and Donald Trump are a different story altogether. The year, the man and his unvarnished pursuit of anti-democratic dictatorial power have been so destructive of American norms and values that they shout a much more deplorable judgment on his sordid interruption in our long and otherwise commendable national narrative.

That’s why American voters of every stripe and origin are faced today with a patriotic and clear-headed choice on Nov. 3: to purge the nation’s soul of this crude and unprincipled intruder, and get the nation back on the course of wise and thoughtful self-government after the four year of the Trump anti-democratic nightmare.

What will remain of the Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and, yes, even the often-hapless Bushes is anyone’s guess now, after the scourge of the man who came to dinner and gobbled up all that remained of its commendable earlier history and achievements.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.


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