Are we headed back to the 1960s? Or have we never left them?
That was what was going through my head as I emerged from the Donald Trump rally at Costa Mesa’s Pacific Amphitheater Thursday night. In front of me was a mini-riot of a few dozen, mostly Hispanics, blocking cars, shouting frequently obscene slogans in Spanish and English, wearing bandanas and waving almost exclusively Mexican flags. It had the look of a demonstration organized by La Raza or MEChA, groups whose underlying, sometimes not so underlying, goal is the return of California to Mexico.
They obviously didn’t like Trump much. Though I had been in demonstrations like this decades ago in East L.A. with Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, Corky was dead over ten years now and the world was, I thought, different. Well, maybe I didn’t. But it was a small protest as these thing go. Or seemed to be. But then suddenly it started to explode. Some Trump supporter, stuck in his car, tried to get out and got hit in the face, blood streaming down his face. Another idiot, who looked high as a kite, started jumping on a cop car, smashing the windows.
Coward that I am, I figured it was time to get out of there. Later I learned seventeen had been arrested. The cops had been restrained, as they tend to be these days. But it still wasn’t a big demonstration by historical — Sixties — standards. At least I, a reformed Sixties demonstrator of sorts, didn’t think so.
By the next day, the demonstrations were starting to get larger. And although it was at the California Republican Convention in the Bay Area and I was still in L.A., the place I witnessed it from put me oddly in the middle of things.
I was at the CNN studio in Hollywood, ostensibly to be interviewed about an article I wrote about Trump and the black vote. Only events intervened. I sat cooling my heels for forty minutes or so in front of a camera, watching its monitor where now what looked like several hundred demonstrators — this time Hispanics mixed with your usual Northern California stew of aging Trotskyites, crazed vegans, various strains of the Occupy and sex-positive movements, etc. — were crashing the barricades of the Burlingame Hyatt. They were bent on disrupting Trump, who eluded them by sneaking through the back door.
Just as I was thinking it was time for me to go watch the wrap-up at home, CNN’s Brooke Baldwin brought me in to comment on what I was seeing. I did what I usually do — in the grand tradition of Donald Trump, I said what was on the top of my head … that these basically free speech suppressing demonstrations were good for Trump. If they got violent, they would be even better for him, as long as he could avoid the blame (not easy).
It was, after all, a Sixties thing. That’s what happened after Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden et al led a riotous demonstration of 10,000 at the notorious 1968 Chicago Convention. The Army and National Guard were brought in to quell the violence. The whole world, as those of us old enough to recall remember, was watching.
Yes, it didn’t help Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic Party nominee, but as a result, Richard Nixon won thirty-two states. Actually, it was a fairly narrow election. Nixon only won the popular vote by five hundred thousand. The Chicago Convention probably made the difference.
So are we about to embark on Yogi Berra’s famous déjà vu all over again? I think there’s a good chance of it.
In actuality, it’s my generation’s fault. The Sixties have never died. My generation has dominated the culture ever since we burst on the scene. Everything since has been a variation on the theme. Subsequent generations just wanted to imitate our supposed cool, putting on only minor flourishes, ecstasy instead of acid. In my forthcoming book, I Know Best, I call us, my cohort, the Least Great Generation. Mea culpa.
Of course, I can point the finger at myself, but other people have the problem now, Donald Trump among them. If these demonstrations grow, he will have an interesting balancing act as the election continues. Cleveland could be another Chicago — maybe even bigger, given the coming climate.
But, thankfully, Trump seems to be improving in his ability to handle it. The inside of the event at the Pacific Amphitheater was remarkably peaceful for such a large crowd. Compared to your average British soccer match, it was like an evening at the philharmonic, at least until we got outside, which was more like a mosh pit.
Ironically, what Trump stands for, metaphorically, is a final repudiation of the Sixties. He’s more of a Fifties guy, straight of the Rat Pack. Frankly I’m ready for Frank and Dino. I’m getting a little sick of Mick and Keith. Weren’t those the guys at Altamont? I think we’ve had enough of that.
Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media. His next book – I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Country, If It Hasn’t Already – will be published by Encounter Books in June 2016.