Political Unrest in the US Mirrors Broader Society in 2024 and Previous Elections



The article discusses the evolution of American politics, referencing a famous quote from the comic strip “Pogo” to summarize the fractious nature of democracy. The author highlights significant shifts in US politics including the 1860 presidential election leading to the Civil War, the breakaway Bull Moose Party of former President Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, and the rise of a reformist Democratic Party majority in the 1930s. The author also mentions the unrest of the mid-1960s, culminating in the 1968 election, and the role of satire in politics.

Interpreting Democracy through Comic Strips

The celebrated comic strip “Pogo” by Walt Kelly, popular in newspapers from the late 1940s to the 1970s, famously captured the essence of democracy within its panels. Kelly’s sharp political and social commentary continues to resonate today, particularly his “enemy” statement – a paraphrase of Admiral William Hazard Perry’s proclamation after the US Navy’s strategic victory over the British in 1813.

Kelly first used this now-iconic phrase to comment on the anti-communist fears of the 1950s, and later, to underscore public concern about environmental pollution. Today, the quote aptly describes the contentious nature of our current presidential politics.

Historic Election Turmoil

The fractious nature of American politics is not new. The presidential election campaign of 1860, leading to the Civil War, stands out as a particularly costly example. The emergence of the Republican party, the split of Democrats into northern and southern factions, and the presence of the Constitutional Union Party created an unprecedented political landscape.

Other pivotal moments include the 1912 presidential election, where former President Theodore Roosevelt’s launch of the Bull Moose Party inadvertently handed victory to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. This period saw Roosevelt leading the Republican party towards progressivism, confirming anti-trust laws, advocating for worker protection and protecting the wilderness.

Evolving Party Politics

The 1930s brought about the emergence of a reformist Democratic Party majority under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signaling significant shifts in economic, social, and political landscapes. The mid-1960s also marked a period of considerable change, with civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protests contributing to domestic unrest.

The 1968 election was particularly fraught, with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s withdrawal, the tragic assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s near-comeback against Richard Nixon. The satirical commentary of comic strips like “Doonesbury” and “Pogo” provide important insights during such turbulent times.

Read more about this topic in Luke A. Nichter’s “The Year That Broke Politics: Collusion and Chaos in the Presidential Election of 1968,” published by Yale University Press.

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