During the week of July 11, Maurice Isserman, the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History, published an opinion piece on the Reuters wire service comparing the national turbulence of 1968 to today’s unrest. He was also quoted in The Hindu’s Thread opinion blog on socialism and the presidential campaign, and penned an essay on the influence of party platforms in the 20th century for In These Times, a monthly non-profit magazine and online publication.
In his Reuters essay titled Believe it or not, 1968 was worse, published on July 11, Isserman asked rhetorically, “This year, like 1968, is certainly one of bitter conflict and wrenching change. And why is that a surprise?” He continued, “Some things don’t change. A nation of several hundred million people, drawn from all over the world, can never exactly become a peaceable kingdom, a beloved community. Creeds differ, values clash; rival factions, communities and priorities compete.”
Reviewing some of the more divisive periods in our history including the Civil War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the Civil Rights movement, he surmised that “Americans as a people, many of them anyway, are more self-aware and thoughtful in this second decade of the 21st century than has been the case for some decades.” In closing, Isserman asked, “Can we resolve in the years that follow the tumultuous election year of 2016 to listen to the better angels of our nature, and turn the dense concentration of American energy away from waste and pain – and use it instead to light our world?”
An article titled A Little More to the Left, America that appeared in The Hindu’s Thread offered a brief history various socialist parties in the United States and focused on the SPUSA (Socialist Party USA) and its current presidential candidate Mimi Soltysik. “There is next to no chance that a Socialist Party, running its own candidates, will ever again gain a fraction of the influence enjoyed by the Socialist Party in the era of Eugene Debs,” Isserman declared.
Isserman’s essay in In These Times was titled What Every Bernie Sanders Supporter Should Know Before the Convention - How to avoid the mistakes of past platform fights and appeared online on July 12. Beginning with Robert F. Kennedy’s ambivalence in pushing for a peace plank on the Democratic platform, Isserman’s focus was on how Sander’s efforts to change the current Democratic platform may be successful and effective. He reviewed past efforts to effect platform changes including those by anti-war liberals versus President Johnson and Democracy ’76 versus President Carter.
In conclusion, Isserman wrote, “The events of the 1970s are a cautionary tale about overestimating the importance of platform planks. That doesn’t mean that the planks now being debated by Democrats are unimportant. Some will become law and policy in the years to come.”
Isserman is the co-author of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s.