Adam Serwer On Why 2020 Isn't Quite 1968 : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders 2020 is '68 all over again. But not the '68 you think. Yes, 1968 also saw protests, racial divisions and political polarization. Adam Serwer covers politics for The Atlantic, and he says you can certainly draw comparisons between Trump and Nixon – in that Trump is actually a backlash to the policies that came out of 1968. But Serwer says 1868 is a better point of comparison – it was a moment of hope, when white Republicans had been fighting for black rights for years, before ultimately abandoning them to pursue white voters. Serwer sees Americans coming together in this moment, as they have in the past, but as a student of history, he says the backlash always comes eventually.
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Trump v Nixon on Race: Why 2020 Isn't Quite 1968

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Trump v Nixon on Race: Why 2020 Isn't Quite 1968

Trump v Nixon on Race: Why 2020 Isn't Quite 1968

Trump v Nixon on Race: Why 2020 Isn't Quite 1968

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/872281949/872686704" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Republican Party members wave placards bearing the name 'Nixon', in support of Richard Nixon, at the 1968 Republican National Convention, in Miami Beach, Florida. Archive Photos/Getty Images hide caption

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Archive Photos/Getty Images

Republican Party members wave placards bearing the name 'Nixon', in support of Richard Nixon, at the 1968 Republican National Convention, in Miami Beach, Florida.

Archive Photos/Getty Images

2020 is '68 all over again. But not the '68 you think. Yes, 1968 also saw protests, racial divisions and political polarization. Adam Serwer covers politics for The Atlantic, and he says you can certainly draw comparisons between Trump and Nixon – in that Trump is actually a backlash to the policies that came out of 1968. But Serwer says 1868 is a better point of comparison – it was a moment of hope, when white Republicans had been fighting for black rights for years, before ultimately abandoning them to pursue white voters. Serwer sees Americans coming together in this moment, as they have in the past, but as a student of history, he says the backlash always comes eventually.


Interview Highlights

On whether white people will sustain their support after this moment

Please don't kill us or beat us is such a reasonable demand that it's hard for almost anyone who does not envision the police as the enforcers of the color line to reject it. But once the demands go beyond that, once they go to more material questions, much as King's civil rights movement went beyond questions of political power to material dimensions, there is often a tremendous backlash.

On racial dynamics within the Republican and Democratic Parties

Historically, what happens when you have a party that is almost entirely white is that party views, you know, non-white constituencies as sort of enemies of its own political power. And when you have to do ultimately, is you have to build a coalition, a political coalition where you're sharing power with those people so you don't view them as a threat. And that's what I think has happened with the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is not more progressive on race because ... white liberals are inherently better people. They are more progressive on race because they have to share power with non-white people. That is the actual source of the Democratic Party's progressivism on race.

On what the historical lesson of this moment is

There are moments where tremendous progress is possible because Americans of very different backgrounds are willing to come together in defense of the political ideals that they have come to view as essential to their identities. There is also, you know, every instance a tremendous backlash to that. And I think we are seeing a backlash to the backlash at this particular moment. And I think we don't know whether there will be a backlash to the backlash to the backlash or what that will look like and what political effect it will have.

This episode was produced by Anjuli Sastry and Hafsa Fathima and edited by Jordana Hochman. You can follow us on Twitter @NPRItsBeenAMin and email us at samsanders@npr.org.