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Another Long, Hot Summer in America

Summary:
Many Americans are clearly horrified by President Donald Trump's crass and incendiary words in response to the protests sweeping the country's major cities. But will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully? NEW YORK – Could the United States be facing a reprise of the summer of 1968? Then, too, the world saw images of popular rage boiling over in America, as mostly African-American inner cities went up in flames, and young people were tear-gassed, charged at, and often brutally beaten by riot police and National Guardsmen. America’s Mis-Police State Stephen Maturen/Getty

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Many Americans are clearly horrified by President Donald Trump's crass and incendiary words in response to the protests sweeping the country's major cities. But will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully?

NEW YORK – Could the United States be facing a reprise of the summer of 1968? Then, too, the world saw images of popular rage boiling over in America, as mostly African-American inner cities went up in flames, and young people were tear-gassed, charged at, and often brutally beaten by riot police and National Guardsmen.

The result of the civil disorder was what some liberals in America fear will happen later this year. The Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon promised the “silent majority,” the “non-shouters,” and the “non-demonstrators,” that he would restore law and order with force. Devastated, mostly African-American urban areas were starved of federal funds and further isolated, white suburbanites bought more guns, and police forces were armed as though they were a branch of the military.

The trouble in 1968, like the protests today, also started with anger against the oppression of black people in America. A day after Martin Luther King, Jr., declared that “the nation is sick,” he was shot dead by a white racist criminal. The protests that followed were not just an expression of anger at King’s murder, but also the lack of economic and educational opportunities that were the result of a long and often violent racist history.

Despite an African-American’s two terms in the White House, conditions today are hardly better – and in some ways worse. King’s violent death was echoed this year by that of George Floyd, the defenseless 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis killed by a policeman who kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Moreover, COVID-19 has hit African-Americans with particular fury, because many lack financial savings and are forced to work in risky areas, as nurses and other “essential workers,” often without proper health care. Once the global depression sinks in, many won’t be cushioned by anything at all.

Ian Buruma
Editor of The New York Review of Books, author of Theater of Cruelty, Year Zero: A History of 1945, and Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War

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