When the sh * t hit the fan: a 1970s reminder

Photo source: Ollie Atkins – Public domain

The United States has spent the past half a century holding its breath. The post-WW recovery stabilized in the early 1970s and since then the country has experienced the end of the “American dream” with ever-growing inequalities, and the collapse of the imperialist gamble of the “great powers” with military defeats from Vietnam to present-day Afghanistan.

In a 2014 play The New Yorker, George Packer made the following observation:

The seventies turned out to be the decade when the country began its transformation from steady economic growth to spasms of contraction, from industry to information and finance, from institutional authorities to individual freedoms, from center-left to right.

The 1970s were a social and political reaction to the tumultuous 1960s, a decade that threatened the powers that be. The threat has been voiced in the combined civil rights movement insurgency, anti-Vietnam war protests, sex, drugs, and rock & roll counterculture, and emerging feminist and gay rights movements. . It was a unique moment in the history of the nation that seems to find a new voice in today’s “progressive” movement.


Each historical era begins with a series of foreground “shots” or opening, and

the first counterrevolution shot of the 1970s was fired by Lewis Powell in August 1971. He was a Virginia tobacco industry attorney who wrote a secret memo for the Chamber of Commerce, “Attack against the American free enterprise system “. His advice to the business community was simple:

Businesses must learn the lesson. . . that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it should be used with aggressiveness and determination, without embarrassment and without the reluctance that has been so characteristic of American business.

He called on business leaders and conservatives to fight aggressively for political power.

The great post-war recovery was leveling off. Wages were flattened; Stagflation was taking hold. During Nixon’s first term, in 1971, he derived the dollar from the gold standard and imposed wage and price controls. Worsening the domestic crisis, an international oil crisis fostered global instability. All of them have made American life more uncertain.

Powell expressed a deeply shared belief among growing sectors of American society. For Powell, as historian Benjamin Waterhouse points out, “anti-capitalist forces – from universities to chairs to public interest law firms – were leading a cultural assault on business, and groups like the House of Commons. trade had no choice. but to become politically active. As Waterhouse adds, “businessmen had to become more involved in national politics.” And they did.

On January 20, 1973, Richard Nixon was invested with his second term as president. His landslide victory over Senator George McGovern (D-SD) – who had been called a “acid, amnesty and abortion” candidate – was motivated by a “southern strategy” that reconfigured the national policy. Six months later, June 25e, John Dean, admitted to Congress – and the nation on live television coverage – the President’s role in breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate compound, triggering the probable i of Nixoncharge and, on August 9, 1974, his resignation.

Two days after Nixon’s inauguration, January 22sd, the Supreme Court issued its Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing a woman’s right to privacy after an abortion. Judge Harry Blackmun noted: “… throughout the 19e Legal abortion practices in the century were much freer than they are today, persuades us that the word “person” as used in the Fourteenth Amendment does not include children to be born… ”the Roe deer The move forced 46 states to liberalize their abortion laws and remains the defining issue of culture wars.

Influential conservative Americans have taken Powell’s warning to heart. In February 1973, three of the nation’s wealthiest curators – Joseph Coors, Richard Mellon Scaife, and HL Hunt – backed Paul Weyrich and the creation of the Heritage Foundation. In May, the National Council of Catholic Bishops transformed its National Committee for the Right to Life (NRLC) into a separate anti-abortion activist organization. In September, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded as the Conservative Caucus of State Legislators. Regardless of the memo, on January 7, 1972, Powel began serving as a judge at the highest court in the land.

In 1973, Phyllis Schlafly, a lawyer and conservative writer, started what became the culture war when she launched a campaign to block passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Schlafly, a devout Catholic and right-wing activist, was an anti-Communist activist long affiliated with the John Birch Society. Often overlooked, his “STOP-ERA” campaign has become more than a single-issue “war”, more than an effort to block a proposed constitutional amendment. He set the agenda for awakened conservatism, overhaul of the Republican Party, and social struggle for decades to come.

During this time of national tension, the rate of violent crime increased, increasing 260% from 1960 to 1975, from 288,460 to 1,039,710 reported incidents. Worse, during the 18-month period between 1971 and 1972, 2,500 bombings took place across the country. In 71, Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” dramatically increasing the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, while ensuring mandatory sentences and arrest warrants. And Charles Keating’s campaign against pornography peaked with Abe Fortas’ blocking of the Supreme Court chief justice appointment and the derailment of Pres. Johnson’s Pornography Commission.

Often forgotten, in the early 1970s, a Donald Trump in his twenties became the man who would be president five decades later. It was a period in which the son of a real estate con artist and former Klan supporter moved from Queens to the upscale East Side of Manhattan. He was driven around the Big Apple in a silver Cadillac limousine with “DJT” engraved on the license plates. This was the time when young Trump began his luxurious life at the Club, a Manhattan nightclub for the rich, famous and aspiring – and where he met Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s aide and a notorious fixer, who became his consigliere.


Half a century later, Trump was elected president. His election, his term and now his ‘Big Lie’ campaign are the culmination of the 1970s counterrevolution, part of the conservative reaction to the turbulent 1960s. He represents the relentless effort to retain power, wealth , racial domination and “traditional” moralizing values.

The Covid-19 pandemic and recession have made it clear what people know – and politicians and the media deny: The United States is an increasingly unequal nation. Biden’s presidency, following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, seeks to contain the deepening socio-economic crisis but does not address it honestly. It offers a patchwork of compromised agendas to heal the systemic problems plaguing the nation – be it inequality, racism, voter suppression, the environmental crisis or the collapse of imperialism, to name but a few. five.

Republicans are trying to replenish their anti-Obama campaign in their efforts to undermine Biden and the Democrats. It worked once, but it might not work this time due to two critical differences. First, Biden contained the Covid pandemic and began to redress the recession; second, Trump’s ultra-reactionary policies might be too much for traditional white Republicans, especially female voters.

So in 2022, Democrats may well retain the House and win critical Senate seats. And 2024? The game is in progress.

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