Opinion: Back when elections were fun

As we approach the most decisive presidential election since 1860, which led to the American Civil War, I'm planning to spend Election Night in a self-induced coma.

Watching what will be a close race might be a slow form of torture. It's almost a given that the results won't be known until days, weeks or even months later due to COVID-19, Republican voter suppression and Trump's crippling of the U.S. Postal Service. Chances are that the whole shebang will be decided by the Supreme Court, allowing it to redeem itself after making George W. Bush president in 2000.

Lately, I've been remembering the first presidential election I participated in. "Participating" being a lofty term seeing that I was only 10 years old, but the 1960 contest between Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon was fun. Fun in that there was no fear in proclaiming whom you chose and knowing that your public choice wouldn't result in your car being upended, your house pelted with trash or you being cursed at in the streets. Back in 2016, while observing the crowds at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, I saw no one sporting a Hillary or Trump campaign button. People were too afraid.

We weren't afraid in 1960 and New York City was ablaze with mainly red, white and blue Kennedy-Johnson buttons, bumper stickers and posters. I wore several buttons as did all my friends, us being from liberal Democratic homes. But one of our closest family friends was New York Sen. Jacob Javits. During his tenure, he voted for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and generally supported union and women's rights as well as LBJ's Great Society measures.

Javits was a Republican, although liberal Republicans such as him are now as extinct as the dodo bird or the giant sloth. They have been replaced by the GOP in favor of Trumpism, white racist militias and the anti-Semitic conspiracy lunatics of QAon.

Surely, there were extremists back in 1960 but they had little effect on the outcome of that election. Despite the unsavory reputations of both Richard Nixon and the Kennedy Machine, it was a fairly civil affair. Both Nixon and Kennedy had served in the Navy with distinction during World War II and neither one disparaged the patriotism of the other.

The main issue of the 1960 election was what was known as the "missile gap" between the United States and the Soviet Union with Kennedy being the more hawkish of the two candidates. The economy was seen as less important. Although the Cold War was on everyone's mind, there was no doubt that whatever the outcome, the winner would find a way to correctly steer the ship of state.

During the 1960 campaign, Kennedy came to speak near my apartment. A huge boisterous crowd gathered to hear him, including me with my jacket festooned with buttons. At one point, a Nixon supporter came by and gave us the raspberry. The crowd booed him but it was good-natured, like a football rivalry. There wasn't the feeling that if one man won and the other lost, American Democracy would come to an end.

Neither Kennedy nor Nixon were fanatics. Both parties had their conservative and liberal wings that balanced them out and Americans, as a rule, were confident that the good times of the 1950s would carry on into the next decade. But by 1970, America would become unrecognizable.

The next election after 1960 would direct our country down the dark road it is currently on. The year 1964 pitted Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater who was, at the time, so unapologetically extreme that half the nation thought he would lead us into nuclear annihilation. I was lucky to view the once-only showing of the infamous "Daisy" ad where a little girl picking flower petals transformed into a mushroom cloud. The ad scared the pants off of me and most Americans and was pulled from the airwaves.

It all went downhill from there. After the tumult of Vietnam, civil unrest and the youth counterculture, the 1968 election was far uglier with George Wallace running on an openly racist ticket and the GOP playing on white racial fears.

These fears form the platform of Donald Trump and the current Republican Party.

Daniel A. Brown is a resident of Taos County.

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