I helped elect Richard Nixon in 1968.

by nikki meredith

nixon with fist

I recently had to remind myself of this fact. It was the only way to stop my rant against Susan Sarandon, a Bernie surrogate, after she told Chris Hayes on MSNBC last month that she wasn’t sure she’d vote for Hillary against Donald Trump. My adrenalin oozed a liter or two when she said that electing Trump wouldn’t be so bad because it would hasten the revolution…and, with an impish smile on her face added, “…if he gets in, things will really explode.” My forbearance does not extend to a rich white movie actress who cheers on a revolution in which neither her life nor her lifestyle would be imperiled.

I find it astonishing that Sarandon failed to learn anything about consequences when Ralph Nader helped defeat Al Gore in 2000. She was serving as co-chair of Nader’s national steering committee when he argued that electing George W. Bush wouldn’t be so bad because it could serve as a “provocateur,” awakening the power of the left. “If it were a choice between a provocateur and an ‘anesthetizer,’ I’d rather have a provocateur. It would mobilize us.” Hey Mr. Nader, Ms. Sarandon, how did that turn out for you? For us? For the people of Iraq? For all of the Middle East?

But back to Nixon and me.

In 1968, I refused to vote for Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee. He had defeated Eugene McCarthy in the primaries and McCarthy was my guy. That election was all about the war in Viet Nam – a war that Humphrey, as vice president, supported. McCarthy hated the war too and after he lost in the primaries balked at supporting Humphrey. He waited until the last minute to endorse him. I, like many of his supporters, refused to vote. Humphrey lost but he lost by a slim margin. It’s quite possible that had Eugene McCarthy endorsed Humphrey earlier, Nixon would have lost and this would be a different country.

In November of 1968, I was the young mother of a newborn infant. Every time I held him safely in my arms, I thought about the mothers in Viet Nam who couldn’t make their babies safe, mothers with children they couldn’t protect from the napalm bombs we were dropping on their country. When Napalm falls on people, the gel sticks to their skin, hair and clothing causing severe burns and unimaginable pain. In the decade between 1963 and 1973 U.S. dropped almost 400,000 tons of napalm on Vietnam – of course, many of the victims were children.

I couldn’t vote for anyone who promoted or endorsed that God Damn war. Consequently, I turned my back on other issues that mattered to me. Humphrey was instrumental in passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. I didn’t care. I also disregarded his announcement that, if elected, he would cease bombing in Southeast Asia. He became Lyndon Johnson’s proxy for the war and all of my anger was directed at him. Because people like me stayed home, Humphrey lost by 510,000 votes, one of the slimmest margins in any U.S. presidential election.


9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, cries after an aerial napalm attack in Nick Ut’s famous photo

The joke was on us. Under Nixon, the hell in Southeast Asia got a whole lot more hellish and the war escalated far beyond anything Lyndon Johnson had authorized. Before it was over, Nixon ordered a brutal bombing campaign against the capital city of Hanoi. According to Stars and Stripes, the newspaper for serviceman, there had never been such a large amount of bombs dropped on such a small area in such a short period of time. Also, he mined Haiphong harbor and invaded neighboring Cambodia and Laos.

During the ’68 campaign, Nixon said he had a secret plan to end the war. (Sound familiar? Trump has a secret plan to defeat terrorism.) Yes Nixon had a plan and his plan killed an additional 22,000 Americans and more that 1.5 million Vietnamese.

If some of the blood of 22,000 American soldiers and more than a million Vietnamese was on my hands, a lot more was on Eugene McCarthy’s. It’s often said that endorsements don’t matter. In this case, because the election was so close, the evidence suggests otherwise.

Ms. Sarandon won’t be around in 40 years when the environmental degradation promised by a Trump presidency has reached calamitous proportions but the millennials will be. Ms. Sarandon won’t be around when there are so many guns that children will have to wear bullet-proof vests at school but the millennials will be. I recognize that all of the issues Bernie outlines are important and if you are weighed down by student loans or can’t earn a living wage, they are critical to your wellbeing. But if we don’t do something very soon about climate change and environmental degradation, the economic issues may come to seem beside the point.

Our domestic arms race is so out of control, no one knows exactly how to stop it but Hillary wants to try; Trump wants it to accelerate. He advocates more automatic weapons, more assault rifles, more concealed weapons and he wants no expanded background checks. His slogan might as well be “a gun in every hand.”

Hillary supports comprehensive background checks, cracking down on illegal gun traffickers, holding dealers and manufacturers accountable and instituting policies to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and domestic abusers.

Some people my age disparage young Bernie supporters – to quote one acquaintance: “They’re selfish little pricks…all they care about are their student loans.” (Perhaps not the best approach to winning their support for Hillary.) It is true that when you watch Bernie’s rallies, economic issues seem to be the most potent drivers. But countless surveys in recent years reveal that, millennials are also worried about the same things that keep me up at night — the environment and the gun culture – and they are worried in greater numbers than older generations. Given that, it would seem particularly illogical for young Bernie supporters to sit out the election, thus helping to elect the one candidate who would make both of those situations worse. Much worse.

A Hillary Clinton presidency might be flawed; a Trump presidency would be catastrophic. Bernie people, you’re too smart to make the same mistake I made in 1968 and the stakes are so much higher now. If you stay home on November 8, how will you explain to your grandchildren that because you helped elect a president who is a cheerleader for the gun culture, nowhere is safe from gun deaths in 2056? And while your grandchildren struggle to survive in an environmental dystopia, how will you explain to them why you helped elect a president who claims that concerns about the environment are a hoax?

Ms. Sarandon doesn’t have to wait that long. She already has a grandchild. Will she tell the little girl why she sat on her hands when Rome burned along with too much of the rest of the world?

As I write this, an out of control fire rages in Alberta, Canada causing more than 88,000 people to flee from their homes in Fort McMurray. In photos from space, the fire resembled a massive explosion — it’s so huge its creating it’s own weather system, including lightning strikes which further contribute to the fire’s spread.


Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

While there is disagreement about whether it’s too soon to talk about causes – some people feel it’s inappropriate to discuss such a politically charged issue while the fire still burns — there is much less disagreement about the contribution of human-caused climate change to the conflagration. Rachel Cleetus, lead economist and climate policy manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists, identifies climate change as “a significant contributing risk factor” in the Canada wildfires.

Mike Flannigan, a professor of with the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta who’s been studying climate change and wildfires for decades, says that this fire – a fire he calls unprecedented — is consistent with what researchers predict from climate change. “In Canada, our area burned (by wildfire) has more than doubled since the early 70s.”

John D. Sutter, a columnist for CNN who focuses on climate change and social justice sums up the consensus: “The fire in Canada looks a lot like climate change and that should scare you.”

It scares the hell out of me. How about you Ms. Sarandon? Explosion enough for you?