There’s a new book out by Howard Means on the 1970 Kent State University massacre: 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence. In our March/April/May issue of the Washington Monthly, Michael O’Donnell was a good review that neatly summarizes the interesting points and asks us to apply the lessons of that tragedy to our heated political discourse today.
It’s probably forgotten that just prior to the incident at Kent State some of the most prominent political leaders in the country had some pretty incendiary things to say about campus protestors.
Three days before the shooting, Nixon famously described antiwar protestors as “bums blowing up the campuses.” “No more appeasement,” said Ronald Reagan, then the governor of California. “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.” Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes promised to “eradicate” the problem of campus protest.
That’s right, in the lead-up to Kent State, California Governor Ronald Reagan said that antiwar student protesters should not be appeased and that “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.” If a National Guardsman took that rhetoric seriously, why wouldn’t they start a bloodbath?
Flash forward to today, and we’ve just gotten news that Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has been charged with misdemeanor battery for assaulting a reporter.
And far be it from the Trump campaign to show any remorse, responsibility or leadership:
The Trump campaign released a statement in response to the charge:
Mr. Lewandowski was issued a Notice to Appear and given a court date. He was not arrested. Mr. Lewandowski is absolutely innocent of this charge. He will enter a plea of not guilty and looks forward to his day in court. He is completely confident that he will be exonerated.
It’s easy to forget how important it is to have cool-headed leadership. Without it, people can take irresponsible talk as a cue to commit violence.
That’s at least part of the story of what happened at Kent State, where four students were killed and nine others were wounded, including one who was permanently paralyzed.
We should head O’Donnell’s warning:
Yet a guardsman itching to beat down a hippie wouldn’t be alone in thinking that a bloodbath was needed—Ronald Reagan himself had said as much. If troopers thought the protesters were bums, deserving nothing more than the consideration due a bum, they had an ally in the president of the United States. It is no stretch to imagine that these ugly sentiments, expressed by men of stature, helped ease the finger off the safety for at least some guardsmen. Our own politics have become such a festival of hatred that we should stop and take note—before someone else gets hurt.
Make sure to read the whole thing.