Former President Barack Obama told America on Wednesday he doesn’t believe the protests that have erupted across the country are anything like those that reverberated in 1968, which many believed helped elect President Richard Nixon.
“I’ve heard some people say that you have a pandemic, then you have these protests, this reminds people of the ’60s and the chaos and the discord and distrust throughout the country. I have to tell you, although I was very young … I know enough about that history to say there is something different,” Obama said.
Former President Obama spoke Wednesday about police violence at a virtual town hall a week after George Floyd’s death. Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a police officer held his knee to his neck for more than eight minutes. Four former policemen have now been charged in connection with his death, with one of them charged with murder.
In Obama’s speech, he echoed much of what he said in a previous blog post, urging reforms in the collective bargaining agreements with police that are negotiated by mayors and county executives. He highlighted the role played by attorneys and district attorneys in leading prosecutions.
He also outlined what he views as the differences between 2020 and 1968, when riots broke out across the country as it battled inequality domestically and the Vietnam War abroad. The April assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King set off four days of protests, while the August Democratic National Convention served as another launching pad. Richard Nixon was elected president in November, after campaigning on a platform that focused on “law and order.”
“You look at the protests and that was a far more representative cross-section of America out on the streets peacefully protesting who felt moved to do something because the instance they had seen injustice,” Obama said. “That didn’t exist in the 1960s, that kind of broad coalition.”
Donald Trump has in recent days used language to echo rhetoric employed by Nixon during his 1968 run. He has tweeted out “Law and Order!” and labeled protesters the “Antifa.” He has demanded that governors use harsher tactics against those who are protesting the death of George Floyd.
While the demonstrations have largely been peaceful, violence and looting erupted in numerous cities over the weekend as groups of protesters clashed with law enforcement officers.
Those protests have come as the coronavirus pandemic has thrown an unexpected curveball in Trump’s campaign for reelection, seemingly threatening the U.S. economy Trump was expected to use as a linchpin of his run. The unemployment rate has reached nearly 15%, with expectations it will soon edge closer to 20%. That’s even as the stock market has so far proven largely immune, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average rallying more than 500 points Wednesday.
Polls currently show former Vice President Biden leading Trump by about 8 percentage points. This week, Biden surged past Trump in online betting markets tied to the outcome of the 2020 presidential race.