Dot’s Reading Room: Is This the Worst Year in Modern American History?

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Here is a challenging article published on May 31 by The Atlantic’s national correspondent James Fallows, who asks Is This the Worst Year in Modern American History?

If you are old enough to remember the events of 1968-assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, to name two-you may or may not agree with Fallows.  If 1968 is ancient history to you, this is a sobering review of that historic year in comparison to 2020.

Fallows argues, “The most traumatic year in modern American history was 1968. But what is now the second-most traumatic year, 2020, still has seven months to run. The comparison provides little comfort and several reasons for concern.

“How could any year be worse than the current one, in which more Americans are out of work than in the Great Depression, and more people are needlessly dying than in several of America’s wars combined? How could the domestic order seem more frayed and failing than it has in the past week—when the filmed record of a white Minneapolis police officer calmly killing a black man, George Floyd, as other officers just as calmly looked on, led naturally to protests?”

Well, to review: the assassination of MLK was followed by violent uprisings in cities across the U.S. the Vietnam war brought forth more protests; the political scene was chaotic (although in a different way from the current scene), there was a pandemic-the H1N1 “Hong Kong” flu-to name a few of the traumatic events of that year.  Fallows frames his argument in the context of his own experience as a Harvard second-year student.  And Cambridge itself was a hotbed of protest in that year.


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