Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University. In 1963 and 1964, he was president of Students for a Democratic Society. He is the author of numerous books, including The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the Left (1980), The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (1987), The Intellectuals and the Flag (2006), Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street (2012), and is at work on a forthcoming book, about Trump and the media, called The Apprentice’s Sorcerer. (April 2019)

Follow Todd Gitlin on Twitter: @toddgitlin.


The Roots of Trumpian Agitprop

Donald Trump attending a MAGA rally, El Paso, Texas, February 11, 2019

“Trump 2020” is the Triumphant Will jump-cut at microchip processor speed. It aims to overwhelm in the fidgety style of the twenty-first century. It proclaims adoration, it rewards the faithful. If you like the idea of an America of more rallies, more flags, more fists, you’ll love this commercial. Of course, Trump is not Hitler. MAGA rallies are not Nuremberg rallies. There is bombast but Trump’s threats, even his shouts of “treason,” are rhetorical—incitements that can be disowned should less inhibited enthusiasts take up arms against enemies of the people. Other such spectacles are surely in the pipeline.

The Missing Music of the Left

Children singing “The Internationale” in a Communist-led May Day parade, Paris, France, 1934

Marxism was not the only ideology to crystallize its aims into a song; in fact, it is hard to think of one that doesn’t. There is a reason why nation-states develop national anthems. The theme is not always uniform, not always in march time, but it must be rousing. What I am calling the music of an outlook or a movement captures the overall spirit of the enterprise: that combination of mental and moral senses that arouses the blood, that generates energy and drives persistence to overcome the inevitable obstacles in the way of the realization of ideals.

1968: Year of Counter-Revolution

Associates of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain civil rights leader lying on the motel balcony, pointing in the direction of the assassin, Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968

The familiar collages of 1968’s collisions do evoke the churning surfaces of events, reproducing the uncanny, off-balance feeling of 1968. But they fail to illuminate the meaning of events. If the texture of 1968 was chaos, underneath was a structure that today can be—and needs to be—seen more clearly. The left was wildly guilty of misrecognition. What haunted America was not the misty specter of revolution but the solidifying specter of reaction.