MSNBC’s Alex Wagner Frets Campus Protests May Lead To Next Reagan Era

While discussing the ongoing NYPD clearing of the virulent anti-semitic protest at Columbia University, MSNBC host Alex Wagner and her guest, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, noticed the historic parallels between this moment and 1968- and where it ultimately led.

Watch the aforementioned exchange, which closed the show’s live coverage of the protest clearing, as aired on MSNBC’s Alex Wagner Tonight on Tuesday, April 30th, 2024:

ALEX WAGNER: Michelle, the- Hamilton Hall is- for people who are not familiar with the Columbia campus: in April of 1968, 56 years ago, hundreds of students seized the building during protests over the Vietnam War.  I do not think that was lost to the people who stormed Hamilton Hall. After a week- this is, again, in 1968, police entered through underground tunnels and cleared them out. Over 700 people were arrested.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Right, and that’s remembered as a really dark chapter in Columbia’s history, which is why it’s so breathtaking to see them repeated.

WAGNER: But it does, you know- putting this in the broader context of what’s happening in American politics, I mean, when this began I think, for a lot of people all these campus protests had the echo of the 1960s. It feels like an inflection point for the country. We are barreling toward a presidential election. The country feels catastrophically divided on every- on every issue from basic facts to an actual policy vision–

GOLDBERG: A Democratic presidential convention in Chicago?

WAGNER: Yes. Exactly, echoes of 1968 and I just wonder, you know, it’s hard to imagine that this is- that this imagery of the NYPD storming Columbia in this- in this moment is not going to reverberate in ways that we cannot yet see across the political divide.

GOLDBERG: And I think we should remember what the kind of images of protest disorder did in the late 60s. Because even as the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular, so did the antiwar protests. And it was in part the backlash to that as well as to urban crime that gave us not just Richard Nixon…

WAGNER: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: …but kind of un- except for a four-year oasis of Jimmy Carter, unbroken Republican rule until Bill Clinton. And so I would expect that we are already seeing the backlash to this, but I would expect it to be ferocious.

WAGNER: Yeah. The late ’70s were a period of retrenchment. And then 1980 saw Ronald Ragan and a conservative agenda that was fiercer, more focused and more effective than maybe any other conservative agenda in ways that we are still grappling with to this day. I mean, it’s the establishment. The Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society. Any number of right-wing organizations. A master plan to retake the judiciary. I mean, what we saw in the aftereffect of the Vietnam War was really a brand of conservatism, a new Right that the country had never seen before. 

Upon watching the segment, one’s first instinct is to warn Wagner not to threaten us with a good time. She and Goldberg correctly note that the unrest of the late ‘60s reverberated through our politics for many years. In many ways, it is still doing so. Those students entered into our higher learning institutions and corrupted them into the Marxist indoctrination centers we see today. There is indeed a very bright through line between those protests and today’s protests.

And it is interesting to watch Wagner and Goldberg squirm through their thought exercise. But they’re not entirely wrong. These protests will in fact reverberate in ways that are not yet clear to us. And they may well lead, much to Wagner’s dismay, to “a new Right that the country had never seen before.” The fact that this conversation is even happening on MSNBC air says much about the current moment.

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