Columnist Joe Gannon: Trump supporters have their ’60s moment

  • President Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Aug. 2,  at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pa. AP FILE PHOTO

Published: 8/10/2018 10:10:52 PM

While recently obeying summer’s most important commandment — Thou shalt spend hours staring off into the hills — I had an epiphany about Donald Trump’s hardcore supporters whose faith cannot be shaken by scandal, incompetence, nor capitulation to the enemy: No matter how bad it seems to the rest of us, they are absolutely gleeful!

Why, when so many worry, such unbridled, even reckless, glee? And then it hit me: They are having their ‘60s moment — their counterculture, stick-it-to-the-man moment.

Consider: Trump supporters are as anti-establishment now as the hippies were back in the ‘60s. They don’t trust the establishment, the FBI, the CIA, the mainstream media. They believe, as the hippies did, that America is fundamentally flawed, and for those too square to understand, no explanation is possible. Nor accommodation.

I do not say they are hippies, but they are the countercultural “anti-hippie-hippies” of the Trump era. Stay with me a little bit.

The ‘60s, at least for white people, mostly began with the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. Nowadays, we might say those student radicals “weaponized” free speech, the same way the alt-right does now in claiming they are the champions of free (albeit hate) speech, and the establishment the purveyors of suppression.

The ironies are just too rich to ignore: here is the establishment warning Trump’s anti-hippie-hippies that they are in danger of falling prey to Russian manipulation, the same way The Man tried to convince the ‘60s hippies they were playing into the hands of the Soviet Union. Trump’s supporters are as impervious to such a clarion call as was Abbie Hoffman, the premier merry prankster of the ‘60s.

The “anti-hippie-hippie” theory explains his supporters shrugging off Trump’s brown-nosing Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki summit. The counterculture did not turn its back on Jane Fonda when she visited North Vietnam, during the war. Indeed, many hippies had already taken up the chant “Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh! The NLF is gonna win!”

Trump’s anti-hippies chant “We’re rootin’ for Putin! We’re rootin’ for Putin!” while the rest of us shake our heads in utter disbelief.

Trump’s overwhelmingly white supporters, you could say, are those who did not get a ​​​​​​’60s moment during the ‘60s. They mostly got a tour in Vietnam, some drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll, then Watergate and then a blue-collar job, hopefully in time to collect a pension before it was shipped overseas. But they didn’t get Freedom Rides, the Summer of Love, Woodstock, nor the chance to re-invent themselves as flower-power children.

So they, and their kids, are now — only instead of flower power, it’s glower power. And they will not be denied.

This best explains their utter gleefulness. The more liberals, even sensible Republicans, warn the end is nigh, the more gleeful they become, which is why consternation is pandemic amongst liberals. That is the anti-hippie hippie’s point. Their glee is doubly magnified because unlike the ‘60s hippies, their undisputed, irreplaceable leader was not assassinated nor jailed, but elected to the highest office. (Imagine Abbie Hoffman as president in 1969, and Black Panther Huey Newton vice president and you get a feel for how good it feels to be them!)

The ‘60s hippies didn’t want to educate the “man in the gray suit” — they wanted to put a “kick me” sign on his back. Neither do the Trumpista anti-hippies want to “rap” with liberals. Like the hippies, they want most to outrage, exhaust and alienate an establishment they believe is corrupt, doting and incapable of reform.

And like the real hippies, Trumpistas are loyal only to themselves and those who believe, even live, as they do. The rest of us are too square, man, to get it. And Trump’s anti-hippies are determined they “won’t get fooled again” by Democrats nor Republican sellouts.

The parallels match, in a reverse image, through-the-looking-glass way. The hippies’ mantra was “trust no one over 30.” The Trumpistas warn, “trust no one under 30.” The hippies read countercultural media like Ramparts magazine, which once ran the headline “Enemy bombs Hanoi.” The anti-hippies watch Sean Hannity rave “Deep State Overthrows Trump.”

The whole messy, unwashed, impolite, seething mass of countercultural ‘60s crazy was seeking to expand the reach of our national credo — E Pluribus Unum — to those who had been excluded from the One for so long.

And what was their legacy? The civil rights and voting rights acts? Ask Black Lives Matter if the work is finished. Women organizing themselves as feminists? Ask the #MeToo movement if that work is finished.

The legacy of the ‘60s, ultimately, was not political, but an evolutionary leap in consciousness. The hippies, for all their dopey theater and often painful displays of middle-class, white privilege, looked at the wall America had built around all people are created equal and kicked it over — if not in daily practice, then in our national consciousness. Their legacy is they picked the lock on Straight White Male America and the door popped open.

Trump’s anti-hippies in this their summer, not of love, but of their discontent, seek to rebuild that wall, to close that door, to rewrite E Pluribus Unum as Omnis Homo Sibi — everyman for himself.

The anti-hippies cannot put the genie of multicultural liberation back into the lily-white bottle — you cannot undo evolutionary change. But it is clear the change begun fifty years ago is still playing out. That a large swath of America that did not heed the call for liberation — either because they did not hear it or did not think it called to them — is now determined to drown it out.

The ‘60s hippies were a generational turnover — rebellious youth as the tip of the spear of change, messy as it was, and is. Trump’s anti-hippies are a counterinsurgency of the Old Farts, as they follow their mad Merry Prankster on his electric Kool-Aid hater trip.

I have field-tested this idea on some of my otherwise impervious Trumpista Facebook friends, and frankly, it freaked them out, man! Give it a try.

Joe Gannon is not a baby boomer. He is a novelist and teacher in Northampton. He can be reached at


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