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DISSENT. Middle Americans associate black militancy with white students' dissent—university revolts that the white Middle, brought up to cherish education as an almost sacred instrument of self-improvement, find incomprehensible. "San Francisco State is being destroyed by a bunch of crummy punks." says Eric Hoffer. "Who the hell would have dreamt that a thing like this was possible? Ignorant, bedraggled, illiterate punks! Our institutions are tremendously vulnerable. What are we afraid of? Of the Government? Of the police? Of Congress? No, for God's sake, we're afraid of the individual, of the beast masquerading as man." Some less volcanic thinkers—among them many liberals and academics—have also expressed dismay. All institutions are fallible, says Columbia University's Jacques Barzun, and unending criticism can bring down the entire structure of society.
No one expresses the ideology of the Nixonian nation on dissent better than Historian Daniel Boorstin, whose book, The Decline of Radicalism, Nixon sometimes studies in a secluded den in the Executive Office Building. For an academic, Boorstin is almost ferocious about dissent: "Disagreement is the lifeblood of democracy, dissension is its cancer. Disagreers seek solutions to common problems, dissenters seek power for themselves." In a section on the "Rise of Minority Veto," which must be Agnew's text, he writes: "Small groups have more power than ever before . . . We are witnessing the explosive rebellion of small groups, who reject the American past, deny their relation to the community. This atavism, this new barbarism, cannot last if the nation is to survive." To that, Middle America offers a resounding amen.
Middle Americans believe that the radical young are operating on a vast misunderstanding of their nation. Brandeis Political Scientist John Roche tells an anecdote about the Chicago convention troubles. As he was being collared by a cop, a dissident shouted: "Long live the dictatorship of the proletariat!" Raising his nightstick, the cop retorted: "I am the proletariat." Bash bash.
VIET NAM. The war, which has claimed so many of his sons, leaves the Middle American in a moral perplexity. Most probably agree that the U.S. commitment was a mistake in the first place. Yet they want "an honorable withdrawal." The idea of a U.S. defeat troubles them. Edward Looney, a Brooklyn bus driver, lost a son a year ago; he was killed by a misdirected American shell. "We may find out some day that what we're doing in Viet Nam is wrong," he says, "but until then, it's my country right or wrong."
The My Lai massacre has only deepened the confusion. Many Middle Americans stoutly refuse to believe that it even occurred. This was true of 49% of those polled by the Minneapolis Tribune last month. When they do believe that the massacre happened, they attribute it to battlefield error and not to the malignity of American soldiers. Middle America