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Friday, June 2, 2023
Opinion: David Israelson: A presidential pig, the Chicago 7 and politics today

David Israelson

Special to The Lake Report

There’s a new movie called “The Trial of the Chicago 7” on Netflix, written by Aaron Sorkin. It’s timely reminder of what happens when Americans nominate a pig for president of the United States.

You’re probably thinking the same thing. 

But the story runs deeper — pigs running for president have a legacy. There’s a bit of a history in America of porcine presidential candidates. And some lessons. 

The original pig-for-president nomination took place in 1968, in a park outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago, where there were massive demonstrations against the Vietnam War, racial injustice and many other causes people now associate with youth rebellion of the '60s. 

It was guerilla theatre — the pig, named Pigasus, was nominated by the Youth International Party, or Yippies. The Yippie leaders demanded that Pigasus be treated like any other candidate, with Secret Service protection and foreign policy briefings. 

The demonstrations got ugly. The Chicago police waded into crowds and cracked people's heads. “The whole world’s watching,” the protesters chanted. Protest organizers — the  Chicago 7 — were put on trial, and Pigasus’ nomination came up during the proceedings. No one is sure what happened to the pig. 

I watched Sorkin’s new “Chicago 7” movie and I really liked it — no mention of Pigasus, though. Yet, watching it, I remember the pig incident yet again. 

I can think of several lessons we learned from the pig’s story. 

First, we might want to consider the unintended consequences of the pig-for-president-protest. Many people think fondly of the '60s as the peace-and-love Age of Aquarius, but what about the darker forces that responded?

Many of us who were youngsters in 1968 thought Pigasus was funny. And fun. We got a youthful buzz about the way the whole pig thing enraged other people, particularly older, tightly wound folks.  

But rage is a two-way street, isn’t it? Check out the twisted anger on the faces at some of those super-spreader MAGA rallies on TV.

The consequences of politics devolving from speeches to gross, World Wrestling-type shouting and screaming has obviously infected the U.S., and indeed, poisoned politics elsewhere. The pig protest certainly didn’t start it, but the protest was a catalyst that helped move politics more quickly toward the never-ending, sordid series of insults we live with today.  

It was one of the first reality TV shows. At the time, it seemed liberating to be outrageous, to hurl invective at authority, to say anything so long as it gets attention. 

Now it’s normal.

The difference is that now the ugliness is a feature, not a novelty. 

The next lesson we learned was about disillusionment. Earlier that year, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were gunned down. By the time protesters got to Chicago in the summer, many people, particularly the young, felt that the system was rigged. Some people were fed up; others gave up. 

As the 1968 election season unfolded, it became apparent that bad people could grasp at and cling to power and then do whatever they wanted, no matter what the people said.

Sound familiar? That’s what the bad folks wanted.

The other thing the nomination of a pig achieved was that it really helped lower the bar. If you could get TV time to equate a nominee for the most powerful position on Earth with a pig, how low could you go?

There doesn’t seem to be any limit now, does there?

Finally, the pig episode makes us think a lot about something Karl Marx said. Yes, that Karl Marx.

Marx was wrong about a lot of things — how’s that whole workers’ paradise thing going so far, folks?

But one thing Marx said comes to mind here — he said that history happens twice, first as tragedy, then as farce.

Which happened first here, though? The nomination of Pigasus for president was designed as a farce. But was it laying the groundwork for tragedy today?

It’s hard even to keep track. Virus-spreading, lying, bullying, mismanaging, covering up, tweeting instead of leading, winking at Nazis and crazed conspiracy theorists, trying to destabilize an election. Tragic? A farce? Both? 

I suppose it depends on the outcome of the U.S. election — unless it gets even messier than it is already. Meanwhile, the whole world’s watching again and a lot of what we’re seeing is worse than what you’d expect from a pig. 

And yes, you’re probably thinking the same thing too.

David Israelson is a writer and communications consultant and Niagara-on-the-Lake resident. This article appeared in the Lawyer's Daily on Oct. 21.   

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