In The Hardhat Riot, David Paul Kuhn tells the fateful story of when the white working class first turned against liberalism, when Richard Nixon seized the breach, and America was forever changed, paving the way for presidencies from Ronald Reagan to Trump.
Kuhn argues persuasively that the riot sparked a vast national political shift driven by a widening divide between the working class and the educated elite that has led to the era of the Trump presidency ... Kuhn’s accounts of the violence are vivid and raw. It was a brutal, ugly day, with instigators on both sides. For those of us who lived in New York at the time, the book rekindles painful memories. For me, then a young opponent of the Vietnam War, Kuhn’s narrative brought a new understanding of the spontaneous, 'demonstrably sincere' actions of the hard hats ... The author concludes with a sharp analysis of how the revolt of the White working class almost immediately reshaped American politics.
Just after the 2016 election, [Kuhn] wrote a New York Times op-ed headlined 'Sorry, Liberals. Bigotry Didn’t Elect Donald Trump.' Now he has synthesized his message with a lesson from history: The Hardhat Riot a riveting account of the May 1970 explosion of New York’s blue-collar workers who confronted an antiwar rally designed to shut down Wall Street after President Nixon sent American troops into Cambodia ... By capturing the moment Mr. Kuhn reminds us of how divisive this era really was.Mr. Kuhn’s avoids polemics and judgment, yet leads the reader to understand the deeper questions implicit in so many of today’s political debates ... The divisions grew ever wider after the war, coupled as they were with dramatic demographic changes in the country, and the decision of the Democratic Party to rebuild its power base on identity politics, often with white males as a foil ... The Hardhat Riot insightfully explains why and how this happened. Perhaps the Democratic Party’s leaders will finally understand what David Paul Kuhn has been trying to tell them.
The Hardhat Riot...vividly evokes an especially ugly moment half a century ago, when the misbegotten Vietnam War and a malformed notion of patriotism combined volatilely ... Kuhn ably and amply documents the cowardly beating of women, the gratuitous cold-cocking of men and the storming of a shakily protected City Hall, where the mayor’s people, to the hard hats’ rage, had lowered the flag in honor of the Kent State dead ... Kuhn favors straightforward journalistic prose, with few grand flourishes. In setting scenes, he tends toward a staccato, some of it overdone ... Hardly every antiwar protester merits his go-to characterization of them as potty-mouthed hippies.