Fifty years ago, this week, while celebrating his victory in the hard-fought 1968 California Democratic Presidential primary, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.  That tragedy was a seminal event in a tumultuous year; it was a year in which the political landscape was upended.

Politics in California and in the nation were changed forever.

Bobby Kennedy was a complicated figure. As a Congressional staffer, he had worked with conservative Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy and then went on to earn a hard-edged reputation as the tough-as-nails campaign manager for his brother’s pursuit of the presidency.

After President John Kennedy’s assassination, Bobby continued as U.S.  Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson, even though RFK and LBJ had a long history of mutual disdain that dated back to the 1960 campaign.   He resigned his post to run for the U.S. Senate from New York in 1964. As he came into his own as a Senator, Kennedy emerged as a champion of Blacks, Latinos and the poor and a fierce critic of Johnson’s ill-fated war in Viet Nam.

Senator Kennedy had waffled on his decision to run for President in 1968.  Despite his personal antipathy to President Johnson, the positions of both men were well aligned on domestic issues, particularly civil rights and the War on Poverty.   It wasn’t until early in 1968 that Kennedy decided to make the run.

Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy was already in the race, as a protest candidate against the war.  Like Bernie Sanders, the McCarthy candidacy came out of nowhere, but quickly captured an energized following, particularly on college campuses. Also, like Sanders, McCarthy became enraptured with his own candidacy and turned it into a personal crusade.  It is thought by many that McCarthy’s original motivation was resentment over LBJ’s failure to choose him for Vice President in 1964.

When McCarthy made a much better than expected showing in the New Hampshire Primary, Kennedy briefly hesitated on his announcement of a decision to run–reached before New Hampshire at Hickory Hill, his Virginia estate; he was fearful that it would look like big-footing McCarthy after the Minnesota Senator had wounded the President.

McCarthy supporters did, indeed, resent Kennedy for being what they viewed as an opportunist. (For the weeks following Bobby’s entrance into the fray, student members of McCarthy’s “Children’s Crusade” gleefully chortled, “McCarthy has the ‘A students;’ Kennedy has the ‘B students.’)

Back in 1968, there were fewer primaries and caucuses weren’t a big thing.  Delegates were largely selected by the party apparatus, which gave President Johnson and then his designated heir, Hubert Humphrey, a decided advantage. After duking it out in several state primaries, the showdown between Kennedy and McCarthy came down to California’s winner-take-all contest. Kennedy carried the Golden State but lost his life, crushing the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans.

Coming on the heels of Martin Luther King’s assassination and the growing division over the Viet Nam war, Kennedy’s death hardened political attitudes and created a sense of frustration and anger that permeated the Democratic Party and erupted in the tumultuous national convention in Chicago.

In the end, Richard Nixon edged out Hubert Humphrey in November and the rest, as they say, is history.

Much of Bobby Kennedy’s legacy still persists in the Democratic Party. In his first term as Governor, Jerry Brown picked up the cause of Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers and enacted groundbreaking legislation.

Black and Latino voters continue to be an essential part of the Democratic base.  “Pure progressive” and party pragmatists still duel.

What is missing in today’s politics is Kennedy’s spirit of inclusion and reconciliation.

Senator Ted Kennedy’s eulogy portrayed his brother’s political legacy this way:

“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. He should be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

In every way, Robert Kennedy is the polar opposite of Donald Trump.

Half a century later, as the political world tilts off its axis, Californians, by and large, still embrace the Kennedy legacy, but it remains to be seen whether the rest of the country will follow.