“People react to fear, not love. They don’t teach that in Sunday school, but it’s true.”
Tag Archives: Richard M. Nixon
“It seems clear that [Attorney General William Barr] will do or enable anything to keep Trump in office. And Trump will do anything to stay there. Suspension of the election, negation of the results, declaration of martial law are not simply fanciful, alarmist or crazy things to throw out there or to contemplate. Members of Congress, governors and state legislators, leaders in civil society, lawyers, law enforcement figures and the military need to be thinking now about how they might respond.”
– Norm Orenstein, Chair of American Enterprise Institute of Public Policy Research
Donald Trump has joked recently that he might not leave office after a second term, as mandated by the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This particular amendment was ratified in response to the 12-year tenure of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The original authors of the Constitution had never intended for any elected Chief Executive to hold the position as if it were a divinely-inspired monarchy. They certainly didn’t anticipate Roosevelt, but they most likely designed the Constitution with concerns about scandalous characters like Trump. Our 45th Chief Executive made his claim about an extended presidency last month at a conference of the conservative Israeli-American Council in Hollywood, Florida. I’ve always found it oxymoronic – downright hypocritical, actually – that Trump bears such ardor for Israel and the Jewish people, while openly courting White supremacists. But that’s a different subject.
The thought of Trump holding just one term in the White House was frightening enough three years ago. That he could be elected to a second term is deeply unsettling. That he could somehow forcibly remain in the office even one day longer makes the bloodiest horror films look like Hallmark greeting card commercials.
Yet Trump is delusional enough to believe that’s a real possibility, and he has plenty of supporters who would be comfortable with such a scenario. Those of us who live in the real world understand this simply could not be allowed per that pesky 22nd Amendment. Still, even some constitutional experts have surmised Trump might make such an attempt. That would be reality TV at its worst! Richard Nixon quietly left the White House, following an impassioned farewell speech to his staff, in August of 1974. There were no guns blazing or hand grenades exploding. Nixon and his family weren’t spirited out of the White House through a tunnel to avoid angry mobs of detractors. The Nixons simply strolled onto the South Lawn, accompanied by newly-appointed President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, to Marine One. The helicopter made the loudest sound of anything. That’s how a peaceful transition of power occurs, even in the most dire and tense of situations.
With Trump, I can almost see him and his wife, Melania, scurrying through that tunnel in a setting reminiscent of Romania’s Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. I honestly don’t believe it will ever come to that sanguineous of a climax. Yet, I wouldn’t put it past the infantile Trump to grip onto the door frame of the master bedroom.
But, while Trump’s behavior can’t be taken too lightly, another aspect of the current American experience that definitely shouldn’t be dismissed is the effect Trump’s presidency has had on his faithful minions and the sentiments that put someone like him into office. Decades of socially progressive behavior and legislation gave us Barack Obama and others like him; individuals who didn’t meet the traditional standard of those in position of power. In other words, Obama and others weren’t White males. Just a half century ago it was inconceivable that someone like Obama could ascend to the highest elected office in the land. It was unimaginable that Nancy Pelosi would be the one banging the gavel in the House of Representatives. Only a handful of visionaries thought it possible that Hilary Clinton could be a serious contender for the presidency, or that Pete Buttigieg could live openly gay AND serve in the U.S. military AND talk about having a “husband.” People born, say, since 1990 have no idea what a vastly different world it is today than in the few years before their time.
Now, it seems the nation has digressed with Donald Trump. Decades ago, Ronald Reagan aspired for America to return to a time before the 1960s messed up everything. That was a simpler time for him and others just like him. But it meant Blacks sat at the back of the bus; women sought nothing but marriage and motherhood; queers remained in the closet; and Native Americans languished as comical figures on TV screens. The 1960s may have messed up the world for the likes of Reagan and Nixon, but it opened up the universe for everyone else.
As I marched through my junior year in high school, I began receiving phone calls from a man with the local recruiting office of the U.S. Army. I believe I’d spoken to him at least twice, before my father happened to answer the phone one day; whereupon he politely told the man that I had plans for college and that he and my mother were determined to ensure I get there and graduated. Just a few years later I’d openly stated I had considered joining either the Navy or the Marines. And each time my father talked me out of it. In retrospect, I understand why.
As a naïve high school student in the late 1940s, my father had been convinced NOT to take a drafting course and instead go for something in the blue collar arena. “Most Spanish boys do this,” is how he quoted the female school counselor telling him. My father liked to draw and – much like his own father – had the desire and talent for an architectural profession. But he’d been talked out of it. Because that was what most “Spanish boys do”. College was for White guys. Trade school and the military were for everyone else.
Years of struggle – working twice as hard for half as much – and assertive civil rights action had led America to the early 1980s, when I graduated from high school. And didn’t have to join the military. In the spring of 1983, I was sitting in a government class at a local community college, when the instructor asked, “What do we owe minorities in this country?”
Seated in the row in front of me was a young man who had graduated with me from the same high school. I knew his name, but I didn’t know him personally. Without missing a beat, he muttered, “Nothing.”
Only the few of us nearby heard him. He was White, as was most everyone else seated on either side of him. From my vantage point directly behind him, he looked angry; as if he’d been robbed of something that was rightfully his.
I finally spoke up and informed the class that “this country” owes the same thing to minorities that it does to everyone else: equality and fairness; “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, as prescribed in the Declaration of Independence. I added, “Nothing more, nothing less.”
That one young man and the others nearby nodded their collective heads and looked at me, as if I’d said something unbelievably profound – which, to them, it may have been.
That level of total fairness and freedom hasn’t been easy. But nothing so monumental as dramatic cultural changes are. The Civil War, for example, ended more than 150 years ago. Yet, some people in the Deep South of the United States still can’t let that go. They still insist it was a war over states’ rights, not slavery. They’ve been fighting that conflict all these years and they still haven’t won!
That’s a little of what Donald Trump’s presidency is all about: a bunch of old-guard folks wanting to maintain things as they were way back when. And it’s just not going to work for them any longer. The old White Republicans dominating the U.S. Senate disrespected Barack Obama as much as they could without making it too glaringly obvious. They did everything they could to undermine his presidency and essentially failed at every step. If anything, they only hurt the country and their reputations.
Social and political conservatives can’t return to an America of the 1940s and 50s any more than liberals can return to an America of the 1990s. Memories are forever, but time marches onward. It always has and it always will. Trump’s presidency may be the final battle cry of the angry White male.
But we can’t go back to whenever. Time continues.
“I gave ’em a sword. And they stuck it in, and they twisted it with relish. And I guess if I had been in their position, I’d have done the same thing.”
“Never let yourself be persuaded that any one great man, any one leader, is necessary to the salvation of America. When America consists of one leader and 158 million followers, it will no longer be America.”
From a political standpoint, this has not been a good week for the United States. On Wednesday, the 18th, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump. Trump now holds the dubious distinction of being only the third Chief Executive to be recommended for removal from office. As much as I personally despise our Russian-elected president, I’d rather see him voted out of office next November than be forcibly removed. It would be the single strongest message to Trump and his band of right-wing sycophants that their extremist ideology is of no use to the American populace.
But the impeachment process hints at a failure in our national leadership and puts the institution of voting into question. As the oldest continually-functioning democracy in the world, the U.S. has always been a beacon of freedom; our constitution an enviable guide to how a nation should operate. Our right to vote is a core element of our very national existence. It’s the heart of our democratic soul. The president of the United States is often deemed the leader of the Free World. That other elected officials would seek to oust him from that pinnacle slashes at our democratic heart.
I’m old enough to remember Watergate. Even people who considered themselves staunch conservatives had to concede that President Richard Nixon was as crooked and devious as his detractors made him out to be. On the night Nixon announced his resignation, millions of Americans tuned into the live broadcast. Afterwards there was no sense of real jubilation. As the nation inched closer to its bicentennial, most people – including my parents – felt sad. When Nixon left the White House, the transition of the office occurred at the tip of a pen, instead of the barrel of a gun. After all, we didn’t live in a third-world society. No tanks, no bombs and no bloodshed. Still, Americans asked, how did we get to this point?
I definitely recall the Clinton impeachment fiasco. My brain and body became flush with anger at the self-righteousness of the Republicans Party. They had done everything to undermine Bill Clinton’s presidency – even before he won the Democratic Party’s formal nomination. And they failed. Their bloodthirsty overreach extended shamelessly to the president’s secretary and the mother of the woman who kept that infamous blue dress. They paid the price for their arrogance in the November 1998 midterm elections. They lost their super-majority in both houses of Congress. Conversely, the Democrats gained seats; the first time the same party as the president attained positions in the House and the Senate in a midterm election since 1942.
And now, here we are – for the second time some twenty years – at the threshold of usurping the leader of the Free World. How did we get to this point? As I wrote in an essay two years ago, impeachment should not be taken lightly. Neither politicians nor average citizens should become obsessed with it. A sanguineous mindset traumatizes the national soul.
With the term “impeached” now added to the title of President, Donald Trump’s place in political history has been secured – unpleasantly and distastefully carved into the American psyche. He cannot escape it. Deny it, yes, as his narcissistic persona is already doing. But – like the sky – it’s ubiquitous and unmalleable.
How painful for this nation.
“There’s no good that can come out of secrecy.”
– John Dean, former White House counsel to President Richard Nixon
This past April marked twenty years since the death of President Richard M. Nixon, which came nearly two decades after he became the first Chief Executive in U.S. history to resign from office. That ignominious fortieth anniversary is coming up next month. It’s not something to be celebrated. The Watergate affair that brought him down has left an indelible stain on both American politics and the soul of the American people. Those of us in the 50 and under crowd have pretty much grown up in a world suspicious and even hostile towards all levels of government. The over 50 crowd helped build and fuel that distrust after a brutal sense of betrayal for a nation that set itself up more than two centuries ago as a beacon of democracy and freedom.
I’ve always said Watergate burned whatever bridges of faith and trust the American public had in their elected officials. But, the wicked uncertainty actually began the moment President John F. Kennedy had his head blown apart by an assassin’s bullets and Jacqueline Kennedy clambered onto the trunk of the presidential limousine in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The ensuing Warren Commission Report hoped to quell doubts that the murder was anything but the act of one deranged ex-Marine with delusions of grandeur. Yet, people saw it for what it really was: a rush to judgment. Americans weren’t so gullible anymore. The quagmire in Vietnam; the various energy crises of the 1970s; and the absolute failures of the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter Administrations (the latter burdened by the ineptness of the Iran hostage ordeal) only sealed the fate of Americans’ general distrust of their government.
Ronald Reagan fed off that fear like a lion gorging on a sick zebra and metamorphosed it into two successful political campaigns. One of his most popular statements, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’,” resonated strongly with the frustrated masses. Indeed, he had a point. But, Reagan’s own professional disconnect and ineffectiveness – Iran-contra, covert U.S. involvement in Central American conflicts, ignoring the AIDS epidemic, a pathetic war on pornography – placed him in the same pantheon of “Them.”
Almost from the moment Bill Clinton announced his candidacy for president, Republicans took retribution against their Democratic counterparts over Watergate by targeting Clinton every chance they could. They dissected the Whitewater deal and found – nothing. So, they turned to First Lady Hillary Clinton and manufactured something called “Travelgate.” When that didn’t work, they pounced on the events surrounding the suicide of Vince Foster; dragging the memory of a man who may have had severe emotional problems into their cesspool of arrogance and striving fruitlessly to twist it into an evil political plot. Alas, in 1998, they zeroed in on something totally unrelated to politics: the Monica Lewinsky affair and tried to impeach Clinton over a tawdry sexual indiscretion. The final report by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr read like a soft-core porn novel. I remember looking at that mess and thinking, “They want to impeach a U.S. president over that?! A blowjob?!”
We see that stubbornness now with the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. They complain that President Obama has no viable plans to help the U.S. economy, for example, but stand in their buckets of ideological cement and won’t budge. Thus, Obama (slowly growing some semblance of a backbone) has been forced to invoke executive privileges to get the work done. Now, Boehner is threatening to sue him because of it! I remember Boehner repeatedly asking, “Where are the jobs?” But, when Obama wanted the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans to expire at the end of 2010, Republicans balked and threatened to block extension of unemployment benefits, which were also set to expire at the end of that year; thus holding struggling Americans hostage. Obama relented, and the wealthiest citizens continued to see their after-tax incomes grow, while average Americans continued to lose their jobs and their homes.
The administration of George W. Bush solidified, in my mind, the corruptness and intransigence of the U.S. government. The 09/11 horror compelled many Americans to question what our government officials know and what they’re doing about it. That the Bush Administration then tied the 09/11 affair to Iraq’s alleged development of nuclear and / or chemical weapons convinced so many of us that our government is willing to go to extreme lengths to obfuscate and mislead just to embolden its own agenda. They tap-danced on the dead bodies of the innocent people who hurtled themselves from the World Trade Center’s burning Twin Towers and merely wiped the blood of soldiers from the millions of dollars they earned from oil revenue.
Bush was a puppet president; a doll adorned in designer business suits and propped up with ersatz ‘Mission Accomplished’ bravado. I almost feel sorry for him. Even he said, after leaving the White House, that he felt “liberated.”
Obama hasn’t done much better. At least he’s more verbally adept than Bush. But, I wish he’d make the time to rummage through his wife’s cache of designer handbags for his gonads before telling John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, “Fuck you. I’m president of the United States. I run this shit here – not you guys.”
It bothers me, for example, that we’re still entrenched in Afghanistan. I feel we should have bombed the crap out of them twelve years ago – damn their civilians, including the children and women, because they didn’t care about ours – and then leave. Maybe airdrop a few high-protein biscuits and bottled water into the mountainside, just to show we’re not complete assholes and go about our own business.
But, it bothers me even more that Obama hasn’t empowered Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the causes of the near-total economic collapse in 2008. The worst financial downturn since the 1930s didn’t happen because someone on the Dow Jones trading floor accidentally unplugged a computer before the end of the business day because they needed to do a software upgrade. It resulted from a multitude of events; such as hefty tax cuts for that “job-creating” 1%; extreme deregulation of the housing and banking industries; and the billions of dollars on the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Except for a handful of notable exceptions – Bernie Madoff, Mark Dreier – no one has been held accountable for the “Great Recession.” But, if I walk into a local convenience store with a toy gun and rob the Pakistani clerk of fifty bucks, I could spend thirty years in prison. I believe there were other more diabolical machinations in play, beginning in 2001, that caused the economic downturn. Yes, economies endure cycles of bull and bear markets. But, this fiasco wasn’t just cyclical, like rainfall. Somebody did something, and it wasn’t by accident.
In February 2012, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe stunned her constituents by announcing that she wouldn’t seek reelection that year. She didn’t hesitate to explain why: the level of hostility and unwillingness to compromise in the U.S. Congress had become unbearable. To her, I guess, it wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. It was a shame. Snowe was one of the most level-headed politicians in Washington, regardless of party affiliation. She was willing to listen to and work with all of her colleagues. But, many of them just didn’t seem to share the same ethic.
I still say it all goes back to Watergate. Nixon and his band of henchmen were determined to keep the president in power, as the 1972 elections neared. Nixon had a modest tenure as Vice-President under Dwight Eisenhower, but suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the upstart Kennedy in 1960. When he lost the California governor’s race in 1962, he vowed to exit public life altogether, loudly proclaiming, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.” But, he just couldn’t stay away. He loved the political game and desperately wanted the presidency. His dogged ambition put him in the White House six years after the California debacle – and forced him back out six years later.
Things have never been the same since. And, we still can’t bring ourselves to trust anyone in government.
This past Friday, May 17, marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the Watergate hearings. The Watergate scandal was a cataclysmic event in American politics; an imbroglio that brought down a sitting president and exposed the seedy underside of government. It also made the American public realize their worst fears about elected officials were true.
Watergate actually refers to the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., a luxurious complex overlooking the Potomac River. Here in the pre-dawn hours of June 17, 1972, Frank Wills, a night security guard happened to stumble upon a group of men breaking into the Democratic National Party’s headquarters. Ronald Zigler, then President Richard Nixon’s press secretary, denounced it as a “third rate burglary.” It was enough to stave off any connection to Nixon who coasted to a landslide victory over South Dakota Senator George McGovern that November. Nixon wasn’t that popular. His constant delays in failing to end the Vietnam War looked to be a portent to his reelection, especially considering that 1972 was the first year 18 – 20 year olds could vote. But, McGovern – despite his staunch anti-war views – wasn’t that effective or ambitious. He only took one state: Massachusetts. He tried to make Watergate an issue, but no information had surfaced yet tying Nixon to the burglary. After the scandal broke, Bay State residents started driving around with bumper stickers proclaiming, “Don’t blame me. I’m from Massachusetts.”
Jim Lehrer, who turns 79 today, was an early player in the media obsession over the Watergate Hearings. He and fellow journalist Robert MacNeil commenced a then-innovative programming venture by covering the hearings live during the day and then discussing them in the evening. In the days before cable TV and the Internet, Americans received most of their news from TV and print sources. Critics condemned the move; insisting that PBS should focus more on its original intent: cultural and educational subjects. But, the public was hooked. Besides, the hearings quickly proved educational, in that people learned the minutia of daily government; plus, it was definitely a cultural milestone in American history.
I was only 9 when those hearings started. My parents would rush home after work that summer to eat dinner and drop down on the couch to watch PBS. I was more obsessed with my new German shepherd puppy. But, I have vague recollections of those hearings and I quickly realized how significant the entire mess was.
Watergate was a critical juncture in American history; a cumbersome and frightening crossroad on the political and legal front. It bridged the nation’s faux gold-plated past of high-minded constitutionalists fighting for democracy and liberty with the brutal reality of government corruption and deceit. The country had almost self-destructed under the commotion of the 1960s: the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy; the battles of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago; and the decade’s various civil rights movements. Its brightest point – the only event that truly united us – seemed to be the 1969 moon landing.
Then, came Watergate, and everything in America changed. Political figures never had much of an angelic reputation, here in the U.S. or anywhere. But, not many in the American populace ever suspected their own president would stoop to overseeing a burglary. Nixon apparently was so determined to win reelection he would break the law to find anything nefarious about his opponent. Nixon’s tapes, recorded in what he thought was the sanctity and privacy of the Oval Office, sealed his fate. Americans were shocked to learn how foul-mouthed and hateful he was. Reading the excerpts in the local newspaper – with the word ‘expletive’ carefully juxtapositioned amidst the rest of the text – my parents couldn’t believe it.
By the summer of 1974 – as more details of the Watergate affair became clear, due in part to the dogged efforts of “The Washington Post’s” Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward – the hearings metamorphosed into impeachment proceedings. For only the second time in our nation’s history, a sitting American president faced the possibility of forced removal from office. In August of that year, with the jaws of the scandal enveloping him, Nixon became the first president in American history to resign. His Vice-President, Gerald R. Ford, ascended to the Oval Office. Ford was almost a product of chance. Spiro Agnew had been Nixon’s vice-president. But, as the Watergate mess unfolded, Agnew faced his own quandary; he was indicted for tax fraud while governor of Maryland. Under threat of impeachment, Agnew resigned in October 1973; only the second time that has happened in U.S. history. When Ford assumed the presidency, he appointed Nelson Rockefeller as his vice-president. Another dubious first: Americans found themselves with both a president and vice-president for whom they did not vote.
Ford exacerbated the problem by pardoning Nixon a month after taking office, and – along with the burgeoning energy crises, the Vietnam disaster and Jimmy Carter’s own disastrous presidency – the entire 1970s seemed like an unmitigated failure. The only high point was the 1976 Bicentennial celebration.
That was the death knell for American politics as the nation knew it. Whatever shred of dignity remained in the concept of public service splattered against the fan of volatility. Nixon’s tactics established an unsettling trend: political candidates now focus more on what’s wrong with their opponent than on their own achievements. It reached an apex during the 2000 presidential elections when George W. Bush’s inner circle used every filthy machination they could pull out of their rectal sewers to assail the other side. It was the only way they could get an otherwise inept and unenviable candidate into the presidency. They had done it six years earlier, when Bush first ran for governor of Texas. His cronies began planting rumors that incumbent Governor Ann Richards had – gasp! – homosexuals serving openly in her administration. That was enough to send the God-fearing rednecks to the voting booth – as if that had anything to do with governing. But, people fell for it.
And, that’s just it. Some people keep buying into the validity of such nonsense. They believe, for example, that the Bill Clinton sex scandal really was a threat to national security, or that Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya. I watch every presidential debate, along with other political discourses, and wonder, ‘What do you plan to do for me?’ Texas’ newest senator, Ted Cruz, gave an impassioned defense on why Chuck Hagel shouldn’t be Secretary of Defense, but has said virtually nothing about working with the president on the economy. If anything, Cruz seems determined not to work with President Obama on anything!
Thus, is the spawn of Watergate. Politics has become filthy, putrid and unmerciful. Countless numbers of qualified individuals – well-educated, well-intentioned, articulate and compassionate – won’t sacrifice their souls and the souls of their families to the evil deity known as the American political machine. After all, who wants to jump into that mess?