Forty-five years ago, in the summer of ‘74, my family was traveling on one of our summer adventures. I can’t remember where we were going, I recall a car overloaded, and a desire to ride in front between my parents. I was 11 years old. An awkward age when you want to be a child one moment, and a teenager the next. It was the summer I discovered adult angst.
I remember our TV suddenly seemed to only provide news. Gilligan’s Island was replaced with televised hearings. And the car radio was no longer blaring the hits on WLS out of Chicago-my favorite station. Instead we had to listen to WLKM am 590-the news. Blechh!!! I remember hearing the word “Watergate” quite often. I recall thinking that the word “Watergate” was a nonsensical word, and it certainly didn’t inspire any serious thoughts. I didn’t really understand the specifics around the scandal. In fact, I didn’t even know what a scandal was. Up until that particular summer, I didn’t care to know what all the drama was about. I had marbles to collect, skis to glide on, waters to swim(not gate), books to read, and monkey bars to conquer. The world outside my immediate sphere was still a bit of a blur. The television set I used to love on rainy days, and nights became an instrument of gloom and doom. My favorite shows interrupted with special reports. Unsmiling men, speaking in serious tones were in my periphery. Flashing pictures of smoke darkened skylines, rivers choked with garbage, and children starving began to catch my eye. Flag-draped coffins flown home to devastated wives and children, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors; moved into my central focus, and took root in my nightmares. I was beginning to see the world. My world view began to expand beyond the images on the screen of our Zenith, and monotone/anxious voices crackled from the car radio. I took notice of the fear, anger, and anxiety I felt emanating from the adult world. It was a slow realization, but if I could pick a moment that defined that realization, I would choose a particular day in the summer of 1974. A day in August, during the trip I spoke of earlier in this story.
It was my turn to ride in front, sandwiched between my Mom and Dad. I loved sitting up there, pretending we were in a little sports car, with no backseat, and no siblings. (Sorry sibs, I was 5th out of 7-and don’t tell me you all didn’t have grandiose “only-child” fantasies too!) Anyway, there I was in the catbird seat, radio control at my fingertips, dreaming of souvenirs and road snacks, beautiful scenery flashing by, an adventure waiting just down the road. One minute I’m singing along to American Pie, and the next minute my dad is punching buttons on the radio.
And then it happened. Richard M Nixon, the 37th Republican President of the United States, announced his resignation. And in that moment, our family vacation bubble burst for just a short while; long enough for me to take notice, profoundly enough for me to remember it 45 years later.
My parents were Democrats, so you may be wondering why it was such a somber moment in our lives. Why didn’t my dad pull the car over and do a happy dance right there alongside Route 66?!? Despite their ideology, my parents respected the office of the President, and they were smart enough to know that this news was not good for our country. We needed strong leadership as we faced a long, unpopular war in Vietnam. We needed a smart leader while we were still recovering from the recession, and the oil crisis. We needed a leader we could unite behind as we navigated the early years of The Civil Rights Movement, and environmental activism. The world was watching. I remember feeling the weight of the world in the silence that followed Nixon’s speech on the radio. I couldn’t define it then, the way I am now, but I remember feeling a shift and a weight. It was a burden I had never felt in my eleven years on earth; and haven’t thought about until this past week.
Fast forward to earlier this week, as we face the uncertainty and danger of a presidential impeachment investigation. While reading about this latest crisis I have seen several partisan comments that alarm me almost as much as the news of the past few months. The remarks that make keep me awake at night, are those that threaten violence on a large scale if the President is impeached. But it isn’t just the pro Trump voices that scare me. The anti Trump camp who are dancing gleefully in premature victory give me pause. These gleeful fellow liberals need to take a moment and glance into our future. Both sides need to see the forest for the trees. They haven’t yet realized what a sad crisis this is for our country. Have we become so tribal, and ideologically short-sighted, that we glean joy and self satisfaction in the knowledge that the leadership of our country stands on shaky ground? At the center of this investigation and the investigations that preceded it are crimes that undermine our country’s very definition of democracy-our national election. Have we become so hell bent on being right that we bury our heads in the sand, and ignore evidence of blatant criminal activity that threatens our national security, and could result in a global catastrophe at the hands of Putin and Russia?!? Have both sides become so mired in their celebration, or in their anger regarding various investigations that we have lost sight of what is most important to our future? Are we so focused on “winning” that we are blind to the price of our so called victory? While I agree that an impeachment investigation is a necessary evil in this situation, I disagree that it is in any way a win for either side. Nor do I agree that either scenario is a call to arms. Instead it is a call for unity; a united effort to defend our Constitution and proceed with this impeachment process. Anything else portends a great loss for our country. The ideals that define us, and shape our democratic republic are at risk. This past week is yet another wake up call, a giant neon sign that says “Wake up, and live up, to our nation’s name-The UNITED States of America!” Let us actually paint the picture above the words “Country before political party”.
Rewind back to that moment in our country’s history-August 9, 1974. And remember that we were not so far flung from the middle ground that we lost our footing entirely. Instead we survived-together. This time around we can do more than survive. We can thrive. It’s up to us.