…thinking about what the world needs to look like beyond getting rid of #45.
At 9:01 pm on August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon went on TV to announce his resignation. Facing impeachment for his involvement in the complex series of events usually described as the Watergate scandal, he’d concluded it was time to go.
“I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time president and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad…. Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.”
I lived in Washington DC at the time. There was a late night party of sorts in the street outside the White House, with news crews filming young people spraying cheap champagne. A month later President Gerald Ford ended his own political career by issuing a “full, free, and absolute pardon,” eliminating any possibility of an indictment, trial, or legal sanctions.
People tend to forget the long and complex the process the nation went through before we were “free” of an administration that had gone awry. There were lots of days with explosive revelations many of us thought would certainly bring the 37th Presidency to an end. There were the nationally televised press conferences we feared would end with a declaration of martial law and a national roundup of dissidents. It wasn’t quick. It wasn’t easy.
Also forgotten are the changes large and small following the end of the Nixon era in the ways government and politics functioned. It was a turning point in more ways than we realized.
The overlap between the Committee to Re-elect Nixon and elements of the clandestine services set the stage for Congressional inquiries into the nation’s spy agencies. The Church Committee published fourteen reports in 1975/6 on various U.S. intelligence agencies‘ abuses of law and of power.
A similar investigation held today would run into a wall of silence behind which hide private contractors responsible for a majority of the core analytic and operational work once done by government employees.
The end of the Nixon era represented a change in the relationship between private industry and government. The idea of Republicans ‘managing’ governmental responses to societal pressures gave way to an ethos holding the marketplace as the ultimate arbiter.
The Powell memo, originally written in 1971 for US Chamber of Commerce by a lawyer who Nixon would later elevate to the Supreme Court, set forth a strategy for the corporate takeover of the dominant public institutions of American society.
The political disruption associated with Watergate made for a favorable environment for those ideas to grow.
From PR Watch, published by the Center for Media and Democracy:
Historian Kim Phillips-Fein describes how “many who read the memo cited it afterward as inspiration for their political choices.” In fact, Powell’s Memo is widely credited for having helped catalyze a new business activist movement, with numerous conservative family and corporate foundations (e.g. Coors, Olin, Bradley, Scaife, Koch and others) thereafter creating and sustaining powerful new voices to help push the corporate agenda, including the Business Roundtable (1972), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC – 1973), Heritage Foundation (1973), the Cato Institute(1977), the Manhattan Institute (1978), Citizens for a Sound Economy (1984 – now Americans for Prosperity), Accuracy in Academe (1985), and others.
Fast forward to the fall of the Soviet Union, which then-neoconservative political scientist Francis Fukuyama described as the worldwide triumph of liberal democracy and market capitalism.
The miracles of globalization were the supposed to, according to political theology of the day embraced by Democrats and Republicans, lead the world into a capitalist utopia, with needs of the people met by free trade and laissez faire government.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way. The bombing of the Twin Towers in 2001 was the beginning of the end of that era. It ways we’re only beginning to realize, it set the stage for the Trump era.
Now we’re here at the end of the first 200 days of the Presidency of Donald J. Trump.
A Faustian deal between a small man with a large ego and the Republican party’s elders threatens to roll back the social and political advances of the past century.
The theology of the marketplace and the supremacy of the white male are now the symbols of progress held up by our nation’s leaders.
Eating away at the foundations of Trumpian power are the many transgressions committed for the sake of ‘winning.’ It’s possible the long arm of the law may catch up with the 45th President of the United States.
That day of reckoning, if it comes, won’t put the demons unleashed in the name of fear to rest. The xenophobia, the misogyny, the racism, and the cult worshiping at the altar of ignorance will remain.
This is why simply winning a bunch of elections in 2018/2020 (and, yes, need to do it) won’t be enough to heal the nation. Donald Trump is a symptom, caused by a virus.
There are systemic problems. The very concept of representative democracy is endangered.
The cure for this illness starts at the bottom. Political activists on the left need to understand that “fighting” and “winning” need not be mutually exclusive.
On a broad level, fighting and winning means building a new sense of community tailored to the virtual world we inhabit. Fear and alienation must be replaced with caring and communication as integral parts of political activism.
On a local level, the political scandals (SANDAG, homelessness, prison pipeline) surrounding us need fixing. It’s not enough to merely expose these wrongdoings; a culture of compassion and creative excellence needs to become a political goal and the desire for those things needs to guide the politicians we choose to support.
So, it’s No-More-Nixon Day. Let’s use the occasion to do some thinking about what the world needs to look like beyond getting rid of #45.
PS-I know I used a lot of political shorthand in writing this essay. It was my goal to say something meaningful in a thousand words. I almost made it.
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