That Old Familiar Feeling
The following Facebook post, from author Connie Mayo, whom I admire, and whose politics I favor, recently catalyzed my vague and uncomfortable sense that the months since November 2016 hark back to a disturbing time in this country that caused me to question what it meant to be an American. Her post…
So in 1973, I was 8 years old. Nixon and Vietnam were things on the news that I had to wait through so that we could watch the Sonny and Cher show on our one TV. For those of you who were older around that time, and specifically for the Saturday Night Massacre, can anyone share what it felt like when the president seemed corrupt and out of control? Were you glued to the radio or the TV? Was it just different then because there wasn't a 24-hour news cycle and the Internet? Were you scared in that wheels-coming-off-the-bus kind of way? Did you protest? Contact your congressional representative? Did you at any point think it was Fake News? Did it dominate your dinner conversation? Did you hope for impeachment? How did you feel when he got on that helicopter and left?
I will leave it to better analysts than I to compare the technical and political similarities and differences between, say, the firing of FBI director Comey to the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre. (Jeffrey Frank’s New Yorker piece does this well.) Similarly, I’ll leave it to others to analyze our President’s connections to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
To begin to address how it felt, however, consider
What ELSE happened in 1973
1. Elvis Presley in concert broadcasts the first worldwide telecast
2. Nixon suspends offensive action and announces the end of US involvement in Viet Nam
3. Roe v. Wade overturns state bans on abortion
1. Nixon establishes the first liaison offices with the People’s Republic of China after his visit there.
2. The American Indian Movement occupies Wounded Knee, S. Dakota
3. The first POWs are released from Viet Nam
Watergate (which started in June, 1972) burglar James McCord admits he and other defendants have been pressured to stay silent.
1. First handheld cell phone call is made.
2. Watergate-White house counsel, attorney general and two staffers are fired/resign
3. The World Trade Center opens.
1. The 71-day standoff between activists and federal authorities at Wounded Knee ends with the surrender of the militants.
2. Televised Watergate hearings begin in the US Senate
3. First Space Station is launched
1. Nixon begins talks with USSR's Breshnev
2. Watergate- John Dean testifies (white house counsel)
3. “Deep Throat” retires from FBI
1. US Drug Enforcement Administration is founded
2. Congress passes Education of the Handicapped Act mandating Special Education
3. National Archives fire
4. Nixon secret recordings revealed- Watergate
US bombing of Cambodia ends
1. US backed military junta overthrows elected government in Chile
2. ITT is bombed in NYC protesting events in Chile
1. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigns
2. Saturday night massacre- firing of special prosecutor, resignation of Attorney General and deputy, leading to calls for Nixon’s impeachment.
1. Congress overrides Nixon’s veto reducing presidential power to wage war without congressional approval
2. Egypt and Israel sign a US sponsored cease-fire.
3. Gerald Ford is confirmed as Vice President of the US.
In addition, in 1973 there is an oil crisis and energy crises leading to an economic recession that will last until 1976.
And this is mostly just what’s happening in the U.S. Those of us in our early twenties at that time, had just come off an entire decade of war (screaming when your boyfriend’s number in the 1969 draft lottery was high enough that he wouldn’t have to go to Viet Nam, because we already knew that the 58,000 American military casualties were for a war we couldn’t win and shouldn’t have been in. The country was bitterly divided on this issue. Then there were the race riots all across the country that further tore the fabric of We the People.
What it felt like
So what did it feel like when the president seemed corrupt and out of control? It felt like the objective correlative of all that we’d witnessed in our most formative decade as young adults- all that made us want to speak truth to power. Our society was being run by people antithetical to our values. But I, for one, also felt fear, and a lack of efficacy. I was not a rock-throwing protester. As the child of Holocaust immigrant parents, my first impulse was to love the country that saved my family, and I wanted to rely on its democratic process to oust tricky Dick. Remember also, in 1973, Warren Burger was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Roe v Wade court. And both houses of Congress were Democratic, so we had some sense that the wheels of justice, and checks and balances at least had the possibility of working. I read, and I voted. I was a new teacher, and newly married and working hard. I was making the transition between the heady student life and the “real world.”
The only way we knew what was happening anywhere else was by reading newspapers, listening to the radio or watching television. No social media, no cell phones. John Chancellor, Harry Reasoner, Peter Jennings were newscasters you could believe. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward at the Washington Post broke the Watergate story and kept at it. For US, it felt. There were reputable newspapers in every city and town. Perhaps I was naïve, and editorial slants differed from paper to paper, but I felt that journalistic integrity existed. More often than not, I trusted the media. We didn’t have the media silos then that we have now, for better or worse. The networks were independent corporations that didn’t expect their news departments to be profitable. That’s what entertainment was for.
When Nixon got on the helicopter and left, the feeling of victory was moderated by the knowledge that one more trusted pillar of We the People- the Presidency- had been deeply compromised – that trust, for me, was never entirely restored until Obama. And how has that legacy worked out for our country?
#1973, #ConnieMayo #EveninDarkness #Nixon #newspapers #media #Vietnam #checksandbalances