Saturday, August 9, 2014

Long National Nightmares

Forty years ago today, Richard Nixon resigned.  As Gerald Ford took over, he said, "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not of men."

I call Watergate my first political memory.  I would have just turned 9 years old during these national events.  I don't remember any of the televised hearings, but I do remember this week.  We were vacationing in Myrtle Beach, my family along with some other non-relative families.   We stayed in an old beach house, back in the days when old beach houses had no televisions, no radios, back in the days before incessant connectivity.

I remember the adults starting their cars periodically to get the news updates.  They must have come back to report to the group.  That must be how I found out that the president would resign.  As a child, I took this to be catastrophic news.

My memory of this day is that I said to one of the adults, "Have you heard the bad news?  The president will leave today."

I remember the adult saying to me, "Maybe it won't be bad news.  Maybe it will turn out to be good news."

As a grown-up, I do see Nixon's departure as the end of a long national nightmare.  Or was it the beginning of a brief hiatus?  I have a fondness for Gerald Ford born out of many things:  we share a birthday, and he wrote me a letter once.  I wrote to him when I was in the fifth grade.  I told him that if I was old enough, I would vote for him.  He wrote back to thank me for my support.

Yes, I know that it wasn't him writing.  But I didn't know that as a child.  I was impressed.

As a grown up, I'm still impressed with Ford.  Although I remember no legislative landmarks from his brief tenure, I remember him as a decent human who resolved to heal a country.  And I would argue that he was part of that process.

Today is also the anniversary of the nuclear bomb destroying the town of Nagasaki.  How have I been alive this long and never realized that these anniversaries fell on the same day?  My poet brain wants to play with this juxtaposition.  Alas, my poet brain needs to grade papers for my online class.

If your poet brain has time, here are some more juxtapositions.  On this day, in 1854, Walden was published.  It's also the birthday of P. L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins.  Both books seem to have a sheen of idealism that shimmer around them.  They might both have much to say about political issues past and present.  Do we want a president who is more like Mary Poppins?  Do we want a president with the idealism of Thoreau?  Do these tendencies lead us to the nuclear landscape we inhabit now?

No comments: