Roots of Division – Part 1: Watergate

Richard Nixon and Rush Limbaugh
Richard Nixon and Rush Limbaugh

This is first in a series of essays exploring how we got to this, our Great Divide.

Division, like coming together, is part of human nature. It’s part the history of any people or nation, including “we the people” of the United States. American history is replete with divisive events, but for this series I focus on four because they occurred during my lifetime so are part of my history. Each of them was divisive in its time, yet their repercussions merge today, leading to what could be among the most divisive moment in our history.

Two of those events, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, coincided over the two decades of 1955–1975. Two singular and separate events occurred in 1973: the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade and the Senate Watergate hearings. I begin with the latter.

On May 17, 1973, the Senate Watergate Committee began hearing testimony in its investigation of the 1972 GOP break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

President Richard Nixon was running for reelection at the time of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel and office complex. Much of the questioning during the hearing focused on what Nixon knew about it and, more important, when he knew about it and if he had participated in a coverup.

On May 9, 1974, impeachment hearings began before he House Judiciary Committee. On August 9, Nixon resigned from office, his impeachment imminent. The Supreme Court had ruled that Nixon must release all his tapes of secretly recorded conversations he’d had with members of his administration. These tapes, especially the last one discovered, showed the world Richard Nixon’s involvement in the cover-up. Nixon became a major embarrassment to Conservatives and the Republican Party, a condition they’ve worked hard to overcome.

Since the Watergate scandal, Republicans have been steadfast in their effort to portray Democrats as evil and in all ways worse than Republicans.

During Jimmy Carter’s third year in office, on November 4, 1979, a group of Iranian students overtook the American embassy in Tehran, Iran, taking 66 Americans hostage. Over time, the militants released 14 hostages, but 52 remained captive 444 days, until minutes after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration on January 20, 1981. Carter had failed to negotiate a release of the hostages. A military rescue attempt ended in disaster—with eight Americans killed—because of mechanical failure. Republicans held Carter personally responsible. Republican scorn handed Carter a humiliating defeat by Ronald Reagan after one term

Compare the Iran hostage situation with the Iran-Contra scandal. Members of Reagan’s administration secretly traded weapons with Iran and used the proceeds to support Nicaraguan “contras” during that country’s civil war. Nothing came of this scandal for reasons that had more to do with concealing evidence and with pardons than with innocence.

Conservatives’ balanced their hatred for Carter (despite his many accomplishments) by their adoration of Ronald Reagan as the exemplar of the Republican ideology and character.

Republicans hounded Bill Clinton with investigations of one manufactured scandal after another—not to say there wasn’t one or two real scandals during his time in office. The Republican House did impeach Clinton for  his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but the Senate acquitted him.

Yet Republicans had nothing to say about George W. Bush’s devastating invasion of Iraq justified by lies about weapons of mass destruction.

Republicans spent eight years obstructing Barack Obama, earning the epithet “the Party of No.” Among other things, they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act some 60 times, even though it was based on a plan developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Upon Obama’s election Republicans insisted he would be a failure. They worked against him to make sure he failed. In the end they insisted he was a failure. They could not bring themselves to acknowledge any of Obama’s accomplishments or his character.

On September 11, 2012, members of Ansar al-Sharia attacked the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans, including the US Ambassador to Libya. The Republican-led Congress heaped blame on then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Seven investigations, including one 11-hour stint of questioning of Clinton produced no evidence of misconduct on her part or President Obama’s. Strong suggestions emerged from Washington that the investigators’ intention was to discredit Clinton and hurt her chances of a possible run for president.

One of the most blatant examples of elevating Republicans by disparaging Democrats is Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion in 2013 that the attack on Benghazi was “one of the worst incidents, frankly, that I can recall in my career.”

This is the same Vice President Cheney who was in office on September 11, 2001, serving under President George W. Bush. The Bush administration disregarded several warnings in the spring of that year of a likely attack by Al Qaeda on American soil.

In 1987 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did away with the Fairness Doctrine, which compelled television and radio broadcasters to give equal time to controversial viewpoints. This newfound freedom opened the way for daily broadcasts by Rush Limbaugh to go unchallenged. Over the past 30 years, Limbaugh has directed his diatribes against everything Liberal. Dozens of vitriolic voices have since amplified the message of hatred for the Left and a mistrust of all media other than those which reenforce the Party line.

Today, the larger sociopolitical environment is so toxic the misinformed shout down reasonable rebuttals as lies and “fake news.” The Right considers Liberal thought cancerous, a disease with eradication the only solution. The Right lays claim as the sole possessor of patriotism, morality, and as the true heir of the American Experiment. Their “values” are the only ones that count. Hatred is now one of those “values.” Republicans use outright lying and trafficking in conspiracy theories and false equivalencies as valued tactics.

This unchallengeable rhetoric and impenetrable mindset, built over the past 44 years, have enabled Donald Trump’s ascension to power. His supporters believe he will upset the world as he puts “America First.” But it’s a world created, to a large extent, by the very people who boosted him into power.

For Part 2: Roe v. Wade go here.

Divided, We Are Falling

WW II poster. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

We now have three major political parties in the United States: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and The Party. The Party has amassed considerable power and control, using the Republican Party as a catapult into the White House. Once in, the Great Leader and his enablers are fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises without regard for the Constitution, the rule of law, or concern about any consequences.

The Republican Party has a crucial decision to make. As the majority, it can hold steady its course of division, thereby increasing the power of The Party. Or it can work with Democrats to make sure the Trumpian oligarchy crumbles in disgrace—even at the cost of some of it’s most cherished policies. Democrats have an obligation to work with their legislative partners. Devolving to dictatorship is to great a price to pay.

Now is the time for both legitimate parties to put aside their decades’ long animosity toward one other and find a common ground of civility and concern for the health and wellbeing of all citizens of this country and the country’s spirit too. We cannot endure much longer the vindictiveness, hatred, and divisiveness that has created alternating cycles of euphoria for one side and despondency for the other. Without congressional compromise and cooperation, the mutual despondency both sides is coming.

Good people everywhere—and there are more good people than not in this country, I’m sure—must make an effort to relearn what it means to respect one another, to compromise, to value the commonweal. We must relearn what truth is and seek it regardless of its consequences to our well-defended egos.

We need to come together to work together. Together we must find solutions to our many social, economical, political, and environmental problems for the good of all, now and into the future. We must realize that the short-term gains of the profiteers are against the best interests of the people.

We, together, must stand up to The Party—now, while we still can. Otherwise, if the The Party succeeds, the other two parties, if they continue to exist, will have no purpose. Then, our division will be complete and irreparable. When that happens, The Party will force the people to unite under the banner of Fascism.

Perception, Deception, and Wandering to the Woods

My mother sewed a lot, until into her 50’s when arthritis in her hands made it difficult for her to cut fabric. She’d tried electric sheers, but they were unsatisfactory.

In my early childhood, before I started school, I remember her sitting at her Kenmore machine, giving the flywheel a start with the palm of her right hand and keeping it humming along with her right knee pressed against the lever protruding below the cabinet.

We had a Crosley portable radio with two big dials: an alarm clock on the left and the radio dial on the right. A knob beneath each dial controlled the volume and the tuner. It was blue. Usually it was in the kitchen, but my mom would place the radio on the floor beneath the drop-leaf surface of the sewing machine while she worked. Sometimes I’d lay on the floor, propped on my elbows, staring with curiosity as the rhythmic chchchch of the machine accompanied whatever was playing on the radio. The only thing I can remember coming from that radio, though, was Arthur Godfrey saying, “How wah ya, how wah ya, how wah ya?”

Once, while I was playing in another part of the house, I heard my mother cry out in pain. I ran to where she sat at her machine and saw the little mound of blood well up from the center of her fingernail. I don’t remember what happened next, nor do I know how far, if not all the way through, the needle went. All I can retrieve from my memory is that little spot of blood.

It was 1955, and I was four years old. Near our house was what I thought of as “the woods.” For all I know, it could have been just a small patch of scrawny trees.

One day as I passed by the sewing room, my mother hunched over her project, I called out, telling her I was going to go to the woods. Over the chunk of the sewing machine she called back, “Okay.” So off I went. Sometime later (whether two minutes or 20), satisfied with my adventure, I strolled back to the house where my frantic mother, both relieved and angry, shouted, “How dare you leave this house without telling me where you’re going! I’ve been calling and calling for you!”

“But you told me I could play in the woods,” I said.

“I most certainly did not.”

“But I heard you. You said it was okay.”

She was unmoved. “Don’t you lie to me, Paul Edward!”

I was crushed and confused. Could I have been wrong? After all, her back was to me. Had she not heard me over the machine? Had she thought I’d said something else? Did I imagine she said it was okay only because I wanted her to? Did I not really call out as loudly as I’d thought, knowing if she were to hear me she certainly would have said no? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

I do know this: I have heard my mother’s voice, deep in my mind, dozens of times throughout my life. Each time she calls just my name, just once: “Paul.” It’s not an angry or frantic cry, as it must have been when she discovered me missing. Rather, it’s as though she were calling me into the kitchen for a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Her voice, clear and crisp.

My father would describe this sort of thing as “your mind playing tricks on you.” I heard that phrase a lot growing up. Maybe it was about a sinister shadow in the corner or the creaks of the house settling in for the night sounding as though someone were creeping right outside my bedroom door.

These little tricks keep me busy all day long as I spontaneously navigate through millions of perceptions—what I hear, see, touch, smell, taste, and think—each day, every day. What a challenge. Without perception neither I nor you could function. Most perceptions are correct and accurate enough interpretations of our surroundings to guide along without difficulty. Some perceptions are inaccurate and, I suspect, most misperceptions go unnoticed because they have no immediate impact. Sometimes, though, misperceptions will lead to bad decisions, petty arguments, embarrassing moments, collisions, missed appointments, unhappy marriages, disastrous political consequences, and war.

Errors in perception have great potential for disaster because with every perception comes the potential for deception. Every one of them. My wandering away from home one day in 1955—based on a simple misperception in my oh-so-young mind—could have ended differently.