Coming of Age in the Watergate Era and Awaiting the Trump Impeachment

February 24, 2017

I’m kinda old (I turned 53 this week), so forgive me if I appear a bit jaded by the current state of corrupt politics. You see, I came of (political) age in the Watergate era so I know exactly how this Trump mess is gonna end.

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When Richard Nixon won reelection on November 7, 1972, I was an 8-year-old third grader at Atherton Elementary in Dekalb County, Georgia. Please do not tell anyone this, but I supported Republican Nixon over Democrat George McGovern. The truth is Nixon’s nose reminded me of Bob Hope’s. That’s all it took. I was unaware that the “White House Plumbers” had already broken into the Watergate Hotel and begun their crime spree under the guidance of Tricky Dick and his funky beak. In those days Republicans couldn’t get the Russians to break into Democratic National Committee files. They had to do it themselves. (Ah, those were the days.)

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By the following spring, the Senate Watergate hearings were being broadcast live on all three networks. (That’s all we had, folks!) I was 9 and, instead of running wild through the Georgia pines, I was glued to the boob tube, fascinated at the collapse of the highest power in the land, John Dean’s cover-up-cracking testimony, the president of the United States asserting “I am not a crook,” missing minutes of secret Oval Office recordings, and the whistle blowing of black security guard Frank Willis. (John Lennon was glued too and even showed up, with Yoko, to witness the hearings on June 27, 1973.) It was as if my beloved country was breaking in half and trust in authority was evaporating. When Vice President Spiro Agnew (who hated the news media before it was fashionalbe) resigned on October 10, 1973, I was just a fourth grader, but I knew Nixon would appoint a vice president who would later pardon him. My first Latin was “Quid pro quo.”

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The following spring, hearings for the impeachment of the president began. That summer I finally made it to Washington DC and had the honor of taking a crap in Nixon’s White House. Soon after that historic dump, before congress could finalize the ugly task of impeachment, on August 8, 1974, the President of the United States of America resigned. His recently appointed VP, (now President) Gerald Ford pardoned him. I freakin’ told you so. Nixon rode off to the Orange County sunset with one last victory sign but the nation was forever broken. He was a crook. And now aren’t they all?

Much has been written about how the Baby Boom cohort lost its idealism because of Watergate. That the Woodstock generation caved in to self-serving narcissism and nostalgia paving the way for the Reagan “revolution” in 1980. If you can’t trust the President, who can you trust, Dad?  But it affected more than baby boomers. Us little Gen X kids grew up believing that absolute power corrupted absolutely. Whether it was Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal or Congress impeaching Bill Clinton for lying about a blow job. They’re all a bunch crooks. Why bother to even vote? What’s on the TV?

That’s why the relatively scandal free eight-years of Obama was such breath of fresh air. Is it possible that our elected officials might be capable of not disappointing us on each corner of the calendar? His kids didn’t even get wasted. One time Amy Carter came in to the record store I worked at in Stone Mountain and bought two tapes, Janis Joplin and The Clash. “My dad hates this shit,” she said. The Obamas gave us a weird sense of hope.

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Then here comes Trump, probably the most corrupt president in American history. He’s still doing business deals and hiding God knows what in his tax returns, his advisors are winking at Neo-Nazis and Russian dictators, and his spokeswoman is hawking his daughter’s fake bourgeois clothes (made in China) on live TV. It’s like the White House has been turned into a giant dumpster fire. Meanwhile, Americans, desperate to hold on to their healthcare and not blow billions of taxpayer dollars on Trump’s vanity wall and a new nuclear arms race, are secretly hoping Justin Trudeau will quietly annex the Lower 48. Save us, JT!

It doesn’t seem like much of a question if Trump will get impeached but when. And will there be enough dirt to get creepy Mike Pence out, too? I think any sane American would gladly take Paul Ryan as president over this incompetent gang of shysters who are making our country less secure every day they are allowed to control the executive branch. (Is it too macabre to imagine Trump, Pence, and Steve Bannon being crushed to death in a tragic golf cart rollover?) I remember when I was a kid some conspiracy nuts thought the Soviet Union was somehow mixed up in the Watergate scandal. There’s an awful lot more evidence that Russia has its claws all over this administration. But the formerly Russian-hating right could care less. Maybe it’s because Russia is white. Now about those Mexicans and Muslims…

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For those of us who grew up in the time of Watergate, it’s easy to get jaded. Why not turn off the political noise and become whatever the 2010s version of a yuppie is? But we saw what that got us in 1980, and for millions of Americans who didn’t have stock in IBM, it was pretty ugly. So let’s stay focused and drive the rats from the people’s house before they destroy it and let’s replace them with something beautiful. How about a vegetable garden?

 

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The Millennial Effect: Here comes Generation Z

May 18, 2016

As a sociologist of youth culture, I spend a lot of time trying to explain what makes generations unique. The easy answer is – nothing. Broad generalizations are meaningless and teens in 2016 probably face many of the same issues that teens did in 2016 BC. Some things are eternal, like when do you get the keys to the hybrid or chariot?

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But there is a social science of generations, looking at a cohorts born in a similar time and place. The parameters are usually based on changes in birthrates. The Baby Boom Generation begins about 9 months after the end of World War 2. In 1946, with the world safe for democracy, the birth rate in the US exploded and finally began to drop in the early 1960s. Nearly a third of the U.S. population are Baby Boomers and it’s pretty much explained nearly every cultural trend since. The sixties were the “Sixties” because you had so many college-age kids. (Bad time to throw a war.) And now all those boomers are retiring and there’s a Viagra commercial on TV every 60 seconds.

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Then came Generation X, the relatively small generation that I’m part of the first wave. The birthrate bottomed out in 1974, so a lot of of the 1980s “kids in America” had to live in the shadow of the massive Boom. Next came Generation Y, or the “Millennials,” that ended the century. The birthrate jumped up in 1981 as boomers (finally) started settling down, AIDS killed “free love” and they invented the SUV (with a “Baby On Board” window sign).

This 1981-2001 “echo wave” ended up being even bigger than the baby boom generation. They were not only the brats of Boomers who had finally found their way out of the disco. The population of first generation immigrants also got considerably younger. The Millennials became the most diverse generation in American history. They represent the browning of America. Over 35% were born outside of the country, another 26% are first or second generation immigrants and 38% are bilingual. This is my wife’s, story. She is the new face of America.

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These three generations, Baby Boom, Generation X, and Millennial, have some real markers. Baby Boomers watched Star Trek on Friday nights on NBC. Gen Xers watched the reruns after school as latchkey kids (and Star Trek: The Next Generation). And Millennials stream old episodes on Hulu between J.J. Abrams reboots. They are marked by different historical moments; the assassination of the Kennedys, the Challenger explosion, and 9/11. Boomers bought Beatles albums, Gen Xers bought U2 CDs, and Millennials may never have bought music on a physical format, preferring to download it instead. Baby Boomers got sent off to Vietnam, Gen Xers mostly avoided war and many Millennials volunteered for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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In reality, there is an incredible variation within generations (including Millennials who buy Beatles albums – on vinyl). Usually when the term “generation” gets used it’s primarily referring to the experiences of middle class white males and what they do with their disposable income. The Great Recession of 2008 and the ethnic demographic shift makes the experience of the Millennials even less homogenous, but the one thing that makes them unique is their reliance on social media technology. Where Boomers hung out at the malt shop, the love-in, and the disco, and Gen Xers hung out at the all-ages punk club, the mall, and the rave, Millennials just hang out on line. The skate park gang is now a multiple-player online Tony Hawk game. The youth are no longer wild in the streets (unless there is a Bernie Sanders rally in town).

But these generations shape culture and not just hairstyles and popular dances. The Baby Boom gave us the second wave feminist movement. Gen X birthed Alex P. Keaton conservatism and Madonna sex-positivism and the Millennials gave us social networking. The great contribution of the Millennial generation is the recognition that you are not your job. They’ve seen their parents, painfully loyal to companies and careers, stabbed in the back, downsized and outsourced. Work is now something to provide you an income while you follow your bliss. Why commit to a profession that is just going to be replaced by a computer or Chinese child labor? As a Gen X’er who recently experienced this betrayal first-hand, this way of living sounds pretty good.

The oldest Millennials are 35 and the youngest are 15. The 9/11 attacks in 2001 also marked another shift in the birthrates. So here comes Generation Z, those born after 2001. This includes my daughter, born in 2014. The first Generation Zs turn 18 in 2019. What will their world be like?

It’s exciting to imagine what the 2020s will look like for them. We know there will be more non-white people in the U.S. and a declining pool of old white guys who want to make America “great” again. Z’ers will probably be even more immersed in technology (unless President Trump causes a global economic collapse and we have to revive the Pony Express). Between rising sea-levels and China repossessing the United States treasury, they will have plenty of issues to bring them together. We can hope that by then that whatever wave of feminism that’s happening is just tweaking the finer details of gender equality and expression.  In 2026, Cozy will be 12 and I can imagine her doing a report for a 7th grade class about how her father used to have to explain what feminism was and why it was ever needed.

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The Who played here in Portland last night and when they played their anthem, “My Generation,” I have to think 72-year-old Roger Daltrey grimaced a bit when he sang, “I hope I die before I get old.” But whatever your generation is, you’re going to have to stick around that long to figure what it all meant.