Your biography is history: Taking in the Trump impeachment

October 3, 2019

When I was a teenager in the late-1970s, I wished I had been a teenager in the 1960s, so I could have swum in the countercultural revolution. Of course, I was already in history. It was called the punk rock rebellion, and there are a million kids now who wished they could have been in my shoes, buying Ramones albums (on vinyl!) as they came out. I was just too close to it to see it as a moment in history. It was just my life.

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The great sociologist C. Wright Mills argued that for people to start to understand how society works they have to understand their own biographies as history. When we read a biography, we see it as a reflection of the history that was unfolding around that person’s life, whether it’s the biography of George Washington or Judy Garland. My students are reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X this quarter and you can’t view the life of Malcolm Little/Malcolm X/Malik Shabazz outside of the context of the racially oppressive twentieth century. His biography is the history of hi century.

And so is yours. The goal of any individual should be to create a biography that both reflects the times and impacts the times. Live in the moment and shape the moment. You are living history. Most fascinating of all histories is the present.

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This couldn’t be any truer than right now. This era will be analyzed for centuries. People are still debating whether or not the French Revolution worked. That won’t hold a candle to the late night conversations students, history buffs, and robots will have about the spectacular rise and fall of Donald J. Trump. We are in perhaps the most significant turning point in U.S. history since the test of World War II. This generation may be witnessing the end of the American Century or the birth of a global youth revolution to save the Earth, sparked by a Swedish kid with Aspergers who demonstrates more class and intelligence than our president does on his very best day (which, I know, isn’t saying much).

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I cut my political teeth on the Watergate hearings in 1973. I was 9-years-old and watched it with rapt attention. When Nixon named Gerald Ford as his vice-president in 1974, I knew there was a quid pro quo that would lead to Ford’s pardon of Tricky Dick. My first trip to the White House was while Nixon was deciding to bug out instead of enduring impeachment proceedings. I probably could have stolen the china and they would have assumed Pat Nixon was looting the place before their shameful exodus.

It felt like history was happening and it feels that way again. The impeachment of Bill Clinton felt more like politics as usual. Bill’s shenanigan’s definitely sparked a national conversation about what constitutes “sex.” (To future generations, blow jobs are, in fact, sexual relations.) It all unfolded during my disastrous first marriage and I don’t doubt that couples across the country were having uncomfortable conversations about the nature of infidelity thanks to the Oval Office antics of Slick Willy. But it didn’t seem monumental, just sad. This feels monumental.

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History is always happening and always has a soundtrack. Yeah, the upheaval of 1968 had the Beatles’ “Revolution” and the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” but you better believe the “look backs” 20 years from now will have Billie Eilish and Lizzo playing along. (“Why men great ’til they gotta be great? Don’t text me, tell it straight to my face.”) This moment in history is framed by news apps, bipartisan divides, and generational warfare. The old white men would rather die guns blazing and burn the house down on their way out than see young women (especially young women of color) even the playing field. Sorry Mitch McConnell, the future of America looks more and more like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez every day. We’re no longer being handed history by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News, we’re finding it on our phones and Twitter feeds. And we’re sharing the news that the Orange Emperor has no clothes. (Cannot unsee!)

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There’s a great 2011 Woody Allen film called Midnight in Paris all about how we over-romanticize the past. It was always better in some previous era. I’ve often thought about how great it would be to live in the Bohemia of 1840’s Paris or 1950’s San Francisco. No doubt the food would suck in both and no wi-fi to boot. The same is true for the Make America Great Again suckers who think the country was better off back in the days of Jim Crow. (Also no wifi.) This is the moment to be in. This crisis. This opportunity for transformation.

I’m committed to taking all this in, every presidential tweet storm, every unhinged Rudy Giuliani interview, every cabinet member indictment, every smirking Stephen Colbert monologue. Future generations will ask us what it was like to witness the compete collapse of America’s mad king. I’ll tell them I LMAO. They’ll have no idea what I’m talking about.

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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?