Change that didn’t stay...changed

Change that didn’t stay...changed

Watching Nixon’s departure via helicopter was a spectacle for a young boy, learning how the world operates

BRATTLEBORO — As dorky as it sounds, I remember watching the Watergate hearings after school when I was a young boy and thinking, “I'm not really sure who did what, but this must be what it looks like when a government cleans house and sticks to its rules.”

Powerful men caught lying, covering microphones, repeating the mantra “I don't recall.” A U.S. president resigning in disgrace. Many players going to jail.

Then came the change.

* * *

It started with the Reagan years and later got into a full gallop with the arrival of Fox News and other propagandists.

We saw the Iran-Contra scandal expose a kind of sub-government that was pretty clearly using illicit money to fund illicit activities involving sales of weapons and cocaine. But it was all too confusing for Americans, so nothing much happened.

A few pardons later, all was well, and Oliver North, the architect of the plan, was a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

The former head of the CIA became president in 1988 and pardoned many of the big names in Iran-Contra, like then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

The next president then “saved the economy” while simultaneously ushering in NAFTA, ostensibly completing the “sucking sound of jobs going overseas” that was predicted. But instead of talking him out any of that, we all became familiar with interns, blue dresses, and cigars.

Soon enough came a stolen election, a trillion-dollar illegal war of conquest and oil, torture, a looting of the treasury, and a full assault on civil and fundamental liberties. A Nobel Peace Prize–winning president who drops a lot of bombs and offers that “Aw, shucks....we tortured some folks” line. So where is the war crimes tribunal, Mr. Former Constitutional Law Professor?

* * *

Meanwhile, millions of hard-working people can't afford their basics or the luxury of relaxation. We work harder than ever with less to show for it, and we fund some of the most heinous acts on the planet with our hard-earned wages.

Despite all this, we hardly seem to care, and we mostly just grouse about things. We post things on blogs and Facebook, and we tell our friends how mad we are at politicians.

Then we go back to passionately following our favorite sports team and killing hours on vapid television shows that somehow seem more important.

I'm not convinced we're permanently that lame as a country and as a citizenry. Perhaps we've hit a sort of depressive ebb, and we are working toward a renewed commitment to - well, you know, saving life as we know it on Earth.

I am grateful to live in an area full of informed and activated souls, working hard every day, all day or parts of days, to try and forge a sustainable, vibrant world in which everyone has a right to basic human decency, food, shelter, and freedom from violence. There are many worldwide doing the same.

Still, where is the accountability? Or even adherence to Constitutional law? Fundamentals like habeas corpus have been discarded like old news. So has the concept of an electorate that can't seem to see past packaging and sound bites.

* * *

But a mere four decades ago, some power-hungry men broke laws and ethical constraints in order to assure their oppressive grip on power. They got caught, they were publicly castigated, and they were held legally accountable (with the exception of the pardon of Nixon, the sole reason for Gerald Ford's brief succession as president). Watching Nixon's departure via helicopter was a spectacle for a young boy, learning how the world operates.

Yet remembering all this 40 years later reminds me why “We the People” always rang in my ear as perhaps the most important phrase of any American document in existence.

There is no greater power in this nation than we, the people, when actively working to “form a more perfect union.”

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