I went to dinner tonight with some politically like-minded friends who have bemoaned the state of the union with me these past few years as we have watched our country’s divide grow larger than the Rio Grande and some of our family, friends, and neighbors become strangers to us.
One woman told me at dinner that she wept this morning when she saw the news. It wasn’t because she was happy about what might be the turning point in what kind of person America is willing to accept as our leader and commander in chief, but because this is an extremely dark moment in history, and there is no celebration for her in any of it.
I should mention that she is a generation younger than me; I am sixty-six, and she just turned fifty.
I have been thinking a lot lately about August 8, 1974, when Richard Nixon stood before the nation and with shame and awkward prose, resigned in disgrace. I have been contemplating it a lot. I was a sophomore at the University of Nebraska, and I had worked the summer before on the Nixon campaign. I celebrated his win and the first vote I’d ever cast in a presidential election.
That summer of 1974, I was working at a resort in the Catskills called Crystal Lake Lodge. Think “Dirty Dancing,” and you will be there. There was even a dance competition each week, and another server and I did the Lindy as people cheered. These people were liberal Jews from New York City, who had held rallies at Crystal Lake Lodge for the Rosenbergs twenty years earlier in the very hall where the television was set up for us all to watch Nixon walk away from office with his tail between his legs.
The entire group of hotel patrons, owners, and restaurant servers cheered after every sentence while I sobbed quietly in the back. I viewed my country with reverence, with such respect and awe that it was inconceivable to me that this moment had come — that a president of the United States would resign or go to jail. I was devastated. I remember that night like it was yesterday. I still mourn the loss of my glorious red, white, and blue bubble within which I’d happily lived out all my days leading up to that one: The joy I’d felt of driving around town with three girlfriends in my Cougar XR7 with the top down when the United States landed on the moon, feeling like there were no boundaries our great nation couldn’t break. The elation I’d felt that I was alive to see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tell all that he had been to the mountaintop and that he could see our future. The satisfaction I’d felt that fellow students rode buses and got beaten up because white is not always right. God, I was proud until that moment. The way I felt before August 8, 1974, was never the same after that day.
Tonight I joined my amazingly brilliant and astute friends in recognizing that nothing that happens over the coming months — even if we get what we want, and this mockery of a president resigns — is cause for celebration. We have lost so much:
Lifelong servants to government have been abused or sold their souls after decades of perfect attendance in doing what is right for the good of our country.
Hatred between friends has grown. I have lost a number of friends, none of whom I feel I ever knew — some because of the almighty dollar and some because they don’t really believe that all men are created equal. I hadn’t seen that those were their beliefs … or I hadn’t wanted to see it.
My government and my fellow Americans have treated families as poorly as slaves were treated hundreds of years ago.
Catastrophic climate damage has gone unchecked because my fellow Americans care more about their money than their grandchildren’s future.
So even if this is the tipping point when 45% of my fellow citizens decide they have had enough, and the numbers finally change, we have not gained anything. We have lost so much that will possibly never be recovered.
That said, I hope that tonight our president will sleep as poorly as I have for the last three years, and that he’ll do so again every night until he is finally out of office. God bless America.