The First Draft of History

We currently have a president, in his great and unmatched wisdom (if he does say so himself), who is as prudent as a petulant two year-old who feels he’s being unfairly singled out for punishment when all he did was take a tiny dump in the punchbowl.   He was obviously joking when he pulled his diaper down to let one fly! No sense of humor, his aghast parents.   The other day the artist of the deal made a deal to allow the Turkish autocrat to wipe out our allies in the war against ISIS, the Kurds in northern Syria, the army who did the actual fighting against the ISIS “Caliphate”.  If Trump wasn’t an EXTREMELY stable genius, we might have reason for concern that his seeming unilateral impulsivity is hurting our international reputation beyond repair.

I’ve been thinking lately about the age of the child in each of us, when certain reflexes get frozen into our adult personalities.    In my father’s case, as he was dying, he told me his life was basically over by the time he was two years old.  He lived almost eighty more years, his life basically already over.  He had good reason to feel that way, but still.  Then I think about the lessons he taught me, directly, and also by his tragic example, about history.   Whenever you can, he told me, find primary sources– and always put the date on anything you clip from the newspaper, it will come in handy years from the date you first read it.

Journalism, which is what many of these pieces I’ve been writing lately amount to, is correctly said to be the first draft of history.   For proof, look no further than this dusty magazine cover from April 15, tax day, 1974.   The cover article is a nice secondary source for digging into the story of the unraveling of Nixon’s presidency.  

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I’d forgotten all about this story, probably because I never saw it in the first place.  I was picking peaches on a kibbutz in Israel when the news broke here in the USA. Gone for a year, I missed the entire drama of the downfall of Tricky Dick Nixon.  He had a tax scandal?   Flipping to the article I see he underpaid his taxes by a gigantic sum of 1971 dollars, had apparently been doing so the previous few years too.

Jesus, I thought, looking at the pie charts of what Nixon paid and what he should have paid, plus penalties, this is why our current president, a man of great and unmatched wisdom, is so keen to have his lawyers use any means necessary to block disclosure of his tax records.  Of course!   No way to make someone look bad as quickly and dirtily as showing he’s a tax cheat.

In Nixon’s case, his resignation came after a long, determined fight against a mounting army of determined enemies, some from his own party, brandishing “smoking gun” evidence of his wrongdoing.   He had tried to cover up his involvement in the break-in to the office of his political enemy (a guy he handily defeated in a landslide, so the break-in had been totally unnecessary) a criminal act he probably gave the green light to, and arranged payments to silence the burglars he had hired to break into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex. He’d gone on television to assure America that this investigation into him was a witch hunt (though he didn’t use that word, as far as I recall).  He explained to America that he was honest, not a crook, and that everything he did was on the up and up.   America eventually came to understand he’d been lying, was not honest, was a crook, that everything with Nixon was not on the up and up.

Jane Mayer reminds us that one of the diehards in the Nixon administration was a young man named Roger Ailes [1], Nixon’s media consultant who dolled the candidate up for TV and made him more telegenic and ‘likable’.  Ailes later was the driving force (before he resigned in disgrace, outed as a sexual predator) behind the mass media antidote to “fake news” — FOX news, fair and balanced.   In the event of a future Watergate scandal against a right wing president, this influential network stands ready to rumble, to set people straight in a way that was impossible when trusted Communists like Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley and their ilk dominated the network airwaves and manipulated public opinion against great Americans like Richard Milhous Nixon.

And so we have the FOX attack machine, running full time attacks (as well as the numerous paid ads the re-elect Trump people are running) against any critics of the president, claiming that the claims against this president of great and unmatched wisdom are being unfairly, even illegally, prosecuted by a bunch of sore loser Commie extremists who lost the 2016 election fair and square, by more than 78,000 votes in every key district needed for Trump’s historic Electoral College mandate.  

I think again of the great advice about fair judging that Justice Boof Kavanaugh [2]  got from his mother:  ‘Use your common sense. What rings true? What rings false?’

 

[1] Wikipedia on Ailes:

His pioneering work in framing national campaign issues, capitalizing on the race-based Southern Strategy and making the stiff Nixon more likable and accessible to voters was later chronicled in The Selling of the President 1968 by Joe McGinniss.[8]

[2] Wikipedia:

Eighty-three ethics complaints were brought against Kavanaugh in regard to his conduct during his U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Chief Justice John Roberts appointed a special federal panel of judges to investigate the complaints. In December 2018, the judicial panel dismissed all 83 ethics complaints, concluding

that while the complaints “are serious,” there is no existing authority that allows lower court judges to investigate or discipline Supreme Court justices.[188]

 

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