I spent 1978 at BU’s Graduate School of Journalism. A lot of the program was what we would now call “networking” — making sure you had the basics down and getting set up for a job. The stupidest remarks I heard all year were from these two guys “joking” about becoming the next Woodward and Bernstein — because on some level they were dead serious. “Well, sure won’t be you two clowns,” I thought. They were poor researchers and writers. What disturbed me then, and even more in retrospect, is how widespread was the shallowest TV-movie version of the Watergate exposure. It was an adventure. There were few serious barriers or setbacks.
Of course this was false. Ridiculous, even. But far more toxic was the evil flip side of this myth. That instead of a triumph for truth, Watergate was a disaster that must never be allowed to happen again. And all that rested on the foundation that of course nobody as twisted and unfit as Nixon would ever be elected President. That’s why kids should have been taught more about Warren Harding.
Charlie is certainly right about the freakish increase in POTUS power. I hold on to the slim hope that he’s also correct enough sinking ships will desert the rat that he will be out of office. Journalists who insist on telling the cold truth rather than offering soft whimpers would help.
Can’t be repeated often enough that Viet Nam was NOT “winnable.” I remember when this alternative-truth canard appeared and I was astonished how flimsy it was. There was no “if we had done this and this and this, then this would have happened.” Instead, the whole point was to establish “We lost Viet Nam because of protesters! Shriek!”
It was reminiscent of Nixon’s evil nonsense that, just because he was now POTUS, the same failed strategies would magically start to work in Viet Nam. I think the sheer pain of confronting how many lives were wasted for years helps explain why the empty “protesters did it!” caught on.
The only shred of rationale ever offered was that “well, if we’d just kept at it for five years (or 15 years) ((or 15,000 years)), of course we would have won.” The darkest side lurking behind all this was, of course, “we shoulda just nuked ’em flat and be done with it.”
I’d been amazed to discover nonsense that was going over as plausible before. But this is the earliest, most insidious alt-reality I can remember at the foundations.
Bill Clinton had a number of cowardly moments, but one that really stuck in my craw was the whole “didn’t inhale” garbage. The first POTUS to admit he was going to let the powerless rot in jail for ages because of a harmless “crime” he had committed himself. That’s a new level of hypocrisy and indifference to the weak.
I fell short when I forgot that there was a confessed tyrannical agenda behind these irrational “wars.” And I see how it worked. Operating in total ignorance, my parents thought maryjuana was Satan incarnated in a plant.
“America has horrid sclotches of bigotry and oppression in its history — King Donald is more American than you want to admit.” This is of course another “normalizer” notion, but even as a critique of this country it’s lazy and outright evil. “We never live up to our ideals so let’s just wallow in the dark side.” Not unlike claiming that because Germany gave in to Nazis they are Nazis today.
This Michael Eric Dyson essay is essential reading. I remember coming across the LBJ quote when it was recent and thinking “So THAT explains it.” Why in the hell was I not hearing that in my classroom rather than “Mumble, mumble, slavery was wrong and evil but it was a long time ago and if we aren’t having race riots in town here you don’t have to worry about it.” Unfortunate traces of that “lesson” explains why I was so shocked at the blatant bigotry I encountered in Boston: the metropolitans were supposed to be more sophisticated, not more bestial.
Sometimes you know full well the topics of history you were not taught properly. Even as a young teen I knew I’d gotten miserable explanations of race and Commie hysteria in America. But other items loom large only later — much later, maybe.
I understood that Warren Harding was the worst POTUS of the 20th century. A genuine diddling doofus. However, the overall thrust of the lesson was: “Boy, was that ever an embarrassment. But don’t worry, it will never happen again.” Only reservation I had back then was that I had an unsatisfactory sense of how he got in the office. If it could never happen again, though, that wasn’t so important.
One aspect I did grasp (I have not done any additional research other than my grade-school history-class memories) suggests some parallels with Bush Jr.: the Roaring 20s were never going to end and times were so good who cared who was Prez? But the side of things I wish had been filled in more was that Republican corruption was out of control and Harding was selected as the tool least likely to do anything about it. And (like Unca Ronnie) he looked real Presidential. That’s exactly why the multiple corruption investigations seem so on-target and so many GOPers are tolerating outrageous nonsense: they know today’s Teapot is about to boil.