Forty-four years ago today — July 17, 1974 — I emerged from the wilderness of the Uintah Mountains of Utah after completing a six-week wilderness course through the National Outdoor Leadership School. I had not heard a news broadcast or read a paper since June 10, and the first thing I read was that the Watergate scandal was reaching its peak with the House Judiciary Committee about to release its evidence against President Nixon.
My timing was exquisite. Things had been pretty much on hold while I was in the wilderness, but within two weeks the committee would vote out the articles of impeachment, and within three weeks the smoking gun tapes would be released and Nixon would resign. It was like they waited for me to get back to watch this moment of history.
Back then all we had were three national TV networks and dead-tree press, but events moved along swiftly, frantically, and it all coalesced into the end of one era and the wistful start of another where we all believed The System Worked and American democracy and our Constitution could withstand the assault of criminal activity on the part of the president.
Since yesterday I’ve had this sense that we’re approaching the same kind of peak in the arch of this drama. Evidence is piling up, the outrage meter is pegged, and while there are the defenders of Trump who, by the way, are fully confident that they won’t be held accountable for defending him, the drip of the eroding facts against the wall of ignorance and denial is becoming a stream, and the stream will become a flow, and soon it will begin to take things down and wash them away, leaving little behind but exposed truths.
It’s not going to happen suddenly like it did in July and August of 1974. For one thing, Richard Nixon had a sense of history and awareness of what his actions could do to the nation. Not that he really cared, but at least he knew. Trump has no such awareness. He couldn’t name his predecessors beyond the black guy he’s trying to erase from history, and he doesn’t give a shit about what he’s done or is doing to the office he holds. (Nixon, too, had revenge in his heart. He was obsessed with showing up the Kennedys, who were everything he was not and fed his jealousy to Iago-like levels. But at least he didn’t sell out to a foreign adversary to win.) Trump’s supporters and defenders are in it purely for their own benefit and his coattails; if going on Fox and saying nice things about him improves their standing with the base, they’d do it if they are standing next to Satan himself. (The same was true of the Republicans who finally marched to the White House in 1974 to tell Nixon to quit. They didn’t care about him; they were staring down the barrel of the mid-terms and saw their future in peril.) Trump is in this purely for his own gain, his own ego, his own sense of avenging for having been mocked and scorned by people he desperately wants to like him and who never will. What we saw yesterday in Helsinki was nothing surprising. It was the outward exposure of the inside of what really drives him. It was raw, it was ugly, but it was real. Finally.
What happens now is up to us. That will be the real test. Will we allow this to continue, letting what happened yesterday become a part of the news cycle, a remember-when moment like mass shootings that give us a momentary pause and then get back to whatever it was we were paying attention to before? Or is this like July 1974 when, at long last, it began to come apart so we could put it back together again?
We got it right the last time.