Do you remember the time in our nation’s past, a reality that still defines consequences 50 years on, when a president of the United States got time on the television—
I do. Richard Nixon told the tape recorders, told Henry Kissinger himself on December 14, 1972—when I was in second grade—that, “the press is the enemy, the press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy, the professors are the enemy.” Of course he meant business. Despite his epic trip to China, he was still a drunken maniac, after all.
“Write that on a blackboard 100 times,” Nixon urged his inner circle; that’s something we at Weekly Alibi now urge you, dear readers, to do as we again face an American president hell bent on destroying an institution that happens to have a constitutional basis.
Do you recall the time Tricky Dick used the electronic media in this country to flash the peace sign repeatedly and proclaim, “I am not a crook!” while millions of his misguided followers sharpened their sticks for the civil war that would vindicate the crooked man, his administration and the bloody, unethical war they had tethered themselves to?
Surely, if you remember those moments, you also remember how Walter Cronkite or Harry Reasoner or some other vaguely remembered but still erudite talking head read, numbly, the names of the young men killed that day, far away in the jungles of southeast Asia? Again, I do. There were hundreds of names and they came pouring out, sadly, terribly, day after goddamn day.
And frankly, as recently as two years ago, I had set those times and those words aside. It was a helluva way for a toddler to spend his playtime, after all.
As I recall, Nixon was twice elected. His second term came after a massive landslide against ineffectual Democrats whom Nixon painted as weak, as possibly pro-Communist. My parents, my aunt, their peers—all of them Nuevo Mexicanos—fought tenaciously using civil disobedience and the press to disable and diminish the terror wrought by Nixon and his followers, after that second, decisive election.
It was a pitched battle that stretched two years into a second term. In that time, Nixon revealed himself to the world as the monster he really was. Ultimately the republic triumphed. Nixon resigned. Haldeman and Ehrlichman and their ilk went to gaol. The war ended, the nation began to heal under the aegis of moderates and progressives like Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Like many other Americans, I felt free. I still do.
During those Nixonian years (note how we make philosophies out of the administrations of tin-pot dictators by the way, next time you say Trumpian. We’ve never had anything Obamaesque or Kennedyian, to be clear) a growing and ultimately resilient counterculture—most notably a free press—provided the soul and sweat necessary to overcome what many thought was a doomed enterprise called peace.
Make no mistake about it. Those were sad and dangerous years, a time when kids in elementary school were trained in civil defense techniques against nuclear war, when large scale riots erupted in the continental US, when the police in Chicago and Los Angeles were brazenly, openly brutal and when great progressive political leaders were killed in public for their beliefs.
As a culture we must recognize our own ability to survive atrocity. Certainly the Trump administration means business when it says the press is the enemy of the people. The words are coming from an unstable, impressionable man whose leadership is buoyed by indulging the dark values of his core supporters.
Those supporters are basically the same as the Nixon people, a group Tricky Dick called “the silent majority.” Enough of them are members of the John Birch Society or the Ku Klux Klan or other new-fangled rightist organizations that our culture once again approaches a crisis of conscience under the threat of violence. We should never allow ourselves to sink to their awful levels, but we must all work together to find a solution to this latest outbreak of bullshit.
Attacks on the free press by authoritarian rulers—and consequently their followers—is a hallmark of fascist regimes. The press is an integral part of the process of democracy. For those individuals who do their day-to-day business as members of that corps of creatives, it is particularly disheartening to hear aggressive aspersions cast while untruths are blithely brandished and a whole way of life, an intrinsically American way of life, is threatened.
The baker is not your enemy. Nor is the farmer or clerk or plumber or writer and observer of things in your neighborhood, in your town or in your city. All workers are essential in a forward-looking, sustainable community, but journalists are a type of guardian, a damn good and dependable flashlight that the rest of any village should be able to call upon for information, for reasoned discourse and as representatives of a not-mythic place where any individual may be heard too.
The main lessons to be learned here include patience and strength. This is not a time to panic; we should have every hope that our republic survives the dark times foisted upon us by an idiot-wannabe-king. But to get where we want to go, we must take action. That action begins with one word and you already know the word from reading these pages week after week.
Here is that word. It’s a holy word as far as we are all concerned: Vote. It is the one idea in action that may free us all.