Unlike the amazing soul singer with same name, this Al Green wasn't here to sing about love and happiness. Instead, Rep. Al Green of Texas stood up on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives this morning to call for the end of Donald Trump's 118-day presidency.
"I rise today, Mr. Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the president of the United States of America for obstruction of justice," Green said. "I do not do this for political purposes, Mr. Speaker. I do this because I believe in the great ideals that this country stands for. Liberty and justice for all."
Mark the date: May 17, 2017. Or 44 years to the exact day after Sen. Sam Ervin, a Democrat of North Carolina, pounded the gavel for the Senate Select Committee on Watergate to open its hearings — a key turning point for the only president to surrender the office because of scandal, Richard Nixon. And while you're at it, remember today's weather: Truth-blinding sunshine, and sweltering hot. The first day of what suddenly has become another "Watergate Summer" for America.
I borrow that phrase — Watergate Summer — from a blogger friend who shares a generational point of view. We remember that youthful time — it was two summers, really ... 1973, when Nixon's crimes and misdemeanors began to unravel in nationally televised hearings, and 1974, where principled Republicans joined Democrats to push the impeachment process — as an age of anxiety wrapped in a blanket of national redemption.
True, the news headlines that crackled from transistor radios on a sandy beach told an alarming story of political dirty tricks and Oval Office cover-ups. But at least it was finally all coming out, and the truth, to paraphrase Jefferson Airplane, was found to be lies. After a story arc that had seen movements for black empowerment and to end the Vietnam War beaten down by government spying and violent repression, Nixon's downfall arrived as the surprise happy ending where the good guys won.
At least that's how it felt in the saltwater taffy breeze of August 1974, in living black-and-white.
Some 44 years later and somehow I've become that grey-bearded dude who — while Trump's presidency pops faster than a botched firework on the 4th of July — gets asked at least once or twice a day on Twitter, "So is this what it felt like during Watergate?"
Yes ... and no. Nixon's presidency lasted 6½ long years, long enough for voters to re-elect him to a second term with a whopping 61 percent of the vote. He may have been paranoid and unethical, which caused his richly deserved undoing, but he did have a passion for — and a deep knowledge of — the complex world of geopolitical strategy. He didn't need his briefings boiled down to a page of bullet points with his name in boldface, or cartoons, or whatever Trump's aides are force-feeding him these days. Despite the disclosures of buggings, break-ins, enemies lists and all sorts of skulduggery in the West Wing, it took a long time for Nixon to lose popular support.
Less than four months into Trump's presidency, a plurality of Americans — 48 percent — support his impeachment. That seems incredible, until the latest disclosure that reminds us that the lazy and egomaniacal narcissistic man-child at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is in so, so far over his head. I took a day off to cover a local political earthquake — the nomination of Larry Krasner to become Philadelphia next DA — and missed the latest rough draft of Trump's impeachment, the report of former FBI chief James Comey's memo that spells out Trump's efforts to quash the probe of his one-time national security adviser Michael Flynn.
But there's an angry "hot take" that can be written about Trump's America and his presidency every few hours. The president's reported urging of Comey to arrest journalists — in the spirit of his favorite dictators. The failure to do anything while bodyguards working for Turkish president Recip Tayyip Erdogan (one of those dictators) pummeled protesters in the streets of Washington, D.C. The news that Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke — whose jail let an inmate die from thirst, among other abuses — is taking a post in Trump's administration. And here's the crazy part. Literally while I was writing this paragraph came more news that a) House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said last year he thinks that Vladimir Putin pays Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan told him to keep it quiet and b) the Justice Department has named a special counsel, former FBI chief Robert Mueller, to probe the Trump-Russia scandal.
The echoes of Richard Nixon are deafening.
It's all happening so fast that — crazy as it sounds — a part of me is already pondering life after Trump. Here's one reason why: That Watergate Summer wasn't exactly everything it seemed to be. Truth and redemption were fleeting in the 1970s. Barely six years after Nixon resigned, a majority of Americans found they preferred the fairy tales of Ronald Reagan.
It doesn't have to turn out that way this time. You can find a hopeful sign right here in Philadelphia this week, where thousands of voters signed up for a sweeping overhaul of a long-broken criminal-justice system in giving civil-rights lawyer Krasner the Democratic nod for district attorney. That's a recognition that real change begins at home. The new-found activism of the millions who've marched, phoned, donated and generally worked their butts off since November 8 represents a real opportunity to finish the work that was too quickly abandoned after August 8, 1974. It's the infrastructure to begin thinking about an America with real justice and equal opportunity — after the boys of summer are gone.
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