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I dreamt last night of my childhood. Richard Nixon loomed large.
Watergate is my first explicitly political memory. I was five years old, and that summer my parents rented a huge house in Vermont. Or huge it seemed to me at the age of five: I imagine that were I to go back now, it would seem much reduced in size, as everything does when revisited in adulthood. It couldn’t have been that big; my father was an academic and my mother was a musician; there’s no way they could have afforded to rent a house as big as Buckingham Palace. But, to my five-year-old eyes, that’s how it looked.
I was too young to understand the significance of what was happening, but I remember the mood and the urgency: no matter what we were doing, we had to rush back to be in front of the television for the evening news. For those of you too young to remember, “the news” happened at 6 p.m. You had three options: ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, or CBS Evening News. Every American watched one of those shows, and they were essentially indistinguishable in ideological perspective: I suspect we were a much more unified nation for it. Anyway, you either caught the news at 6 o’clock or you missed everything. For the saplings among us, this is what television looked like back then:
Nixon and Watergate are what stand out in my mind when I think of that summer, along with a Mom ‘n’ Pop store that sold popsicles in the shape of bunny rabbits. Stopping for one of those was about as good as life got. I remember playing a game with my mother called, I think, Pick-up Sticks—I just looked it up, yes, that’s what it was called; I see that it was supposed to be educational (back then we played games with things like sticks: no one had a computer.) And I remember being stung by a bee, which was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.
But back to Nixon. I wonder now what effect Watergate had on me? My first memory of American political life involved seeing my parents, night after night, sucking in their breath in shock, jeering at the television—that is to say, at the President of our country and at everyone around him, mesmerized and horrified by the spectacle. To what extent did that permanently shape my sense of politics? How much of my abiding suspicion that politicians are not to be trusted or given too much power devolves from that? A priori, it seems to me that no one who grew up during that time would be capable of having the attitude toward a president that, for example, my grandmother had toward Roosevelt. She recalled listening to him on the radio and feeling incredibly reassured by his voice. I can’t say that I remember a single American president whose voice made me confident that all would be well.
What was your first political memory? How do you think it affected you? How old were you when Nixon resigned? If it was a formative age, do you think it permanently shaped the way you look at politics and politicians?
In my dream, Nixon was back on television. I was on a cruise ship with my grandmother. There was a large banquet table, and for some reason Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was there, giving an endless noisy speech. But I soon forgot about Nixon, because we were docking at a lovely and magical city, very far north, illuminated by sparkling Christmas lights and dusted in pristine snow.
Photo Credit: Deviat Art user SharpWriter.Published in