An acquaintance of mine posed a question to me today. Since he asked it in a public social media venue, I’ll answer it here.
He wondered: “Has it always been this toxic? Or are we entering a new era?” The “it” to which he referred is the political atmosphere.
I’ve thought about it for several hours and I’ve concluded that it’s more likely a “new era” than the most toxic ever.
This fellow seems to think I’m an expert on political matters. I’m not. I am, however, a 67-year-old red-blooded American patriot who’s been witness to a lot of anger, anxiety, fear and loathing in the halls of power.
One highly toxic era occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The first trigger was the Vietnam War, followed immediately — and in a related sort of way — the Watergate scandal. I served in that war for a time, came home and then got involved politically as a newly married college student.
Politicians were angry at each other because of their respective views on the war. That anger spilled into the streets. People died during riots. Then came Kent State in 1970 when National Guard troops opened fire and killed four student protesters. The nation was grief-stricken.
The Watergate break-in — in June 1972 — stirred Americans even more. The scandal that ensued threatened to swallow the nation in one big bite. It didn’t. The U.S. Constitution did its job; a congressional committee approved articles of impeachment against President Nixon, who then quit.
There was plenty of anger then, too.
Two decades later, a newly elected president became the focus of intense Republican anger. The GOP detested President Clinton. Republicans won control of Congress in 1994 and began their quest to get rid of him. They hired a special counsel, who then stumbled onto a discovery: the president’s relationship with a young White House intern. The counsel summoned the president, made him swear to tell the “whole truth” to a grand jury; the president didn’t uphold that oath when he was asked about the intern.
There you go. Impeachment proceedings began. Was there intense anger then? Uh, yeah. The air was poisoned by partisan bias. The House impeached President Clinton in 1998, but the Senate acquitted him in a trial.
Now comes the Donald John Trump era. The air is toxic. It’s full of bitterness. Democrats cannot stand the very idea of this guy being elected president of the United States. The president’s core supporters are firing back, telling Trump foes to get over it; he won fair and square.
Another special counsel is now on the job. He’s researching whether the president had an improper relationship with Russian government officials. The president has impugned the integrity of the political system, the nation’s intelligence network that has concluded Russians sought to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s tweet storms have infuriated his foes, energized his friends.
The president cannot seem to tell the whole truth. The only difference between this president’s penchant for prevarication and Bill Clinton is that Trump hasn’t lied under oath … yet.
Trump’s candidacy for president ushered in a new political era. His election as president hammered it all home. The reaction to his election has generated yet another storm the likes of which many of us never have seen.
Is it the worst ever? I won’t say that. It damn sure feels like something brand new.