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Gratitude Friday 9-8-23 – The Lesson of September 8th, 1974

You know, all this is speculating. I don't think any of us really know what's going on. I think there's always that pendulum action in American politics, and I expect Nixon to run into trouble in the next few years. I think there's going to be disillusionment over his war settlement. I think the economic problems are not going to get better and the problems in the great cities are going to worsen, and it may be that by '76 somebody can come along and win on a kind of platform that I was running on in '72.” ― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72

Today is an important anniversary of an ugly moment in American history. On September 8th, 1974, 49 years ago today, Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency of the United States. I was nine. His twisting farewell speech that affirms the rule of law and reminds us that greatness comes from times when we are tested is here. I remember watching him leave the White House, walk across the south lawn, wave and fly off in Marine One the next day as it was televised live across the nation. It resonated with me even. I was witnessing history. I knew it was not a happy moment but also that we were going to be okay. You can watch the clips and see that now.

Of course, the title and quote highlight that a more perfect union is a goal never attained, particularly in the era I reference today, the Watergate Crisis. Thompson had a good sense of the political pulse in that moment. He felt things were deeply awry. But the era, through its turmoil, highlighted our strengths as a nation. Perhaps our era can also end up doing the same. Our history shows us we can get through deep turmoil and be okay.

The events of those years echo with us now. Rifts in our national fabric growing in that era have increased. Trust in government that had eroded in those years has continued to evaporate. I think about this and the ramifications it has for all of us quite a lot. It matters. We can only divide so much before the whole thing comes apart. At the end of the day, what happened with Watergate was evidence of a nation with core strengths.

When I thought the anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, I reflected on a lecture Julie and I went to see a number of years ago by Judge John E Jones III a former US District Court Judge and current President of Dickenson College. He presided over the Kitzmiller VS Dover Area School District case related to the concept of Intelligent Design. He ruled for Kitzmiller in that case and discussed the case at length during the lecture. He also spoke about visiting the Soviet Union at one point and talking to a member of their government and how this movement highlighted our deepest strength.

The Soviet official remarked that the thing that stood out to him the most about who we were in the US as a people was the case United States V Nixon, that limited the assertion of executive privilege. The official noted that in his nation, no leader could ever be held to the law in this way. Judge Jones walked away with that deep insight and a sense of pride in our nation. We could enforce the rule of law even with the most powerful governmental position of the land.

Any student of history would likely agree, Watergate was ugly. Yet through the process, we affirmed we are a nation of rules, not rulers. Nations based on laws are strong when there is belief that the laws and their application are just. We have had many examples in our history when these tensions have been strained, either by unjust laws or their uneven application. We are not a perfect nation, but in that era, at the age of 9, I observed our system of governance work to hold itself inside the bounds of the law. I see this as cause for optimism.

As any nation, ours is fragile. The last generation delivered our form of government forward. Each generation faces similar challenges. Depressions, wars, political strife and other formidable challenges. Nations, like the people that are the sum of their whole are imperfect. We have never actually had a Disney like moment in our history where we all come together and resolve a challenge perfectly and cohesively. It just does not work like that, ever.

A powerful life lesson for me is that positive things come out significant challenges, provided that those challenges are faced and addressed. I have never achieved perfect resolution of a challenge, but when I try and face one honestly and fully, I am always better off for it. This is one of those recovery lessons for me. I think nations are like that too.

What will unfold in our times will reflect either our most lofty values or our worst attributes as a nation. I am grateful for having seen our country go through a similar moment that unfolded 49 years ago. Readers have different political views, and I respect that. It is actually in times like these that our focus would be well served by focusing on our common ground. Who among us want to live in a nation not grounded on the rule of law, but instead rulers? I am grateful that the evidence of prevailing over profound challenges is the common theme of our shared history. Who we are always depends on what we do. This anniversary is a powerful lesson for us. I am grateful we have it to learn from, if we choose to.

What are you grateful for today?

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