It was yesterday, the summer of 1973 to be exact. We were on the way to Colorado, Aspen to be exact, and we followed the Watergate hearings when possible.
Watergate was a scandal back then, the president’s team having decided to break in and steal Democrat files from their headquarters, among other things. Our mission was to make a simple point: Nixon knew, knew everything and was in on the crime from the start. Lying and denying were once impeachable offenses.
The technical term around the White House for stealing secrets, for manipulating the opposition, was “ratf---ing,” a nice way of describing the effort to ensure the reelection of Richard Nixon and the as yet unjailed Spiro Agnew, the outspoken icon of the Silent Majority.
Then, as now, my generation feared the president was going to throw out the results of an election if he lost. And his appeal was pitched to white America’s fear of black America and the possibility of abortion, acid and amnesty, an appeal echoing the populist law ‘n’ order cry of George Corley Wallace, the 45th Alabama governor, who once vowed and made good on a promise to not get “out n------d again” after losing to a more blatantly racist gubernatorial candidate.
Wallace pretty much made good on that promise, standing symbolically in front of black kids trying to go to white schools, constantly raising the specter of the black “takeover of Alabama.”
The crux of the Watergate crisis was not the crime — breaking into the DNC office to steal some fairly useless election plans — but the cover-up and associated crimes: hence the expression still in use today: What did he know and when did he know it?
The tapes ultimately told the tale: Nixon Knew. Two words, a hand-screened poster on thick paper we affixed with canned milk to concrete surfaces, bridge abutments and Interstate 70 highway signs.
Nixon Knew. We knew he knew. We all knew, after Woodward and Bernstein followed the money trail all the way to the White House with the help of an administration insider, forever remembered as Deep Throat and at least briefly the inspiration for porn flick titles.
He knew what he denied knowing, the plan for the break-in and the payments made and the elaborate plan to squelch the evidence.
I wound up in jail before the Trick did any time.
Hitchhiking in Colorado was a jailable offense and two of us were thrown in the clink after laughing our heads off listening to John Dean’s testimony at a hearing as we waited for a ride from Canon City toward Aspen. The cops showed up looking for a “couple of drunks” and made do with a first degree hitchhiking arrest.
So nearly half of a century goes by and here we are again, a 45th president who isn’t sure he’ll honor the results of an election, an appeal to law ‘n’ order, Bob Woodward delivering smoking gun tapes, a deadly virus that the president publicly called a “Democrat Hoax,” all the while knowing that COVID was a serious plague.
Then, as now, we’re asked to rally against blacks, Latinos, hippies, protesters, libtards, Antifa, socialism, affordable housing in the suburbs, the post office, the census.
Then as now, Bob Woodward shows up with the smoking gun, presidential appointees blow whistles or scramble down the ropes away from the boat parade, squeaking as rats will while racists chant about Jews, cops can’t stop shooting, and election might or might not be allowed to happen and actually count.
The Empire is striking back, the sequel unfolds, “We’ll see what happens,” intones the president.
Déjà vu all over again, except this time might have a happier ending, if we are lucky and courageous enough to get our ballots in and help others do the same.
The old people are turning against the populist ghost of the Trickster past, Latinos and blacks and women have more votes and more say than back in the day, and that matters at election time.
The virus has taken almost 200,000 of us and all, but the true believers know that more interest in leading and less interest in protecting the stock market might have saved more than the 55,000 lives we lost in Vietnam.
“This is deadly stuff,” Trump told Woodward on the record Feb. 7, 2020, not long before an indoor rally in Oklahoma City where he told the crowd it was the “Democrat Hoax.”
The crowd was only about 6,000 but the event put the state in the upper tier of COVID-stricken states.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Some Senate insiders were able to unload their stock at the top before too many bodies had piled up. They knew before we knew and profited thereby.
It remains to be seen whether enough of us know enough to get to the polls and help others do the same. Were I younger and more peripatetic, I might be posting on bridge abutments rather than Facebook the simple message that says it all: Trump Knew.