I was almost fourteen years old in 1972, when President Richard Nixon’s outreach team was caught breaking into Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. The people initially arrested were not the expected drunken thugs or misguided activists or hormone-driven adolescents. In fact, they were — there’s no other word — weird. They had ties to the CIA (Huh???). One had a phone number with a line to the White House (What???). And the Watergate investigation was launched.
Watching the coverup unravel through adolescent eyes, I had more important things on my mind. I had just transferred to a new school. I was meeting boys. I didn’t like my math teacher. As a general rule, I relegated politics to adults, who (in my considered opinion) often missed the mark and caused all sorts of unnecessary problems.
Still, Watergate was in a different league.
I remember my father’s initial reaction. Dad was extremely liberal, fiercely progressive, a strong voice for social justice. He was loud, charismatic, a gifted storyteller, never at a loss for words, many of them unprintable. His speech included the most creative and percussive array of curse words I’ve ever heard. When the news of the Watergate break-in was broadcast, we all listened, riveted. Then Dad turned to face our family. His eyes were bright with a focused concentration, and I could see the wheels turning. Incredulity. Outrage. Dawning comprehension. Then in a strangely quiet voice, he said simply: “This is big.”
As the investigation continued, I don’t remember much discussion of Watergate among my high school friends. We were focused on the fistfight at recess between two gang members, a popular girl’s latest boyfriend crisis, our spectacularly annoying English teacher. Sure, we took a brief moment to think about each breaking news report, but we weren’t concerned about the ripples, the ramifications, the implications. Watergate was a reality show — high drama, absurd to the max, another pyrotechnic display created by the adult world.
From the beginning, the political outcome of Watergate seemed inevitable to me, and I was impatient with the due process that the adults deemed vital. One way or another, Richard Nixon was going to crash, so I figured he might as well get on with it. I began to watch Gerald Ford carefully, thinking that he must be searching deep within, quietly preparing to take over the presidency years before he planned. As a girl raised with the values of liberal democrats, I was no fan of Gerald Ford’s political views. But my heart went out to him as a person, and I had to admire his courage.
Now as I watch the events unfold surrounding the current administration, I feel the endpoint, like Watergate, is inevitable. Yet this time, the events are going to reach so far and so deep into our president’s A, B and C Teams that I have no idea who will step up to run our country. My heart goes out to none of them; they’ve been too cruel to too many. I see several potential leaders in our government, but none appointed or chosen by our current president. I’m as impatient to know the outcome as I was at fifteen. But now I view due process as extremely vital, an opinion my 14-to-15-year-old self did not share. So I’m continuing to write my resistance, to watch carefully, to wait impatiently.
This is big.
Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows a group of high school friends as they experience homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and friendship that opens their world. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.
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