Friday, May 12, 2017

Paging Mr. Chaplin

[Alexander Shcherbak/TASS]

I was at the start not all that engaged with the gigantic story of 1973-74 that we now know as Watergate. I was working as a copy editor at Duke Press, in Durham. In my spare time I was helping to build the Red Clay Ramblers, with my bandmates, Tommy Thompson, Mike Craver, and Jim Watson. This meant weekly practices, as we worked up songs and tunes that each of us would bring to the table. The practices were a lot of fun, with each of us taking arranging lead depending on the number, and all of us having whatever input we wanted. Democracy in action. We found gigs, mostly local, at a club called the Cat's Cradle that had started up in Chapel Hill about the same time we'd started up. Now and then we'd drive out to some out-of-town venue. One time we played in Greensboro, and the great fiddler Bobby Hicks showed up and even let me try out his blue Barcus-Berry 5-string fiddle--which I found impossible to play because of the 5th string. We went up to New York City on a Piedmont Air prop-jet and did a show with cajun greats the Balfa Brothers, a wonderful weekend trip set up by Tommy's friend Peter Gumpert, who was teaching at Columbia. We drove down to Athens, Alabama and competed in a fiddle and band contest. Alabama fiddlers play like they're all from Major Franklin's family, so I tried playing and singing a Doc Boggs song, Prodigal Son, on the banjo.

We weren't paying any attention to Watergate. But somewhere in there they started running the Senate Hearings, and Sam Ervin showed up. I started paying more attention. I still remember some of the names. Ain't No Way Inouye (D, HI), Lowell Weicker (R, CN), Howard Baker (R, TN). The most important thing was Senator Ervin's incredulity, as he confronted lie after lie, coverup after coverup. When Mr. Butterfield arrived to testify, you might as well have closed business for the day.

Just as in Vietnam, apparently the Republicans have learned almost nothing. One begins to draw deeply pessimistic conclusions about the, well, the human race to be specific. Mr. Trump fires the head of the FBI, who is conducting an investigation into, well, Mr. Trump, concerning Russian manipulation of the election just past, wherein Mr. Trump became President. And it gets better. After having his minions come out over several days and tell a long, complicated story about how Mr. Trump was just following the recommendations of his esteemed Assistant Attorney General, his esteemed Attorney General having been forced to recuse himself from all matters concerning Russian manipulation of the election because he didn't disclose meetings he himself had with said Russians during the campaign just past, yesterday Trump himself debunked that whole story in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt and asserted that he'd already decided to fire Mr. Comey no matter what the Assistant Attorney General might or might not say.

There are many many threads. Mr. Trump's spokesmen are now joining Ron Zeigler in the cavalcade of shame. That would include Mrs. Hucakabe Sanders, who knows too many FBI agents for her own reputation. There is reasonable speculation, including by people of legal note such as Lawrence Tribe--who played a role in the Watergate hearings!--that Mr. Trump may have actually built a case for his personal obstruction of justice indictment by telling Mr. Holt, in yesterday's interview, that he wanted to affect the investigation headed by Mr. Comey into Mr. Trump. This legal risk was perhaps why more acute legal minds had concocted the Assistant Attorney General story. "One never knows, do one" (Fats Waller).

The day after the actual firing event, Mr. Trump met with the Russians in the Oval Office. TASS was there and took the only photos available, when were then published. Mr. Trump seems, in the photos, to be the delighted host. I would say he's almost dancing a happy dance. I would guess he was thinking, during that meeting, "at last." I'm just guessing. As usual with Mr. Trump there are now reports that the White House is most unhappy that the photos were published. Someone from the White House even says "The Russians lied to us."

In other news, a big new commission has been commissioned to look into voter fraud on a national level. It is chaired by some AG from Kansas who is known for his draconian voting laws, and his general concern with the undocumented. It seems like the great plan continues no matter the choppy waters of each moment. There is no doubt that voter ID laws and such have tended to disenfranchise more likely Democratic than Republican voters. A national campaign is going to be needed in 2018. Not only is the House Republican majority at stake. So, as well, is the possibility of Trump's impeachment. The potential charges are pretty much now in place.

It's hard to know what will happen. We're always in the historical moment. Every day comes a new drama. Anybody even remember Sally Yates, or wonder why Mr. Trump took so long to fire General Flynn compared to, say, Mr. Comey. Mr. Comey got the news on TV, whilst giving a speech. He had to charter a plane home.

Paging Mr. Chaplin.

By the end of '74 Nixon was gone. I think he resigned on a day when we were playing the Cradle. By the end of '74 we were up in New York City again, this time polishing a musical play called "Diamond Studs: The Life of Jesse James." It went on to open in an off-Broadway theatre on New Year's Eve, got fantastic reviews, and then to run successfully well into the summer of 1975. In the spring of that year, during the run, people were helicoptering out of Saigon and onto US aircraft carriers, and Vietnam was finally, blessedly, over. Some 58,000 American soldiers had died for pretty much nothing, in a bipartisan effort to stop the flow of history in a little country in southeast Asia.

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