Don Rogers: Impeachment echoes through half a century

Don Rogers
Don Rogers

Watergate was nothing but conniving Democrats and nattering nabobs in the press until the White House tapes turned up.

Then, what could Republican defenders say? All Richard Nixon had left was to flash his V sign and trip into the shiny helicopter that would spirit him away.

The Clintons in their turn voiced dark visions of a “vast rightwing conspiracy” and the press out to get them. But really this was only a rotten little personal melodrama playing out in the Oval Office, no less. Serious enough, sure, between a husband and wife. But a matter for the republic?

The impeachable offense for Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton both was lying about it. Always the cover-up, the obstruction, some secondary thing.

Our underlying issues, unrest and political divisions are all from the same deck of cards … We’re just playing out the hand.

I confess I did titter a little over the revelations that some of President Clinton’s oh so righteous accusers were engaged in their own infidelities, betraying straight-faced hypocrisy as just part of a politician’s skill set.

So here we go again, another romp toward impeachment. The press smack in the way of power. The other party and witnesses demonized on reflex, subject to no end of spin and insinuation.

We talk about the low state of politics today. But what has changed, really?

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The Starr investigation into President Clinton started soberly enough under the guidance of Attorney General Janet Reno, scrupulous about not protecting her president.

But it degenerated into a porno story, basically, focused on a 22-year-old intern frisking with the president. Clinton’s lies about it led to the Senate floor. There the thing blew up along partisan lines, so predictable the wonder is why they bothered. Not guilty. Well, hardly. But he remained president anyway.

By contrast, a relatively more expedient investigation by a conscientious special counsel, Robert Mueller, provided a thorough, straightforward and fair report, I thought. No pulled punches, no extra swings.

It found plenty of evidence the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election, the Trump campaign welcomed the dirt, and the president was, let’s say, less than fully cooperative with investigators. Firing the head of the FBI and his attorney general for not protecting him enough harkened back to a Nixonian moment and merited notice in the report, along with Mueller’s observation that the special counsel wasn’t the one to decide whether to prosecute.

This being Washington, the president and Republicans spun the result of the investigation as complete vindication and the whole deal a hoax anyway. Democrats fumed that the president was getting away with something akin to treason and how could his actions not add up to criminal obstruction?

Attorney General William Barr found nothing to prosecute, and now Congress is gnawing on this “beautiful” conversation between the presidents of the United States and Ukraine.

Nothing to see here, either, Republicans claim. The very essence of campaign evil, an incredible abuse of power for personal gain taken to international lengths, Democrats rail.

Go back to Watergate, before the tapes were played, while only smoke arose out of the contacts with Deep Throat. Go back to the Clintons when the special investigation was all about Paula Jones and some tangled real estate deal called Whitewater, before the blue dress and the definition of is.

The words are different, of course, the details all their own. But under all that, do you hear anything new?

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We grump all the time. The state of the country today. Never have we been more divided or divisive. So angry.

But this isn’t true.

We don’t have to go all the way back to the Civil War, the actual most divisive time in America, the evidence copious in blood spilled alone.

The 1960s will do. That’s when our current era began, the Big Bang. Vietnam, war protests, race riots, rock ’n’ roll and the elders hollering to turn that noise off. Reefer Madness. The Cold War. Crazy.

The ’70s didn’t get much quieter. My Lai, Kent State, Nixon, Watergate, the oil crisis, the Beatles broke up, the internet began, the Iranians revolted, disco came and went.

And so on through the ’80s with Reagan and Iran Contra bleeding into the ’90s with the breakup of the Soviet Union, the rise of China, along with Clinton’s dalliances coming to haunt and the first of the government shutdowns employed as congressional tactic.

The presidential election of 2000 was settled first by Florida’s supreme court, then the U.S. high court, destroying any lingering illusions about justices and high ground objectivity. Then 9/11, smart phones, social media, the Great Recession, the longest wars in America’s history. All that.

Every decade brings its own troubles. Now we have journalists — half the number of a dozen years ago and 1,800 fewer newspapers since 2004 — giving way to propagandists. The web opened a Pandora’s box to electrified social mischief, but it’s only the same gossip shared as ever over the fence and at the bar, if much faster and more widespread.

This impeachment inquiry and Trump are the latest products of a trajectory that started half a century ago. Our underlying issues, unrest and political divisions all come from the same deck of cards dealt back then. We’re just playing out the hand. Pray it’s the last.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299.

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