If you think history plays no part in your life it is because you choose to ignore it. We can’t escape history; we can’t run away from the past. We have to learn to live with it. That really is a gift parents can give their children — both sweet memories of the past as well as the struggles that have shaped who we are. Do we grow into men and women of courage and forthrightness or people of cowardice, hiding behind the skirts of dishonesty?
That has often been one of the criticisms of America — we are such a new country (relatively speaking to the rest of the world) that in the arrogance of youth we believe we can choose to ignore the past decisions we have made as a people, collectively and individually. That was the call of the American West and the great movements of immigrants to this country — to escape the old ways and the mistakes. But that doesn’t work. We can run, but we can’t hide and always we must learn from our weaknesses, finding a certain triumph in overcoming the past and its regrets.
Our past history is not only the individual relationships we have to deal with, but also those of our country. People living today were part of the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II and the Atomic Age. My generation lived through the disruptions of the Martin Luther King, John and Robert Kennedy assassinations; the anti-Viet Nam war riots and the Civil Rights riots of the 1960s and 1970s. Remember the battles between the hard hats and the hippies and the 1968 riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago? New generations have the bombing in Oklahoma City, the “9-11” disaster, Desert Storm, and the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and always the tinder box of the Middle East. No generation is without its history and it influences who we are and what this nation is and will become if we do not learn from our mistakes as a people.
I was thinking the other day I will now be a part of three of the four impeachments this country has participated in. Nixon was not a popular president and his actions before and after Watergate made that apparent. What I do remember is a country where Democrats and Republicans were working together to see that justice was done — a justice that said no one was above the law. I can still remember watching John Dean’s testimony, and hearing those wonderful voices of Barbara Jordan and Chairman Sam Ervin from the committee. I don’t think anyone believed that kind of criminal activity went on in our country, but we learned.
The final vote of impeachment for Bill Clinton found me sitting in the car in the parking lot at a local grocery store and watching people moving all around while on the radio I could hear the voices determining the fate of the nation. Again the underside of politics and its picture of humanity and all its sins was being revealed.
Waiting now for the 4th impeachment, my third, I am reminded once again this is no small thing that is happening in our country. Impeachment has now widened to an international involvement and revealed a new viciousness and lack of self-examination for sins committed. The appearance of Jeffrey Epstein and his death makes him a “sticker child” for this generation of politicians. No one wants to take responsibility for deeds done. The underbelly of politics, the enormous greed to which people aspire and the call of power, the need to control, is once again laid bare. Whether or not we can rise above the partisanship and bore straight to the truth will be determined by men and women who take to heart the great call to “love justice” and to approach this moment with humility.